The summer is beginning to draw to a close, and soon, temperatures and leaves will begin to fall. The NFL preseason is currently underway, and true NFL football is nearly here. Welcome to M-FANS 2018 Season Preview, where our staff of talented University of Michigan student writers will share their insight into the NFL’s 32 teams and top players as we get ready for the kickoff of the regular season. Today, we take a look at the NFC North. Enjoy!

By Lucas Vargas, Zane Harding, Conor Stemme, and Matthew Jo

 

Minnesota Vikings

By Lucas Vargas

2017 Record: 13-3 (1st in NFC North)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Mike Zimmer
OC – John DeFilippo
DC – George Edwards

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Kirk Cousins
RB1 – Dalvin Cook
RB2 – Latavius Murray
WR1 – Adam Thielen
WR2 – Stefon Diggs
WR3 – Kendall Wright
WR4 – Laquon Treadwell
TE – Kyle Rudolph
LT – Riley Reiff
LG – Tom Compton
C – Brett Jones*
RG – Mike Remmers
RT – Rashod Hill

Projected Defensive Starters
DE – Everson Griffen
DT – Linval Joseph
DT – Sheldon Richardson
DE: – Danielle Hunter/Brian Robinson
MLB – Eric Kendricks
WLB – Ben Gedeon
SLB – Anthony Barr
CB1 – Xavier Rhodes
CB2 – Trae Waynes
FS – Andrew Sendejo
SS – Harrison Smith

Projected Special Teams Starters
P – Ryan Quigley
K – Daniel Carlson
LS – Kevin McDermott
PR – Marcus Sherels
KR – Mike Hughes

Other Notable Players
WR – Kendall Wright
C – Pat Elflein (starter; will likely miss week one)
CB – Mike Hughes
S – George Iloka

Season Preview

On January 14, 2018, Stefon Diggs threw his helmet in celebration of the Minnesota Miracle. A week later, the Vikings lost 38-7 to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Since then, Kirk Cousins signed the first fully guaranteed contract in NFL history to replace departed quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, and Case Keenum. Almost every other key contributor from a year ago returns to the Vikings, who have their sights set on another playoff run.

Offensively, Captain Kirk takes command of an offense that returns Dalvin Cook from a torn ACL and adds Kendall Wright on a cheap one-year, $1 million deal. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph validated themselves as legit weapons that may improve with the addition of Cousins. Laquon Treadwell enters his third season as a pro still looking to demonstrate the potential he displayed during his time at Ole Miss. Joe Berger who started at right guard a year ago retired and it was recently announced that starting left guard Nick Easton will miss the season with a neck injury meaning the offensive line will have to develop over the preseason. Pat Elflein is on the PUP list while Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill are dealing with ankle injuries early in the preseason. The Vikings could potentially be without four offensive line starters to begin the year.

The Vikings’ calling card is a defense that lacks a clear weakness. The top defense from a year ago found a way to improve by signing Sheldon Richardson and drafting Mike Hughes. All 11 starters return to that side of the ball for Minnesota. The Vikings may possess the deepest secondary in the NFL. Xavier Rhodes is as close to a shutdown corner as exists and was named First-Team All-Pro last year. Harrison Smith graded out at 98.8 according to Pro Football Focus, the best in the league. Andrew Sendejo, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Marcus Sherels, and Terence Newman return and are joined by rookies Mike Hughes and Holton Hill. Hughes was first team all-AAC on an undefeated “national champion” UCF team and could see the field as a kick returner. Hill went un-drafted after only playing in nine games as a junior for Texas. He tallied 51 tackles and three defensive touchdowns before being suspended for a violation of team rules. The Vikings believe that Hill has starting CB potential. Toss in newly signed George Iloka and competition in the secondary should be fun to watch.

The depth on defense is enough to carry the Vikings in 2018, but the offense is poised to score points through the air or on the ground. The Vikings should not need a miracle this season.

Players to Watch

Kirk Cousins

“You Like That!?” Kirk Cousins signed a monster fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal this offseason. It was an unprecedented contract coming off six seasons in Washington that immediately puts Cousins under pressure to produce for a team that played in the NFC Championship last season. Can Cousins back up the contract?

Dalvin Cook

Cook was effective as a rookie before going down with a torn ACL. He is set to return and take over as the workhorse back in Minnesota.

Trae Waynes

There is substantial competition among the Vikings cornerbacks not named Xavier Rhodes with the return of Mackensie Alexander and Terence Newman along with the selection of Mike Hughes and the signing of undrafted Holton Hill. Waynes will get the first shot at starting but he has very little room for error.

