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The Minnesota Vikings enter this season as Superbowl contenders after a spectacular 2017 season. The Vikings won the NFC North with a 13-3 record under QB Case Keenum, and they came up just short in the NFC Championship game. They are true Superbowl contenders on a squad that features depth from top to bottom.
The Vikings had no problem scoring points last season, ranking 10th in the NFL with 23.9 points per game. Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman made a big splash by signing Kirk Cousins to one of the most lucrative deals in NFL history. Cousins has accumulated over 4000 passing yards in three consecutive seasons, and he posted a 27:13 TD to INT ratio with the Redskins in 2017. He will have a talented receiving corps to work with highlighted by Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen had a spectacular 2017 campaign, amassing 1276 receiving yards with four TDs, and Diggs added 849 receiving yards. Cousins will also have one of the best tight ends around in Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph recorded 532 receiving yards with eight TDs last season. The Vikings were able to rank seventh in the NFL with 122 rushing yards per game, and they will get a boost with the return of second-year running back Dalvin Cook. The former 2nd round pick tallied 354 rushing yards in four games last season before his season came to an abrupt end with an ACL injury.
The vaunted Vikings' defense finished with the number one ranked defense in 2017 by limiting opponents to an average of only 15.8 points per game. They also ranked second against both the pass and run last season. The defense is filled with playmakers at all defensive positions highlighted by defensive end Everson Griffin and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Griffen is a talented pass rusher who notched 13 sacks last season. Rhodes is one of the NFL’s best corners, and he finished 2017 with two interceptions along with ten deflected passes. The deep Minnesota secondary already features safety Harrison Smith who made five interceptions along with 61 tackles last year. The Vikings defense is poised to dominate again this season.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers are on the prowl after finishing the 2017 season with a 7-9 record. They missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years as a result of the injury to Aaron Rodgers. The Packers are poised to rebound in a big way led by their superstar quarterback.
The Packers' season took a disastrous turn when Aaron Rodgers went down with a season-ending injury in October. Rodgers’ absence resulted in Green Bay ranking 20th in the NFL with only 20 points per game. The 34-year-old star quarterback is healthy and ready to lead his team back into the playoffs. Rodgers still managed to post a solid 16:6 TD to INT ratio in six games played last season. The Packers’ parted ways with veteran receiver Jordy Nelson in the offseason, leaving the door open for Davante Adams to step into the #1 receiving role. The 25-year-old collected 885 receiving yards last season, and he has yet to post a 1000 yard season in his four years in the NFL. Randall Cobb will also be relied upon to step up after bringing in 653 receiving yards in 2017. Second-year running back Jamaal Williams had an encouraging 2017 rookie campaign, amassing 556 rushing yards. Head coach Mike McCarthy has stated the Packers will go with a ‘running back by committee’ this season, which includes Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones who will be suspended the first two games of the season. The trio helped lead Green Bay to the 17th ranked running game in the NFL last season.
The Packers' defense allowed an average of 24 points per game last season, positioning them down at 26th in the NFL. As a result, they brought in new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine. The Packers secondary was an issue last year, ranking 23rd overall against the pass. They addressed the need at cornerback by drafting Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson with their first two picks. Second-year cornerback, Kevin King is expected to take a step forward this season after failing to make an interception in nine games last season. Green Bay does feature a solid defensive corps which consists of Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, along with Nick Perry and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The Detroit Lions brought in former Patriots’ defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as the new head coach after failing to reach the playoffs with a 9-7 record last season. The Lions addressed some glaring needs in the offseason, and anything short of a playoff berth will be considered a failure.
The Lions' offense will again be led by the steady Matt Stafford who led his team to the sixth-ranked passing game in the NFL last season. The 30-year-old quarterback has been a model of consistency in his 10-year tenure with the Lions. Stafford accumulated 4446 passing yards with a 29:10 TD to INT ratio last season, and he has surpassed 4000 passing yards in seven consecutive seasons. His favorite target, Golden Tate, is also set for another big year. The 30-year-old receiver registered over 1000 receiving yards for the second straight season in 2017 and is known for his ability to gain yards after the catch. Watch for second-year receiver Kenny Golladay who is expected to take a leap forward after bringing in 477 receiving yards in his rookie year. The Lions' running game has been a weakness for the last several seasons. GM Bob Quinn was sure to address the ground game in the offseason by signing Superbowl champion LeGarrette Blount, and drafting Kerryon Johnson in the second round. Johnson rushed for 1391 yards with Auburn last season, and he has impressed the coaching staff throughout training camp.
The Detroit defense should be improved this season under head coach Matt Patricia. The men in Honolulu blue allowed an average of 23.5 points in 2017, ranking them 21st in the NFL, and their pass defense placed down at 27th overall. They made a flurry of moves which included the addition of pass rusher Devon Kennard and linebacker Christian Jones. The Lions also have high hopes for second-year linebacker Jarrad Davis. The promising young linebacker specializes against the run, and he accrued 96 total tackles and two sacks in his first taste of the NFL in 2017. The Lions secondary is anchored by star cornerback Darius Slay. The six-year veteran led the NFL with eight interceptions in 2017 and is regarded as one of the top corners in the NFL.
The Chicago Bears are a team on the rise with plenty of young talent on both sides of the ball. New head coach Matt Nagy takes over a franchise that has finished in last place in the NFC North in four consecutive seasons which included a 5-11 record in 2017.
The Bears have high hopes for young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky heading into the 2018 season. The 23-year-old had a subpar rookie season, collecting 2193 passing yards with a 7:7 TD to INT ratio. While Trubisky didn’t post big numbers, he had a below average receiving corps to work with in 2017. Bears GM Ryan Pace was active bolstering the group by signing Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. Robinson only played in one game with the Jaguars last season due to a torn ACL, but he did accumulate 1400 receiving yards in the 2015 season. Gabriel joins the Bears after registering 378 receiving yards with the Falcons last season. The Bears running game is a strength led by Jordan Howard. The 23-year-old running back collected 1122 rushing yards last season, and he is regarded as one of the superior young running backs in the NFL. The Chicago offense should improve after ranking down at 29th in the NFL with an average of only 16.5 points per game last season.group
The Chicago defense was a strength last season, holding opponents to 20 points per game, good for ninth in the NFL, and their pass defense placed seventh overall. Defensive end Akiem Hicks is coming off two outstanding seasons that saw him collect a combined 15.5 sacks. The Bears also feature linebacker Leonard Floyd who has displayed the ability to get to a quarterback in a hurry. He made 4.5 sacks in 10 games last season. Chicago is deep at cornerback after ranking seventh in the NFL against the pass last season. Cornerback Kyle Fuller had two interceptions to go along with deflected 22 passes last season. The Bears' defense should again be their greatest strength.