2023 NFC North preview

September 5, 2023

AP/Erik Verduzco

Vikings 9-8

Oddly, the rest of the football world seems to have a love affair with Detroit winning the North. I don’t necessarily disagree — I just have Minnesota winning it on tiebreakers.

Having the Vikings fall back to earth, however, is appropriate since last year’s 11-0 record in one-score games (an NFL record) is near impossible to replicate. As much as I love the addition of Brian Flores as defensive coordinator, Minnesota’s best veteran pieces on that side of the ball (Eric Kendricks, Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson and Za’Darius Smith) are all elsewhere. I think Flores can scheme this into being a good defense and the offense will be fine with Kirk Cousins playing catch with Justin Jefferson.

Even as the Vikings’ luck levels out in 2023, they could still be good enough to eke out another division title.

Lions 9-8

I don’t know if it was last year’s Hard Knocks on HBO but Detroit isn’t a lovable loser anymore — they’re apparently just lovable.

Part of the high expectations stem from the declaration that Jared Goff is even better than he was as a Super Bowl QB in Los Angeles, and now he’s got some weapons.

When the Lions used the 12th overall pick on Jahmyr Gibbs, he became Detroit’s highest-drafted running back since Barry Sanders went third overall in 1989. Amon-Ra St. Brown was a draft steal turned star-in-the-making, and defensive anchor Aiden Hutchinson is now backed up by rookie linebacker Jack Campbell and a revamped secondary.

There’s a lot of reason to love the Lions, and maybe they do live up to expectations and win the division. But I don’t fully trust Goff and it just feels like Detroit needs a little more under the hood to keep up with the other fast-paced offenses in the North.

Packers 9-8

Green Bay has turned the page to Jordan Love, who’s already gained respect in directing what is the cheapest offense in the NFL ($83 million cap allocation) and the youngest in the league.

While that unit will need time to grow with Love, the defense is regressing under coordinator Joe Barry. As we remember here in Washington, Barry defenses don’t necessarily trend upward.

It won’t be the demise some are predicting, but expect Green Bay to be in the middle of the pack and hang around the division race longer than expected.

Bears 7-10

Chicago has a scintillating quarterback in Justin Fields, who rushed for the second-most yardage of any QB in league history (1,143) last season, but still the Bears finished with the worst record in the NFL to earn the No. 1 overall pick for the first time since 1947.

That will be a franchise-altering season one way or the other because dealing the top pick netted them a top target for Fields and a package of picks that could blow some better days into the Windy City.

Chicago is banking on the fast chemistry between Fields and former Terp D.J. Moore translating to the field just as quickly, but the new-look offensive line will need to be much better than the 2022 version and the Bears need a more ferocious rushing attack beyond Fields.

A ton of money was spent on defense, mainly on linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, to improve a unit that was last in multiple key categories. Second-year coach Matt Eberflus is a defensive guy so this unit figures to improve along with the influx of talent.

Here’s why Chicago won’t be as bad as last year: The Bears are tied for the most rest advantage of any team in the league this season; Chicago is 0-9 outright and 1-8 against the spread the last three years if their opponent has more rest than they do.

I trust Fields’ development and there’s some built-in advantages for Chicago but I don’t trust Eberflus to be a winning coach.

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Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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