 

Detroit Lions

By Zane Harding

2017 Record: 9-7 (2nd in NFC North)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Matt Patricia
OC – Jim Bob Cooter
DC – Paul Pasqualoni

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Matthew Stafford
RB – LeGarrette Blount
RB – Theo Riddick
RB – Kerryon Johnson (43rd overall selection)
WR1 – Marvin Jones Jr.
WR2 – Golden Tate
WR3 – Kenny Golladay / TJ Jones
TE – Luke Wilson
LT – Taylor Decker
LG – Frank Ragnow (20th overall selection)
C – Graham Glasgow
RG – T.J. Lang
RT – Rick Wagner

Projected Defensive Starters
DE – Ezekiel Ansah
DE – Anthony Zettel / Kerry Hyder Jr.
DT – A’Shawn Robinson
DT – Sylvester Williams
OLB – Devon Kennard
MLB – Jarrad Davis
OLB – Christian Jones / Jalen Reeves-Maybin
CB1 – Darius Slay
CB2 – Nevin Lawson (?)
CB3 – Teez Tabor / DeShawn Shead
SS – Quandre Diggs
FS – Glover Quin

Projected Special Teams Starters
P – Sam Martin
K – Matt Prater
PR – Jamal Agnew
KR – Ameer Abdullah
LS – Don Muhlbach

Other Notable Players
DT – Ricky Jean Francois
MLB – Jonathan Freeny
SS – Tavon Wilson
FS – Miles Killebrew
OT – Tyrell Crosby

Season Preview

Our president, Zane Harding, has written a 7500-plus-word Detroit Lions preview. You can read the preview here.

 

Green Bay Packers

By Conor Stemme

2017 Record:

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Mike McCarthy
OC – Joe Philbin
DC – MIke Pettine

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Aaron Rodgers
RB1 – Jamaal Williams
RB2 – Ty Montgomery
WR1 – Davante Adams
WR2 – Randall Cobb
WR3 – Geronimo Allison
TE – Jimmy Graham
LT – David Bakhtiari
LG – Lane Taylor
C – Corey Linsley
RG –Justin McCray
RT – Bryan Bulaga

Projected Defensive Starters
DE – Mike Daniels
DE – Muhammad Wilkerson
NT – Kenny Clark
OLB – Clay Matthews
ILB- Blake Martinez
ILB – Oren Burks
OLB – Nick Perry
CB1 – Tramon Williams
CB2 – Kevin King
FS – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
SS – Kentrell Brice

Projected Special Teams Starters
K – Mason Crosby
P – JK Scott
KR/PR – Trevor Davis
LS – Hunter Bradley

Other Notable Players
FB – Aaron Ripkowski
CB – Jaire Alexander

Season Preview

The Green Bay Packers are coming off a lost season where they went 7-9 en route to a 3rd-place finish in the NFC North. Their offense was lackluster, ranking 26th in total yards with 4891 yards as they finished 17th in rush yards and 25th in pass yards. (Hey, that’s what happens when you lose Aaron Rodgers for a majority of the season.) Their defense was not much better, allowing the 11th-most yards and 7th-most points per game. The Packers had a lot to do in the offseason, including improving the receivers, finding a running back and trying to improve their defense.

The Packers solidified their secondary by re-signing two cornerbacks: Davon House and Tramon Williams. Both played for the Packers last year, and Williams will enter the year as the team’s top corner (unfortunately, he is not at the level of the NFC North’s other top corners). The Packers also improved their defense by signing Muhammed Wilkerson. He has 44.5 career sacks over seven seasons but has only posted eight over the past two years. The Packers had struggled at tight end over the past few years with Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers, so they went out and signed one of the better tight ends in football in Jimmy Graham. The Packers only targeted tight ends 100 times last season, but that may change this season (for context, Davante Adams had 118 by himself last year). Whether or not it does change, Jimmy Graham is a big upgrade over Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, and Richard Rodgers.

The Packers should at least compete for the division this year, as long as Rodgers stays healthy. The offense should be helped by the return of Rodgers, the clear running back, the addition of Jimmy Graham, and the depth at wide receiver. The defense is definitely weaker than the offense especially after losing linebacker Jake Ryan, but should be good enough to keep the games close.

Players to Watch

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers is coming off an injury-hampered season due to the shoulder injury he was given by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. He only played seven games, but in typical Rodgers fashion, he threw for 16 touchdowns while completing 67% of his passes. With that said, Rodgers did not look like vintage Aaron Rodgers in the games he did play. He finished with an approximate value of 7, which left him on pace to hit 16. He has exceeded that number four times in his career, so he wasn’t exactly on pace for a world-breaking year. That said, Rodgers should have at least a few years left in him as he is 34. If Rodgers can return to form and avoid injury, the Packers should compete for the division. If he’s hurt, you might as well consider the Packers eliminated from the postseason.

Jaire Alexander

Jaire Alexander is currently slated to be the team’s third cornerback position after being drafted with the 18th overall pick in this years draft. Alexander comes from Louisville and only played six games last season, so the Packers must have seen something in him to draft him in the first round. In three seasons, he managed 58 tackles and seven interceptions.

