With Bears training camp now in full swing, and the annual NFL Hall of Fame Game set to take place this evening when the Arizona Cardinals take on the Dallas Cowboys in Canton, Ohio, football season is right around the corner.
Coming off of a miserable 3-13 campaign in 2016, the Chicago Bears are still in the midst of a full-on rebuilding process, which seems to be a common theme amongst nearly every Chicago sports franchise these days. While the Bears were certainly active during free-agency and the NFL Draft this past offseason, was it enough to make the Bears competitive in the NFC North?
This morning we will take a look at our NFC North Preseason Power Rankings, and take a look at where the Bears stack up against the rest of their division heading into the opening of preseason football this evening with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton.
1. Green Bay Packers – 2016 Record: 10-6
After stumbling out of the gates to begin the 2016 season, sitting at 4-6 after their first 10 games, Aaron Rodgers and company flipped the switch in Green Bay, winning each of their six remaining games and eventually chasing down the Minnesota Vikings to win the NFC North crown once again. Again the Packers made it all the way to the NFC Championship game, their second in the last three years, and again the Packers just couldn’t get over the hump and fell to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Packers have made the playoffs in each and every season since they won the Super Bowl seven years ago, and in each and every one of those seasons, the Packers have been sent packing earlier than they would like, begging the question this season, do the Packers have another title run left in the Aaron Rodgers era?
While the Packers are the favorite to capture the NFC North title once again, with little questions surrounding their roster and Aaron Rodgers still at the helm, Green Bay (or anyone besides New England) will be hard pressed to convince me that this is their season to win it all again.
Pro Football Focus has the Packers ranked third in the NFL in their preseason power rankings, and a lock to win the division this season. I can’t disagree with that view at this point. As of now, the Packers are the cream of the crop in the NFC North.
2. Minnesota Vikings – 2016 Record: 8-8
The Minnesota Vikings enter the 2017 campaign with a sour taste in their mouth after squandering a magnificent start to the 2016 season, eventually finishing up at 8-8 and falling behind both Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North standings when it was all said and done.
Despite the mid-season collapse of 2016 that spurned the Vikings’ playoff hopes, Minnesota is still the closest competitor to the Green Bay Packers on paper as we enter the 2017 season.
However, things are off to a rough start in Vikings camp to this point with 2016 first round draft pick Laquon Treadwell being held out of practice after a fight with teammate Antone Exum on Monday. According to Scout.com, Treadwell was on the sidelines on Wednesday in shorts and did not participate in practice, but that could be the result of an injury rather than a disciplinary issue since Exum, who was the aggressor in the scuffle, was a participant in practice on Wednesday.
Riley Reiff, Kentrell Brothers, Tre Roberson, Jerick McKinnon and Treadwell are all dealing with injury issues in Vikings camp, although none of the injuries are noted as serious or long-term, I’m sure Head Coach Mike Zimmer would like to have a smooth camp and start 2017 in the same fashion as 2016.
3. Detroit Lions – 2016 Record: 9-7
I know that some would like to see the Lions ahead of the Vikings in the preseason rankings, but outside of their 2016 records, I just don’t believe that the Lions are a better team than the Vikings at this point. While it’s close, I like the Minnesota defense enough the keep the Vikings slightly ahead of the Lions in what could very well be a three horse race in the NFC North this season.
The Lions are led by veteran Quarterback Matthew Stafford who will be donning some revamped duds, and looking to secure a new contract in 2017, a good sign that he is primed for a strong performance this season. The passing game will be the usual strong-point for the Lions, but the running game is as always a glaring question mark, even with a beefed up offensive line that has Lions fans excited.
In 2016 the Lions were a surprise playoff team, fueled mostly by fourth quarter comebacks and sheer willpower, willpower that ran dry late in the season as they bowed out in the Wild Card round of the NFC Playoffs.
The key to the Lions season will without a doubt be the health of Matthew Stafford, and a balanced offensive attack, as the Lions will need to improve upon their 81.9 rushing yards per game from 2016 which ranked third worst in the NFL. If the Lions can find a mix that works and remain healthy, they could make another run at the postseason in 2017.
4. Chicago Bears – 2016 Record: 3-13
Then there is our lowly Chicago Bears, a team ravaged by injuries and inconsistency throughout the 2016 season that has plenty of new faces in camp this summer that have all but made us forget about the disastrous 2016 campaign, or maybe we’re just repressing it because it was just that unbearable to watch, either way, the grass on the 2017 side of the fence seems much greener at this point.
Not green enough to thrust the Bears into contention in the NFC North quite yet, but green enough to imagine that the Bears will run a respectable product onto the field this season. Despite the improvements on both sides of the ball, and the excitement of having a potential quarterback of the future in Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears own the worst odds to win the NFC North at 16/1 entering the preseason slate.
All indications are at this point that Mike Glennon will run a Bears offense that will feature a strong dose of Jordan Howard, the league’s second leading rusher in 2016 behind only Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys, as well as a bunch of new faces in the receiving game.
Markus Wheaton and Victor Cruz are among the new faces that will join Cameron Meredith in the receiving corps this season, giving Glennon a handful of interesting options to throw to. Additionally Dion Sims and Adam Shaheen are both fresh faces at the tight end position that further add to Glennon’s options in the passing attack.
The defense, save for the often injured Pernell McPhee look like a unit that could see a considerable amount of improvement in 2017, enough to make the Bears a competitive foe throughout the season, as opposed to the practice squad that we saw most of the 2016 season.