Mark Cannizzaro previews the NFC North as The Post gives division-by-division breakdowns ahead of the 2021 NFL season.
1. Green Bay Packers
Coach: Matt LaFleur
2020 record: 13-3
O/U wins: 10.5
Key additions: QB Kurt Benkert, LB De’Vondre Campbell, C Josh Myers, CB Eric Stokes, WR Amari Rodgers
Key losses: C Corey Linsley, DL Montravius Adams, QB Tim Boyle, LB Christian Kirksey, OT Rick Wagner, RB Jamaal Williams
First-and-goal: Two words — Aaron Rodgers. The Packers quarterback produced his third career MVP season in 2020 allowing the Packers to waltz to the division title, and they averaged a league-high 31.5 points per game. On defense, CB Kevin King opted to stay rather than leave via free agency and has competition from Stokes, the first-round pick from Georgia.
Fourth-and-goal: Four of their last seven seasons have ended in the NFC Championship game (including the last two), something that has eaten at Rodgers to the point where he spent the better part of the offseason claiming he was never going to play for the Packers again because he doesn’t believe they’ve built enough around him to win it all. Rodgers, too, still seems to be holding the grudge over Green Bay drafting Jordan Love in 2019 as his eventual replacement. There may be an adjustment period getting used to Joe Barry’s defensive scheme. The recovery of LT David Bakhtiari after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 31 is something to monitor.
Cannizzaro’s call: 12-5. Despite Rodgers’ discontent, he’s still the class of not only the division but the league and he still has weapons — led by WR Davante Adams —around him. The Packers made sure to retain RB Aaron Jones, Bakhtiari and DT Kenny Clark, perhaps realizing their window with Rodgers in it may close after this season.
2. Chicago Bears
Coach: Matt Nagy
2020 record: 8-8
O/U wins: 7.5
Key additions: QB Justin Fields, QB Andy Dalton, OT Teven Jenkins, WR Marquise Goodwin, RB Damien Williams, OL Elijah Wilkinson, DT Mike Pennel
Key losses: QB Mitchell Trubisky, CB Kyle Fuller, LT Charles Leno Jr., RT Bobby Massie
First-and-goal: The Bears hope they’ve solved their QB carousel with the drafting of Fields in the first round. But when will he start? Nagy has insisted that Dalton is the starter, yet Fields looked better for much of the summer. Nagy appears to be copying the Kansas City plan, when it sat Patrick Mahomes for his 2017 rookie season behind Alex Smith. Dalton, however, isn’t Smith.
Fourth-and-goal: Yes, the Bears qualified for the playoffs the past two seasons, but they went 8-8 in each season and were one-and-done in the postseason. Last season, they lost eight of their last 11 before being dispatched easily in the playoffs by the Saints. They’re seeking more sustainability and consistency. Questions may persist about the effectiveness of NT Eddie Goldman, who opted out of 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns and began practicing in mid-August. The Bears, too, must acclimate to a new defensive coordinator.
Cannizzaro’s call: 10-7. This all revolves around whether Fields is who the Bears thought he was when they traded up nine spots to get him in the draft.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Coach: Mike Zimmer
2020 record: 7-9
O/U wins: 9.5
Key additions: DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Patrick Peterson, DT Sheldon Richardson, CB Mackensie Alexander, CB Bashaud Breeland, S Xavier Woods, DE Stephen Weatherly, K Greg Joseph, CB Tye Smith, LB Nick Vigil, LT Christian Darrisaw, RG Wyatt Davis, QB Kellen Mond
Key losses: LT Riley Reiff, TE Kyle Rudolph, S Anthony Harris, LB Eric Wilson, K Dan Bailey, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DT Shamar Stephen, DT Jaleel Johnson, LB Todd Davis, LB Hardy Nickerson, CB Mike Hughes, CB Chris Jones, RB Mike Boone
First-and-goal: There is a strong core of young players, led by RB Dalvin Cook and WR Justin Jefferson, who was a revelation as a rookie in 2020. QB Kirk Cousins is tough to judge, because he produces big numbers (35 TD passes in 2020) yet fails to make his team a winner. Peterson, an eight-time Pro Bowler, and Breeland will bring experience and leadership to a secondary in need of both.
Fourth-and-goal: For as respected as he is, Zimmer has to be on the hot seat in 2021 after his team failed to make the playoffs in four of the past seven seasons. It’s difficult to imagine ownership retaining him without a playoff berth and perhaps a postseason win this season. Darrisaw was drafted to be the starting left tackle, and that can be a difficult position for a rookie starter.
Cannizzaro’s call: 9-8. Trusting Cousins, who simply hasn’t fulfilled the expectation from his massive contract, as a championship QB is difficult.
4. Detroit Lions
Coach: Dan Campbell
2020 record: 5-11
O/U wins: 4.5
Key additions: QB Jared Goff, RB Jamaal Williams, WR Tyrell Williams, OT Penei Sewell, DT Levi Onwuzurike, DT Michael Brockers
Key losses: QB Matthew Stafford, RB Kerryon Johnson, RB Adrian Peterson, WR Kenny Golladay, WR Marvin Jones, WR Danny Amendola, TE Jesse James, DT Danny Shelton, CB Desmond Trufant, CB Justin Coleman, S Duron Harmon, K Matt Prater
First-and-goal: Campbell is a fire-starter personality with a lot of bombast. That should, at least in the beginning, deliver some energy to a team that has been mired in a losing culture for the past few years. How good of a head coach Campbell is (he was 5-7 as Miami’s interim coach in 2015) remains to be seen.
Fourth-and-goal: Detroit’s defense yielded 519 points and 6,716 yards in 2020, breaking the team futility marks set by its 2008 winless team to rank among the worst in NFL history. So, there is massive work to be done. The losses of essentially the entire wide-receiving corps must be dealt with. This puts a lot of pressure on Goff as he tries to resurrect his career in the most difficult of circumstances.
Cannizzaro’s call: 6-11. Too many questions and not enough improvement screams a fourth consecutive season with 10-plus losses.