Jamaal Williams

Jamaal Williams is the Packers starting running back at the moment. The second-year player from BYU had more than five rush attempts in the last eight games of last season, leading him to the starting job this year. Since week nine, Williams only had one week under 40 yards, with most around 60 yards per game. He probably will not catch many passes, however, as fellow running back Ty Montgomery is a converted wide receiver.

 

Chicago Bears

By Matthew Jo

2017 Record: 5-11 (4th in NFC North)

Projected 2018 Roster

Coaching Staff
HC – Matt Nagy
OC – Mark Helfrich
DC – Vic Fangio

Projected Offensive Starters
QB – Mitchell Trubisky
RB – Jordan Howard
RB – Tarik Cohen
FB – Mike Burton
WR1 – Allen Robinson
WR2 – Taylor Gabriel
WR3 – Anthony Miller
TE – Trey Burton
LT – Charles Leno
LG – James Daniels
C – Cody Whitehair
RG – Kyle Long
RT – Bobby Massie

Projected Defensive Starters
DE1 – Akiem Hicks
DE2 – Jonathan Bullard
NT – Eddie Goldman
LOLB – Sam Acho
LILB – Roquan Smith
RILB – Danny Trevathan
ROLB – Leonard Floyd
CB1 – Kyle Fuller
CB2 – Prince Amukamara
CB3 – Bryce Callahan
FS – Eddie Jackson
SS – Adrian Amos

Projected Special Teams Starters
P – Pat O’Donnell
K – Cody Parkey
PR – Tarik Cohen
KR – Benny Cunningham
LS – Patrick Scales

Other Notable Players
WR – Kevin White
ILB – Nick Kwiatkowski

Season Preview

This offseason saw Chicago say farewell to a few familiar faces, but it also brought in many new ones to compensate.  Willie Young, Jerrell Freeman, and Josh Sitton were all released before the in flood of acquisitions arrived, but when free agency hit, impact players such as Allen Robinson and Trey Burton joined the team ready to start and play.  Although there were some changes to the roster, there was also turnover in the coaching staff – most importantly, the Bears hired Matt Nagy as the head coach to replace John Fox.

As the spring progressed, the team continued to find help through the NFL Draft.  Their first three picks (Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith at 8th overall, Iowa o-lineman James Daniels at 39th overall, and Memphis receiver Anthony Miller at 51st overall) are all listed as starters on the depth chart, and they will have an immediate effect on the success of this roster.

Mitch Trubisky is in his second season as an NFL quarterback, and he looks like he has the chops to be successful in this league.  Already, he has made it clear that he is the leader of this new offense constructed under Matt Nagy and former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich.  Last year, Nagy helped guide the Chiefs to a top 10 ranking in scoring and yardage as the offensive coordinator; now, the Bears hope to replicate the success of that offense with the weapons on their own roster.  Jordan Howard is coming off another campaign with over 1000 yards rushing and finishing top 5 in rushing touchdowns; Howard and Cohen should pack quite the 1-2 punch again this season. Even in the wake of Sitton’s departure, the offensive line also looks promising as it welcomes back Kyle Long from injury, and most of the other lineman who as a unit were ranked just outside PFF’s top 10 lines last year.  The biggest question mark here is the receiving corps – Allen Robinson is coming off an ACL tear, and the other two starters are unproven, but Trey Burton could be the answer filling in for Zach Miller. With five starters who have never played a regular snap for the Bears, there are sure to be some growing pains, but the future looks bright.

Defense wins championships.  This mantra has been the heart and soul of the Chicago Bears for decades, and after a brief hiatus, they look harder, better, faster, stronger than their opponents.  The monsters of the midway reemerged in a big way last season as the defense found itself top 10 in scoring and yards allowed for the first time since 2012 – back when Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher was still on the roster.  The defensive front looks scary with studs like Hicks and Floyd leading the pass rush, the secondary retained all their starters from last season who helped put the Bears in the top 10 pass defenses, and the linebacking corps looks dynamic with Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan on the inside.  Fangio has done a tremendous job turning around this once 30th-ranked defense.

Players to Watch

Akiem Hicks

Hicks broke out again last year in the absence of Leonard Floyd.  Finishing with 20.2% of the Bears’ sack total and in 2nd for run stops for less than 2 yards, Hicks should now be considered an elite defensive lineman.  With so many other threats to worry about, offensive lines will have a handful trying to stop him from having a career year.

Trey Burton

This former Philly tight end has not had many career snaps, but even with limited playing time, he has shown flashes of huge potential in the passing game.  Last season, Burton turned almost a fourth of his receptions into touchdowns, and with the tight end-focused offense Matt Nagy will implement in Chicago, he looks to have a breakout campaign alongside Mitch Trubisky

Adrian Amos

Safety can be a flashy position, but a lot of the best ones just do their job by never missing their assignments and staying consistent.  This is how Amos likes to play – make solid tackles, cover receivers in his zone, and defend against passes thrown his way. If he continues to do his job, this secondary should be surprisingly good once again.

 

 

Featured Image: By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA – Stefon Diggs, CC BY-SA 2.0

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