Green Bay has had the best quarterback in the NFC North for the last quarter of a century, which explains why the Packers are annually the team to beat in the division.
Green Bay traded for Brett Favre in 1992 and he spent 16 seasons taking the snaps before turning the position over to Aaron Rodgers in 2008. Between the two of them, they have gone to 17 Pro Bowls and won five NFL MVP awards. They also have quarterbacked the Packers to 19 playoff appearances, seven division titles and two Super Bowl championships in the last 25 seasons. But have Detroit and Minnesota narrowed the gap in 2017 — the Lions with offense and the Vikings with defense? That’s the subject of our weekly Talk of Fame Network poll — who wins the NFC North this season? Here are your candidates:
Chicago Bears. The Bears went all in on what they hope is a franchise quarterback, trading up to select Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick of the 2017 draft. Chicago dealt a first, two thirds and a fourth to move up one spot from 3 to 2 to claim Trubisky, who started just one season at North Carolina before deciding to skip his senior year to turn pro. But this is a franchise whose average NFL passing rank over the last 17 seasons since 2000 has been 22. There have been few plays with the ball in the air over the better part of the last two decades. Coach John Fox hopes to change that with Trubisky. His future could hinge on it. But the Bears were bad in 2016 – 3-13 bad – and would need a Dak Prescott-type season from Trubisky to turn this franchise around in one year. The fallback at quarterback is free-agent Mike Glennon, whom the Bears signed away from Tampa Bay in free agency to a three-year, $45 million contract.
Detroit Lions. No franchise has gone longer without playing for an NFL championship than the Lions. It’s been 60 years since their last title game appearance – and their last championship. But Detroit has made the playoffs twice in coach Jim Caldwell’s three-year tenure and the Lions believe they have a quarterback who can get them there in Matthew Stafford. He’s one of only five quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards in a single season. Detroit also spent $76 million in free agency this season to provide Stafford better protection, signing tackle Ricky Wagner away from Baltimore and Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang away from Green Bay. The Lions also drafted to repair the NFL’s 18th ranked defense, selecting linebacker Jarrad Davis in the first round and cornerback Teez Tabor in the second.
Green Bay Packers. The Packers have won the NFC North five of the last six years, including 2016. Aaron Rodgers remains the difference in this division. His arm annually produces a Top 10 offense, allowing the Packers to get by with less on defense. And Green Bay was certainly lesser last season, finishing 22nd in the NFL in defense. But GM Ted Thompson went to work on defensive repairs in the draft, using his first four picks on defenders: cornerback Kevin King, safety Josh Jones, tackle Montravius Adams and linebacker Vince Biegel. The Packers also added another elite weapon on offense that should make Rodgers, a two-time NFL MVP, even more productive – tight end Martellus Bennett. He caught 55 passes from Tom Brady last season and led the Super Bowl champs with seven TD receptions.
Minnesota Vikings. Adrian Peterson is gone and so is the identity of the Vikings as a physical running team. Minnesota finished dead last in the NFL in rushing last season and 28th in offense on the way to an 8-8 record. Coach Mike Zimmer’s calling card has been defense and that’s how the Vikings expect to win going forward. The Vikings finished third in the NFL in defense a year ago but will be without linebacker Chad Greenway, who retired. The Vikings used a couple mid-round draft picks on Big Ten defenders, tackle Jaleel Johnson of Iowa and linebacker Ben Gedeon of Michigan. Sam Bradford set an NFL record by completing 71.6 percent of his passes in 2016. The Vikings have now given him a play-action game with running back Dalvin Cook, a second-round draft pick, and also better protection with the signing of offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency.