Green Bay Packers

Is the NFC North really up for grabs? Why Vikings, Lions, Packers can all win division

It won't be easy for the Bears to go from last to first.

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A narrative we’ve heard throughout the offseason is that the NFC North is up for grabs. The defending champion Vikings were overrated last year. The Packers are doomed without Aaron Rodgers. And the Lions are, well, the Lions. Looking at the landscape, some believe that with a little improvement on defense and a jump from Justin Fields, the Bears can go from division chumps to division champs.

But how realistic is that really?

With less than a month until the regular season begins, the NFC North may truly be up for grabs, but not in the way Bears fans hope. Here’s why each other team in the division may come away with the crown this season.


The knock on the Vikings heading into 2023 is that they won’t be able to replicate last year’s success– or their luck. They went a perfect 11-0 in one-score games, including an NFL record-breaking performance in Week 15 when they overcame a 33-point halftime deficit to beat the Colts 39-36 in overtime, and a jaw-dropping win against the Bills in Week 10 that was assisted by Josh Allen fumbling a snap in the Bills endzone for a Vikings touchdown with 41 seconds left in the game.

Then there are the big changes on the roster. Star running back Dalvin Cook joined forces with Aaron Rodgers in New York. Other Minnesota mainstays like Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson are gone. The team also traded Za’Darius Smith after his 10-sack 2022 campaign. Four of those six big changes are on the defensive side of the ball, leading some to wonder whether their already shaky unit could slip further towards the bottom of the league this year. But bringing in Brian Flores to take over as defensive coordinator should help the team move in the right direction instead. Flores rose to prominence as an assistant coach in Bill Belichick’s defense and got his first chance to be a head coach with the Dolphins in 2019. Flores took over one of the worst defenses in the league, and there were growing pains his first season with the team. But by 2020, Flores transformed the Dolphins from the worst defense in the league to the sixth-best in terms of points allowed.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Vikings shouldn’t take a huge step back, even without Cook. They still have the best player in the division in Justin Jefferson. Kirk Cousins is the most reliable and accomplished quarterback in the division, and he stands to improve over last year’s wonderful season since this year marks year two in Kevin O’Connell’s offense. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah also did well to replace Thielen by using a first-round pick in this year’s draft to bring in Jordan Addison. That gives Cousins another big-time playmaker who can create separation on his own to target when Jefferson gets blanket coverage from opposing defenses.

Will the Vikings have some regression after their sensational 13-4 season last year? Probably. But they still have the personnel and the coaching staff to put together another 10+ win season and to win another NFC North title.


The Lions have been so inept for so long, that the Buccaneers have won the division more recently– and that’s when it was still called the NFC Central. In fact, it’s been 30 years since the Lions have been tops in the division, no matter the name. There have been plenty of exciting teams along the way, like the Barry Sanders teams of the mid-90s or the Matt Stafford-Calvin Johnson teams of the 2000s and 2010s, but none of them were able to seal the deal.

Word out of Detroit is that things feel different now with head coach Dan Campbell leading the locker room. Campbell worked to eliminate the losing culture in Detroit over the past two years with his infectious charisma, genuine relatability, and devotion to hard work and grit. It sounds like the Lions truly believe things are different and believe they can win, and that belief can go a long way. That belief is how the Lions were able to rebound from a 1-6 start to the 2022 season and go on an 8-2 run to finish the year with a winning record at 9-8. Teams that don’t believe they can win don’t do that. Teams that still have a losing culture fold after a 1-6 start rather than make an improbable postseason push.

The culture shift is all well and good, but the Lions wouldn’t be able to win without big performances from big players. Jared Goff’s renaissance was essential to the team’s success, as was the emergence of Amon-Ra St. Brown as true WR1. St. Brown averaged 9.1 targets per game and turned that workload into 6.6 catches and 75.6 yards per game. It’s fair to wonder whether Goff will regress back to quarterback who the Rams shipped out of L.A. in 2021, but there are reasons to believe he can keep up his solid play, too. The Lions are ready to rock with Ben Johnson working as the team’s offensive coordinator for a second year in a row, so Goff gets to develop in the same system rather than learn something new. St. Brown is entering his third season in the NFL, so he could be even better this year as he enters his prime. Finally, the Lions added big pieces to their shore up their shaky secondary in Cameron Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley. Improved play in the secondary from the new DBs should not only help the defense keep points off the board, which would lighten the load on Goff, but should also create more takeaways, which would give Goff and the offense more opportunities to put points on the board themselves.

The Lions are this year’s darlings across the nation for good reason, and their chances to win their first NFC North title look as good as they have since their last win in 1993.


Don’t count the Packers out just because Aaron Rodgers is gone. For starters, Jordan Love could be the next great quarterback in green and gold, after sitting and learning on the bench for three seasons. The Packers don’t need Love to be another Hall of Fame QB to win this year, though. They feature the division’s most proven one-two punch at running back with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. The duo combined for 1,891 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns last year. They added 87 catches for 601 receiving yards and five more scores. Throughout the season it seemed like each man could handle more work, too. The Packers could lean more on Jones and Dillon this year, take a little off of Love’s plate, and they probably wouldn’t miss a beat.

The real reason the Packers can reclaim the NFC North crown comes on the other side of the ball. Last season the Packers easily had the best defense in the division, and their pass defense was one of the best in the NFL. It could be even better this season. First-round draft pick Lukas Van Ness may not crack the starting lineup as a rookie edge rusher, but he’s incredibly athletic and can give the team a boost as a second-wave pass rusher. Nose tackle Kenny Clark remains a disruptive menace on the defensive line. Second-year linebacker Quay Walker led all 2022 rookie linebackers with 121 tackles, 11 QB pressures and a 58.8% completion rate allowed. He added three forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks. If Walker takes the next step in his development, and De’Vondre Cambell returns to his All-Pro play after shoulder and knee injuries slowed him down last season, the Packers will be stout in the middle of their defense.

The NFC North is known as the Black and Blue division because of the tough, physical divisional matchups that stretch back decades. That tough, physical play stems from strong rushing attacks and strong defenses. The Packers seem to have the lead in both departments, and that could be enough for them to climb back to the top.

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