The Green Bay Packers’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday put an end to NFC North football for the season. Only one team in the division made it to the postseason in what turned out to be a down year for the North. Given the circumstances, are the Lions closer to competing in the division than people think?
Green Bay’s epic collapse in another playoff appearance may have been the end of the Aaron Rodgers era in Wisconsin. He and Davante Adams all but insinuated this past offseason that this would be a “last dance” of sorts. While those thoughts could’ve changed throughout the course of the season, the way things came to a crashing halt in the end might make it easier to break up.
Their departure could be the beginning of the Green Bay rebuild. Jordan Love has played sparingly in his first two seasons, but if Rodgers leaves, the torch would likely be passed to him. Without Rodgers, it’s hard to imagine Green Bay being the NFC North juggernaut that they’ve been for so many years; at least right away. They would likely be brought down several notches.
The Chicago Bears are in search of both a head coach and a general manager. They are committed to quarterback Justin Fields as their future of the franchise. The jury is still out on whether or not he will be the golden ticket they hope he is. Elsewhere, the roster needs plenty of work, especially with the playmakers around Fields. The Bears are keeping their fingers crossed on so many uncertainties, including finding new leaders on the field and in the front office. The law of averages make it unlikely that all three will hit. Based on Chicago’s history, they could all be duds. The Bears are still far away from being a legitimate contender unless Fields lights the league on fire.
Like Chicago, the Minnesota Vikings are looking for a head coach and general manager. Unlike the Bears, there is plenty of proven talent on the Vikings’ roster but an ongoing question at quarterback. The new regime will have to make a decision about what to do with Kirk Cousins. If they have any reservations about him, why wait it out? If they find a trade partner for Cousins and chose to cut ties, it would set in motion a similar scenario to what could happen in Green Bay if Rodgers leaves. Minnesota could give Kellen Mond a shot, find a bridge quarterback, or take another stab at a QB early in the draft. The Vikings would have plenty of unknowns in any of those scenarios despite a talented roster. Their cap situation isn’t the most conducive to adding pieces this offseason.
Then there’s Detroit.
Nobody is making the case that the Lions are as well-structured as the Packers, that they have a young prospect at quarterback like the Bears, or that they have the talent that the Vikings do. What they have going for them is an offseason where they have most of their staff intact and general manager Brad Holmes still finding solutions. The roster needs work, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the offense with D’Andre Swift, Amon-Ra St. Brown, T.J. Hockenson, and the offensive line. Jared Goff wouldn’t be the worst option to bring back at quarterback, but it’s a spot that still needs to be addressed for the long run. Because of how the North could take shape, Detroit could climb the ladder as early as next year.
The NFC North is starting to look like the NFC East of 2020 more than it is the NFC West of 2021. The Lions won’t be the favorite to claim the North crown next year, and they’ll be a long shot to take a wild card spot. What they do have going for them is a rebuild that is slowly but surely coming together, a head coach that everyone is buying into in Dan Campbell, and a musical-chairs act going on on throughout the rest of the division. Green Bay, Minnesota, and Chicago all have massive question marks and plenty of turnover to deal with this offseason. Meanwhile, Detroit will sit back and hope all three of their rivals endure chaos.