The “Black & Blue Division”
It is the heralded nickname of the NFC North—a nickname that has been rightfully earned through the years. From the days of Lombardi’s defenses to the Purple People Eaters to Mike Ditka and the Monsters of the Midway, the NFC North (NFC Central prior to 2002) boasts some of the baddest defenses and rivalries the league has to offer. And if you weren’t black and blue from vicious hits and brawls in the trenches, you most certainly could not avoid the frigid temperatures, a staple of playing in the North.
The NFC North has been a division of extended dominance—the Vikings owned the division in the 70’s, winning 11 out of 13 division titles from 1968-1980. Few dared to stand up to the 80’s Bears, who won five straight division titles. The Packers have taken to the turn of the century, winning nine of 15 since the name was changed from Central to North. Lions, we are still waiting for your tenure at the top.
Fast forward to 2017—what does the future of the division hold? Will the Packers continue their reign of dominance, or will the Bears shock the world and do a complete 180? Can the Lions snap their 24-year drought and grab the crown, or will the Vikings bounce back after a disappointing 2016 finish? Here’s why every team will or will not win the division.
Why they will: Mitch Trubisky
There was no lack of head scratching when the Bears traded up for the junior out of North Carolina, but clearly the Bears saw something that the rest of the league didn’t. Though he only had 13 starts in his collegiate career, Trubisky was the most physically gifted quarterback in this draft class, and the Bears took the NBA freshman approach, choosing talent over experience. Time will tell if Trubisky pans out to Chicago’s liking, but if they are to have any chance at winning the division this year, it will be because Trubisky replicates Dak Prescott’s 2016 rookie season, and more.
Why they won’t: Lack of star power
To preface, the Bears have a few very good players—Jordan Howard had a fantastic rookie season, and Pernell McPhee was a great free agent pickup. But the Bears are a very young team on offense, and while their defense is headed in the right direction, they did not change enough to drastically change their 3-13 record of last season.
Why they will: Matthew Stafford’s contract year
Stafford has the chance to become the highest paid player in the league, and if he plays like his contract depends on it, we could certainly be looking at the Lions on top of the division. They were oh-so-close last year, falling victim to a rather epic late season collapse. Don’t call them a team of destiny, call them a team of “it’s about damn time we win this division.”
Why they won’t: Brutal first two months
The Lions got off to an excellent start last season, and even though they choked away the division, they were in contention up until the very end—this year’s schedule may not afford them the same luxury. The Lions first eight games: vs. Cardinals, @ Giants, vs. Falcons, @ Vikings, vs. Panthers, @ Saints, vs. Steelers, @ Packers. The schedule cools off the latter half of the season, but the first half may be too much to overcome.
Why they will: Superior Defense
Of the four defenses in the NFC North, the Vikings have the best, and frankly, it’s not even close. Ranking 3rd in total yards and passing yards per game, and 6th in total points allowed, the Vikings defense has grown to elite status under Mike Zimmer, and will need to continue its high level of play if the Vikings are to take back the division from the Packers.
Why they won’t: Consistency
Bear with me while I throw out some numbers for the Vikings 2016 season.
14.125: Average points allowed in wins
26.5: Average points scored in wins
24.25: Average points allowed in losses
14.375: Average points scored in losses
These are prime numbers for…an 8-8 season. The Vikings must find a way to improve these numbers if they want a chance at the division crown.
Green Bay Packers
Why they will: Aaron Rodgers
Call it boring, call it same-old same-old. But it’s nothing short of the truth—if the Packers are going to win the NFC North for the 6th time in seven years, it falls on the leader of the Pack. After a “slump” in 2015-start of 2016 (the term “slump” is used lightly here), Rodgers was magical at the end of last season. But while he can still make the magic happen, Packer fans are looking for more than just a division title.
Why they won’t: Injuries on defense
You probably don’t need people repeatedly telling you how porous the Packers defense was last season—but it’s appropriate to assume that any team would struggle when their backup’s backups and practice squad guys are being thrust into big-game situations. The NFC North was easily the division hit hardest by injuries in 2016, and the Packers did require a touch of good fortune to win the division. Another run of injuries could derail them in 2017.