Thu, 29 Jul 2021

NFC NORTH: Top storylines for all four teams

Detroit Lions
24 Jun 2021, 20:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

It's been a busy offseason for all four teams in the NFC North as they navigated through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason training program in an attempt to better their football clubs.

Things will start to get very busy for all four teams later this summer when players return for the start of training camp. Then it's full go from there to January and hopefully beyond.

There's been some noteworthy headlines involving teams in the NFC North this offseason, so let's take a look at the top three storylines for each team before the start of camp:

GREEN BAY

1. Will Aaron Rodgers report for training camp?

Not only that, but will Rodgers be the quarterback for the Packers at any point this season? There's definitely a rift between the reining MVP and the organization, which has been one of the biggest storylines in the NFL this offseason. Rodgers didn't show up for the mandatory minicamp earlier this month. It would be wise for the Packers to mend things with their star because with Rodgers, Green Bay is a Super Bowl contender. Without Rodgers, they might not even be the best team in the NFC North.

2. Is Jordan Love ready if needed?

Jordan Love says he's "100 percent ready" to be the Packers' starting quarterback, and he might get the opportunity to prove it if Rodgers holds out. Love didn't take a single snap as a rookie in 2020 as the team's third quarterback. That would be a big jump going from no snaps to starting.

3. Can the Packers improve special teams?

The Packers ranked 30th in both kickoff returns (18.9 average) and punt returns (4.8) in 2020. Green Bay didn't have a single punt return of more than 20-plus yards all year. They ranked 25th in opponent average starting field position and ranked last in the NFL in punt coverage, allowing 17.1 yards per return. Special teams are a big part of the game, and one play there can be the difference between a win or a loss. It was the weakest area on the team last season. Can they be better in 2021?

CHICAGO

1. Will Justin Fields see the field at quarterback for the Bears this year?

Bears head coach Matt Nagy said this offseason that veteran Andy Dalton is the starter, but for how long? That really depends on how well the Bears are playing overall the first month of the season. The Bears drafted Fields in the first round, and if Dalton struggles at all early on, the noise to play Fields will get pretty loud in the windy city.

2. Can the Bears' offense get out of their funk?

Whether it's been inconsistent quarterback play or injuries upfront along the offensive line, the Bears have struggled to be consistent on offense the last two seasons under Nagy, who gave up play-calling duties for a brief time last season. The Bears scored the seventh fewest points in the NFL last season, and that just won't cut it in 2021, especially with how well they continue to play on defense.

3. Will Bears get a new stadium in the suburbs?

The organization's acknowledgment last week of a bid for the Arlington International Racecourse site in Arlington Heights - with the most likely intent to build a new stadium there - put the stadium issue in Chicago on front-page news. The city doesn't want to see the Bears leave, and there could be some leasing issues involved, so it will be interesting to see where this goes from here.

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MINNESOTA

1. Can Mike Zimmer's defense return to form?

Minnesota was 29th in points allowed per game (29.7) in 2020. Opposing quarterbacks had a 97.0 passer rating against (10th highest in league). Their 23 sacks ranked 28th. It was definitely out of the norm for a Zimmer-run defense. The Vikings added 11 defensive free agents this offseason. Can Minnesota get back to being one of the more consistent defensive units in the league like we've seen from them under Zimmer in past years?

2. Is Kirk Cousins still the long-term answer at quarterback for the Vikings?

Cousins was 7-9 as a starter last season, despite throwing for 4,265 yards with 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a 105.0 passer rating. Cousins is under contract for two more seasons, but the Vikings did use a third-round pick in this year's draft to acquire Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond. Cousins is 25-21-1 in the regular season the last three years as the starter and 1-1 in the playoffs over that span.

3. How will the offensive line take shape?

The Vikings want first-round pick Christian Darrisaw to be their left tackle. Dakota Dozier worked at right guard while Ezra Cleveland was the left guard during the OTA practices open to Minnesota media. Garrett Bradbury returns at center and Brian O'Neill is slated to be the right tackle. Minnesota's pass blocking ranked 29th last season, according to Pro Football Focus. They were 18th as a run-blocking unit. It was an up-and-down 2020 season. If they're more consistent upfront, Minnesota has the skill position weapons to be dangerous on offense.

DETROIT

1. How improved will the defense be?

There's certainly a lot of room for improvement given the Lions allowed the most points and yards in franchise history last season. Lions GM Brad Holmes thinks new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn with have a big impact on that side of the ball. Detroit also added veteran help at every level of the defense via trade and free agency this offseason. If the Lions are just a little better on defense in 2021, it will go a long way to them being a better football team overall.

2. Is Jared Goff the answer at quarterback?

When Matthew Stafford came to the Lions seeking a trade, Holmes had a lot of teams call and inquire about what it would take to trade for Stafford. When Holmes talked to Rams GM Les Snead, and Snead asked if Holmes wanted Goff plus draft capital, it was the deal Holmes deemed the best, not just because of the two future first-round picks the Rams were sending over to Detroit, but also because of Goff. Holmes believes there's still a lot of good football left in Goff, and Goff has a couple seasons to prove Holmes right.

3. Will new culture in Allen Park lead to more wins?

Holmes and new head coach Dan Campbell are instilling a new culture in Detroit based on collaboration, competition and inclusiveness. When it's time to work, it's all business, but they're also trying to make it fun when they can. All the players that talked to the media this offseason have taken notice and like what they're building in terms of culture in Detroit. Can the new culture lead to more wins? We shall see.

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