(CBS Chicago) — For awhile this offseason, it seemed like three-time MVP Aaron Rodgers might not remain the Packers quarterback. Rodgers was still fuming over the Jordan Love’s selection in the 2020 NFL Draft to be his eventual replacement. And word got out before this year’s draft that he no longer wanted to play in Green Bay. His departure would have opened up the NFC North race to the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. But it didn’t play out that way.
After another Championship season, Rodgers returns under center for the Packers. At least for one more year, Green Bay will be the class of the division. “We now know who the quarterback in Green Bay is,” according to CBS Chicago sports anchor Marshall Harris. “So I’ve got to give it up to the reigning MVP in Aaron Rodgers and say the Pack. It’s their division to lose. He’s got so much to prove right now. He’s got one of the biggest chips on his shoulder for a guy who’s an actual MVP. And yet he still seems so angry. You saw his press conference, how he reacted the first time he was able to communicate with the media, how he felt the offseason went. He’s got something to prove, and I just feel bad for all the other teams in his way and their defenses and the defensive coordinators, specifically.”
Green Bay still has all the pieces to make another run at a Super Bowl. Rodgers completed 70.7 percent of his passes last season, throwing for 4,299 yards and 48 touchdowns. Davante Adams, who hauled in 115 catches and 18 touchdowns, remains among the league’s best pass catchers in a deep receiver core. Randall Cobb returns to the fold, and Amari Rodgers comes in out of Clemson. Aaron Jones, who picked up 1,104 yards on 5.5 yards per carry, will anchor the run game.
Although Joe Barry took over for Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator, the already solid defense hasn’t changed much either in terms of personnel. First-round pick Erik Stokes could take over for Kevin King at cornerback and further solidify a secondary that allowed only 221.2 yards per game passing.
Unlike the Packers, the Bears have plenty of questions at quarterback. Andy Dalton is penciled in as the starter, with first-round pick Justin Fields waiting in the wings. Either will be an improvement over the departed Mitchell Trubisky. Chicago’s situation at offensive line could also shake up their quarterback situation.
“It’s important to have a good offensive line,” Harris notes. Because that’s where things start and end with most football teams, and specifically one where the Bears don’t necessarily have a lot of questions answered there. When you have to go out and sign a 39-year-old to play tackle in Jason Peters, that tells me that you might need a little bit more depth and you might wish people are a little healthier than maybe what they are.”
Allen Robinson, one of the league’s better wide receivers, will help whoever is under center. And Marquise Goodwin provides another threat from the wideout position. A strong running game would help, if the Bears had one. David Montgomery ran for 1,070 yards last season, with 4.3 yards per carry. Tarik Cohen is still recovering from a torn ACL and will miss at least the first six weeks of the season. And it’s unclear how much this offense will be able to do behind the offensive line they’ve assembled.
“They could go to the playoffs again,” Harris suggests. “And a lot of that is going to depend on their defense and whether their superstars can truly be superstars. I want to see what Khalil Mack does. The Raiders are trying to get him back, but the Bears are like ‘nah, we’re going to hold on to this guy, because we gave up a lot to get him, we’re trying to do something now.’ I think they’re trying to do some now. Again, I can’t tell with the whole Andy Dalton-Justin Fields thing.”
The Vikings don’t have an issue at quarterback, at least as they see it. Kirk Cousins put up strong numbers last season, throwing for 4,265 yards and 35 touchdowns. But the team lost five of their first six games and never really challenged in the division. Dalvin Cook was the NFL’s second leading rusher, with 1,557 yards on 8.2 yards per carry. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson also had a strong rookie season. But tight end Irv Smith Jr. will likely miss the season after knee surgery.
The Vikings defense should be better, thanks to health and recent additions. Danielle Hunter returns after neck surgery sidelined him for all of last season. The linebackers room remains strong. And the addition of Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland should bolster the secondary.
The Lions continue to rebuild, now under new head coach Dan Campbell. Longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff. Goff took the Rams to Super Bowl LIII in 2018, but has struggled the last couple years.
“Jared Goff, a number-one pick now quarterbacking in Detroit… I’m interested to see what he has,” says Harris. “The man has had some turnover issues the last couple of seasons now. So you take one number-one overall pick in Matthew Stafford, send him out and get another one in Jared Goff. I think Matthew Stafford is better than Jared Goff. I don’t know what the rebuilding in Detroit is going to look like.”
The offense Goff will be running is filled with other new players. He’ll be throwing to new wide Tyrell Williams and Kalif Raymond, neither of whom seem likely to stand out. Jamaal Williams should also get some touches alongside D’Andre Swift, who remains from last season.
There’s also plenty of change on the defensive side of the ball. The league’s worst unit allowed a horrendous 419.8 yards and 32.4 points per game last season. But a lot of those players are gone. Defensive end Michael Brockers, formerly of the Rams, will be an improvement, assuming he’s healthy and ready to play. Linebacker Alex Anzalone from the New Orleans Saints and safety Dean Marlowe from the Buffalo Bills should be both be a step up as well.
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