Who will win the NFC North in 2016?

The NFC North proved to be an interesting division in 2015. The Minnesota Vikings came out of nowhere and won the division. The Vikings surprised millions of fans in the process. Can they put together another division championship caliber season? What about the Green Bay Packers? Will there be another surprise team?

The Green Bay Packers will return to form and win the NFC North in 2016.

The Green Bay Packers had an up and down season in 2015. The Packers began with six straight wins and looked like a legitimate Superbowl contender. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers found himself in the MVP discussion. The defense made plays on the field. Green Bay found ways to win games.

An embarrassing loss to the eventual Superbowl champion Denver Broncos ruined everything. The Packers’ promising start to the season slowly dissented into an underwhelming finish. Green Bay lost four of their last six games to finish with an overall record of 10-6.

The Packers reached the playoffs as a wild card team. They defeated the NFC East champion Washington Redskins in the first round. They lost to the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals in the second round.

Injuries, inconsistent offense and terrible defense plagued the second half of the 2015 season. The national opinion now believes Green Bay’s time as a perennial contender is coming to an end. The Minnesota Vikings are the new favorites in the NFC North. The Packers will make amends and reclaim their throne in 2016.

Wide receivers will be healthy this year. The running game should be more consistent. Rodgers has a new toy to play with: tight end Jared Cook. Cook’s addition adds more firepower to an already potent offense. The offensive line will be a concern for the Packers this season. Rodgers needs better protection. Running back Eddie Lacy needs bigger holes.

The Green Bay defense needs to improve in pass coverage. The linebackers were suspect in 2015; the secondary was not much better. The front seven needs to play at an elite level to avoid consistent exposure of the back four. Run defense is solid. They should be around the same in 2016.

The offense is the strength of the Packers. Health will be a concern. Barring any devastating injuries, Green Bay will reclaim the NFC North championship this season. Win-loss prediction: 11-5

The Minnesota Vikings are legitimate, but they will contend for the Wild Card this year.

The Minnesota Vikings won the NFC North in 2015. Their tremendous defense, strong running game and consistent quarterback play propelled them into the playoffs as the third seed in the conference.

The Vikings lost a bizarre NFC Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks; one of the coldest games in league history. The expectation for the Vikings is another division championship in 2016.

Minnesota will field a top-10 defensive unit and top-five running game. The wide receivers are young and unproven. Their consistency will be a major question mark in 2016. The Vikings ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yards in 2015. The offensive line is another major area of concern. The tackle positions are a weak spot. Guard is a little more formidable, but not glaringly better.

Finally, the Vikings will have to get past the devastating injury to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. They traded for Sam Bradford with the Philadelphia Eagles. Bradford will have his best opportunity to prove himself in 2016. Can he prove he is worth the draft picks Minnesota gave up for him?

These are all legitimate questions for the Vikings to consider. They will be looked at as a playoff team this season. They will contend for the wild card. Win-loss prediction: 9-7

The Detroit Lions are one of those teams that fans will need to pay attention to.

The Detroit Lions had expectations in 2015. They underwhelmed and disappointed. Things were ugly from the start as the Lions lost seven of their first eight games.

The offense struggled all season. The defense struggled to stop opposing offenses. Detroit failed to finish off games. The 1-7 record was justified. They were that bad.

Lions ownership went berserk shortly after. People were getting fired right and left. This served as a message that proved to be somewhat beneficial. Detroit finished the season strong with six wins in their last eight games. This team has a little momentum heading into the 2016 season.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford played well in 2015. It was more impressive because Detroit could not run the football and wide receiver Calvin Johnson regressed from his usual dominant form. Stafford will be under the microscope this year. He will have a little more help this time around.

Johnson retired. The Lions still have Golden Tate. Tate will need to step up as the top target. Detroit acquired receivers Anquan Boldin and Marvin Jones. Boldin and Jones will add more depth and make life a little easier for Stafford.

The running game needs to improve in 2016. Detroit could not even average 90 yards per game last season. This offense must find a way to display more balance on the field. It will only help matters and Stafford can stay a little healthier. The offensive line has talent, but they need to do a better job at protecting Stafford.

The Detroit defense has talent on all three levels. The defensive line is the inevitable strength of the team. The pass rush should be strong once again. The linebackers and secondary also have the potential to make plays.

The Lions will hang around the wild card picture this season. Whether they snatch a spot is another story for another day. Win-loss record: 9-7

The Chicago Bears are inconsequential this season.

The Chicago Bears were a non-factor in 2015. The Bears finished with a 6-10 record and last place in the NFC North. The Bears stunk up the joint at Soldier Field and against division opponents.

This team is not going anywhere, anytime soon. Plenty of work needs to be done before the Bears can reinsert themselves as perennial contenders. The trajectory of the franchise, however, appears to be trending upward.

The offense lost talent in the off-season. Running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett were quality players for Chicago. This unit still has talent for 2016. Wide receivers Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery will look to build cohesion as a quality duo. Running back Jeremy Langford looks like a keeper. The offensive line is slowly improving. Pass protection is still a weak spot, however.

The Bears’ defense finished fourth in the NFL in pass coverage in 2015. The pass rush improved mightily. This will be the strength of the defense in 2016. With that being said, Chicago still has holes up front and in the secondary to address. The ability to stop the run is still an eye sore.

The biggest story of the 2016 season centers on quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler has received massive amounts of criticism regarding his leadership ability, production on the field and dedication off the field. Can Cutler finally silence his critics this season? Can he finally take the next step as a potential franchise quarterback? Of course, can he stay healthy?

The Chicago Bears are improving. 2016 is going to be another season of development for the young players. Fans should look for cohesion among the offensive line. They should also look for cohesion between Cutler and his receivers. Also, watch out for a potentially stable running game from Langford. Defensively, look for the pass rush to be solid once again. The Bears are making progress. It takes time. Win-loss prediction: 7-9


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