As for the Packers, they still had a strong 10-6 record and made the postseason. But this was a disappointment for a team that, midseason, was a top-tier Super Bowl contender.
For the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, who finished 7-9 and 6-10 respectively, the goal will be working their way into the upper part of the division.
All in all, this looks to be a very competitive NFC North, and we’ll preview what you can expect from these teams moving forward.
NFC North Betting Odds to Win Division (from GTBets)
Green Bay -300
1. Green Bay Packers: Projected Record 12-4
The big problem for Green Bay last year was health, as top receiver Jordy Nelson missed the entire season, while the linebacking corp also dealt with injuries.
Nelson is healthy again and looking to pick up where he left off in 2014, when he caught 98 passes for 1,519 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. He’ll be joined by Randall Cobb, who hopes for a bounce-back year after catching 79 passes for 829 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Of course, the man who makes it all happen is Aaron Rodgers, who passed for 3,821 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Rodgers clearly missed Nelson last season and should put up bigger yardage and touchdown totals.
The running game was an issue for Green Bay since starter Eddie Lacy was inconsistent, rushing for just 758 yards and 3 TDs. The good news is that Lacy has looked great in training camp and could return to his 2014 form. If he doesn’t, James Starks is a more-than-capable backup.
The Green Bay defense should be solid, returning players like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Clay Matthews, and Julius Peppers. General manager Ted Thompson added defensive depth, using the team’s first four draft picks on defenders.
Last year the Packers took the Arizona Cardinals to overtime in a divisional playoff game. With a healthy team again, Green Bay will have their sights set on a Super Bowl run.
2. Minnesota Vikings: Projected Record 9-7
The Minnesota Vikings had a chance to repeat as division champions since they return most of last year’s squad. Unfortunately, an ACL tear for starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has thrust the team into uncertainty.
36-year-old Shaun Hill will take over the starting role. While Hill has many years of experience, he’s never passed for more than 2,686 yards in a season.
He won’t have an elite receiving corp to throw to either. Stefon Diggs has plenty of potential after tallying 720 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns as a rookie, but he’s not an elite player yet. Mike Wallace signed with Baltimore in the offseason, leaving Jarius Wright (442 yards) manning the other receiver spot.
This could put a lot more pressure on star running back Adrian Peterson, who led the league with 1,482 rushing yards last season. At 31 years old, one has to wonder how many more 300+ carry seasons Peterson has in him. But as it stands, he’s still on top of the game and will help make up for the passing game.
Minnesota’s defense will also be a positive after racking up 43 sacks last year. The team returns most of its top defenders like Everson Griffen, Erick Kendricks, Anthony Barr, and Terrence Newman, making this a potential top-5 defensive unit.
The defense and run game should be excellent for the Vikings. But with so much emphasis on passing in today’s game, Minnesota doesn’t seem to be a real threat to Green Bay.
3. Chicago Bears: Projected Record 8-8
The task for Chicago this season will be replacing long-time running back Matt Forte, who’s moved on to the New York Jets. Jeremy Langford will get the first crack after rushing for 537 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. Jacquizz Rodgers and Ka’Deem Carey will also get carries in what figures to be a committee approach.
The Bears don’t need to figure out their passing game since Jay Cutler returns at quarterback again after throwing for 3,659 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions last year. These numbers won’t win Cutler the MVP award, but he at least improved his TD:INT ratio.
The 11-year veteran will receive a boost since Kevin White finally gets to play after missing all of last season with a stress fracture in his shin. The second-year receiver was drafted seventh overall in 2015 and will start opposite wideout Alshon Jeffrey, who tallied 807 receiving yards in just 9 games.
The Bears defense was mediocre last season, but that could change since 6 of their 9 draft picks were used on defenders. The team also returns a strong linebacking corp that includes Christian Jones, Lamar Houston, and Sam Acho.
On paper, the Bears don’t look like a division champion. But we could definitely see some improvement from this team thanks to the return of White, and all the defensive players they drafted.
4. Detroit Lions: Projected Record 5-11
No NFC North team suffered as great an offseason loss as the Detroit Lions did when Calvin Johnson retired. In his ninth year, the perennial All-Pro caught 88 passes for 1,214 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Golden Tate will fill the No. 1 receiver role after tallying 813 yards and 6 touchdowns last year. New addition Marvin Jones and TE Eric Ebron will also factor into the passing game.
Nobody will miss Johnson more than Matthew Stafford, who passed for 4,262 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions last season. It’ll be interesting to see how Stafford performs in his first season without Johnson.
The running game will be a full-blown committee, with Ameer Abdullah, Joique Bell, and Theo Riddick all expected to man the position. They need to get something going on the ground to take pressure off of Stafford.
The defense has some strong pieces, including DE Ezekiel Ansah, who recorded 14.5 sacks last year, and linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who had 107 tackles. Unfortunately, there are too many questions at other positions for this to be an elite defense.
With an unheralded running committee, no Calvin Johnson, and a middling defense, we don’t see Detroit being competitive with the rest of the teams in this division.