Without Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers got the Packers to overtime against the Cardinals and nearly had a date with the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game.
With Nelson, the expectations are greater.
The Packers will again feature Randall Cobb and tight end Richard Rodgers, along with a slimmed-down Eddie Lacy. Green Bay’s back seven is also stout.
Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews can still do everything, and a secondary with Sam Shields and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is one of the better ones in the league.
Green Bay hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2008.
Best player ever: 4 Brett Favre
The Vikings were in position to be one of the NFC’s elite until Teddy Bridgewater tore up his knee on Tuesday They upgraded at receiver with Laquon Treadwell and still have the best running back in the league in Adrian Peterson.
There’s talent throughout Minnesota’s defensive depth chart, and a great linebacking crew with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Chad Greenway. Minnesota also has the best secondary depth in the league.
The Vikings will test the Packers for the North crown after coming a field goal shy of the second round of the playoffs. But now they’ll have to get through the division with Shaun Hill as their top quarterback at the start of Week 1.
Best player ever: 84 Randy Moss
The Bears should have been better than they were last year at 6-10.
Sure, Alshon Jeffery missed half the season because of an injury (he had 807 yards in nine games), but Chicago still underperformed.
Jay Cutler enters his eighth season as the Bears’ starting quarterback, but he hasn’t had a winning season since 2012. Chicago lost Matt Forte (is Jeremy Langford enough?) but will add former first-round pick Kevin White after the receiver missed all of last season.
Chicago was 14th last season in overall defense but 20th in points allowed per game with 24.8. An improvement in defense will help get them out of the North’s cellar.
Best player ever: 34 Walter Payton
Take away a controversial no-call against Seattle and a Hail Mary vs. Green Bay and the Lions would have been 9-7 last season.
That doesn’t mean anything for this year, but it should be noted. It especially doesn’t mean anything now that they’ve lost the best receiver in franchise history – Calvin Johnson – to retirement.
Matt Stafford will have Golden Tate and Anquan Bolding to throw to, and Ameer Abdullah is great out of the backfield. But will Stafford have enough time to throw with rookie Taylor Decker blocking at tackle for him?
Best player ever: 20 Barry Sanders