The NFC North has been dominated by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers for the last three seasons, with Green Bay winning 13 games each season. But with the Packers losing elite wide receiver Davante Adams, All-Pro linebacker Za’Darius Smith, and some other pieces this offseason, could the door be open in the NFC North?

If it is, it would more likely than not be Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings stepping up to the plate. Minnesota’s offense is immensely talented, and the defense should be better too after the Vikings poached none other than Za’Darius Smith from their divisional rivals.

There’s mixed feelings on exactly where Dan Campbell’s Detroit Lions and Matt Eberflus’ Chicago Bears will land in the standings, but the general consensus is that both teams are a few steps away from postseason contention. The Lions will definitely be a team on the rise in Jared Goff’s second season in Detroit, but failing to improve on a 3-13-1 record would be hard to do. Justin Fields and the Bears, on the other hand, could regress from last season’s 6-11 finish after losing talent on both sides of the ball.

Who will win the NFC North in 2022-23? How many teams will the division send to the playoffs? Read on for my predictions, and if you’d like to debate or discuss any predictions, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.

1. Green Bay Packers (11-6)

(ESPN)

The Green Bay Packers have been dominant in the regular season over the past three years, winning 13 games each season for an overall record of 39-10. Aaron Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the game at 38 years old, and as long as he remains in Green Bay, the Packers will be a playoff team year-in and year-out.

But this season, the Packers aren’t expected to dominate the NFC to the same degree that they did for the past few seasons. Cross-referencing my Training Camp Power Rankings, I find the Rams, Buccaneers to be ahead of the Packers in the conference. In other words, the Packers will still be one of the best teams in the NFC and entire NFL: just not quite as elite as last season.

The reasons are obvious: with the departure of one of the best wide receivers in the game, Davante Adams, as well as losing Marquez Valdes-Scantling to the Chiefs, the Packers receiving corps in looking thin. Allen Lazard is a solid young receiver who scored a highly efficient eight touchdowns on 40 catches last season. After that there’s veteran Sammy Watkins, who has only eclipsed 40 catches once in the last six seasons, and 32-year old Randall Cobb, a savvy veteran but one in the backend of his career. Additionally, Green Bay drafted Christian Watson out of North Dakota State with the 34th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, finally spending a top pick on a weapon for Rodgers.

Rodgers can make things work without a Pro Bowler, but his current class of pass-catchers is definitely a little lacking. Green Bay ranked eighth in passing yards per game and 10th in scoring last season, but will probably take a step back in both categories. Consequentially, Green Bay also drops two wins year-over-year, but still wins the NFC North, fending off pressure from the Minnesota Vikings.

2. Minnesota Vikings (10-7)

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings found themselves in an interesting situation at the end of the 2021-22 season: finishing 8-9, being outscored by just one point, having the third-best non-playoff offense in the league, and most intriguingly of all, played 14 one-score games, finishing 6-8 in such situations.

Above all, the Vikings could have been a playoff team last season if just a couple things broke their way. Minnesota only finished one game behind the Eagles for the NFC’s last wildcard spot, and wile the defense was pretty bad, the Vikings offense alone made Minnesota a pretty good football team.

All the main pieces will be back: quarterback Kirk Cousins, Top 5 running back Dalvin Cook, Top 5 wide receiver Justin Jefferson, and reputable number-two receiving option Adam Thielen. Minnesota should be at least as good offensively, if not better, in 2022. 23-year old Justin Jefferson is entering just his third season, and new head coach Kevin O’Connell will look to improve Minnesota’s fates in one-score games.

After allowing the ninth-most points in the NFL last season, the Vikings had to make some defensive adjustments and they did. Poaching linebacker Za’Darius Smith from the Packers was a great move to close the gap in the NFC North, and the Vikings used five of their first six draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, highlighted by 32nd overall pick Lewis Cine, a safety from Georgia.

I have the Vikings picking up a couple wins from last year’s total, and honestly, their ceiling is even higher. Minnesota could compete for the NFC North title, especially if they can beat the Packers head-to-head. I could see as many as 12 wins for the Vikings, and the worst-case scenario is pretty much a repeat of last season and another 8-9 finish. Don’t sleep on the Vikings, as they should at least be a wildcard team in 2022.

3. Detroit Lions (6-11)

(The Sporting News)

The Detroit Lions have been the darlings of the NFL since a fiery finish to last year’s 3-13-1 finish, a series of offseason upgrades, and their inclusion on HBO’s Hard Knocks series.

Dan Campbell’s team played hard last season, nearly knocking off some very good teams in one-score contests. While Detroit’s record was abysmal in 2021, the Lions finished the season with a glimmer of hope after a 3-3 final stretch.

Jared Goff is a capable NFL starter, and he gets a shiny new toy in former Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark. Chark joins wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, tight end T.J. Hockenson, and running back D’Andre Swift on a potentially sneaky-good offense. Detroit finished 18th in passing yards and 19th in rushing yards last season: but just 25th in points scored, failing to put the ball in the end zone. If Goff can improve on last season’s 19 passing touchdowns (23 team passing touchdowns,) the Lions could get in the win column a little more consistently.

Defensively, the Lions ranked second-to-last in the league, but received reinforcements in second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson and second round pick Josh Paschal, both defensive ends.

Talks of Detroit challenging for a playoff spot are premature, but I see the Lions as capable of winning five to seven games in 2022, a significant step forward.

4. Chicago Bears (4-13)

(The Athletic)

This projected record is not an indictment on Justin Fields, as I do like the former Ohio State quarterback. But who is he throwing to? Who is blocking for him? Who is playing defense on the other side of the ball?

I don’t follow the Chicago Bears closely enough to pinpoint where things started to go wrong (though benching Mitch Trubisky at 3-0 very well could have been the beginning,) but their current roster just doesn’t have the talent to compete, which is a shame for Fields in his second NFL season.

Without Allen Robinson, Chicago returns just one wide receiver and one tight end with more than 26 catches last season. Darnell Mooney was able to put up a 1,000-yard season last year, but as Fields’ only legitimate passing option, he’ll likely receive heavy coverage in 2022.

In addition to Robinson, tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught three of the team’s 16 receiving touchdowns in 2021, will also not return.

But most prominently, Chicago shipped Pro Bowl pass-rushing linebacker Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers, officially signifying a rebuilding process. Last season, Chicago managed a 6-11 record despite a 27th-anked offense and 22nd-ranked defense: they’ll be worse in both categories in 2022, and will finish dead-last in the NFC North and “compete” for the number one pick in next year’s draft.

2022-23 NFL Predictions

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West

NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West

Previous NFC North Predictions

2021-22 NFL Predictions: NFC North

See Also

Green Bay Packers Articles

Chicago Bears Articles

Minnesota Vikings Articles

Detroit Lions Articles

More

NFL

NBA

More By Me

Header Photo Credits (L-R): AP, Packers.com, Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune, Associated Press via Los Angeles Times

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