The Chicago Bears are building around Justin Fields, the Detroit Lions are entering the season as betting favorites to win the division, the Green Bay Packers are transitioning from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love and the Minnesota Vikings are attempting to repeat as division champs for the first time since 2008-09.
There’s a lot going on in the NFC North this season.
In the first of a series of posts previewing the division ahead of the 2023 season, Alyssa Barbieri of Bears Wire, Jeff Risdon of Lions Wire, Zach Kruse of Packers Wire and Tyler Forness of Vikings Wire answered the question: What are realistic expectations for each team in the NFC North this season?
While the Bears are coming off a three-win season that culminated in a 10-game losing streak, expectations are somewhat high for Chicago in 2023. That’s because of an impactful offseason where GM Ryan Poles overhauled the roster with some key additions in free agency and the NFL draft. Although there are still some questions about who’s bringing pressure off the edge.
But the biggest factor in the potential success of the Bears’ 2023 season is third-year quarterback Justin Fields. After wowing everyone with his elite rushing ability, the expectation is he’ll take a step forward in the passing game, and he’s been put in a position to succeed with upgrades along the offensive line and a better supporting cast, including wide receiver DJ Moore.
Despite having arguably the league’s worst roster a season ago, Chicago was able to keep games close in 2022 (they lost seven games by a single score). No one’s guaranteeing the Bears will make the playoffs this season – in fact, they still might be one year away (look at the 2022 Lions). But, if all goes well, Chicago could certainly be in the playoff conversation in 2023. At the very least, they should double their win total from a season ago.
Expectations in Detroit are freakishly high for a team that didn’t make the postseason a year ago. The team’s strong finish (8-2 in the final 10 games) and relative continuity with both the coaching staff and key young players has the Lions brimming with optimism.
The Lions are the current betting favorite to be the NFC North champions in 2023. That’s rare clout for a team that has never won the division and has just one playoff victory in the Super Bowl era. But it sure feels legit. With Jared Goff playing well in an aggressive, creative offense, one of the league’s best lines, a very promising young defense that realy started to click late last year, and a well-liked coach in Dan Campbell, this Lions team is poised to win at least 10 games and secure the team’s first postseason berth since 2016. Detroit has the talent and chemistry to do more than just show up in the playoffs, too.
Green Bay Packers
Packers coach Matt LaFleur likes to say that “no expectations means no limitations.” It’s a fitting phrase for the 2023 Packers. This is a team in transition (or beginning a rebuild, depending on who you ask) after trading away Aaron Rodgers and clearing the way for Jordan Love to start at quarterback. The Packers have plenty of good pieces in place, especially at running back, along the offensive line and at the premium positions on defense, and LaFleur’s scheme – a hybrid of the offense run by Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan – is quarterback-friendly. Most importantly, the NFC North is wide open, with no clear dominant team entering 2023. But everything for the Packers depends on where Love’s at after sitting behind a future Hall of Famer for three seasons.
What are reasonable expectations? For the Packers to get a thorough evaluation of Love at the game’s most important position and compete for a playoff spot, even if there will be unavoidable ups and downs during the journey. This team is incredibly young at wide receiver and tight end, but Aaron Jones and Christian Watson return as playmakers, the offensive line returns all five starters and every single important backup, and the defense is loaded with top picks and high-priced veterans. Just remember, the Packers went 6-10 in Rodgers’ first season as the starter in 2008, but it was a hugely important season because he proved he was “the guy” at quarterback. Winning anywhere between 5-10 games seems like the right range for Love and the 2023 Packers.
Expectations for the Vikings are relatively simple: improve on 2023. Firmly in what they are describing as a competitive rebuild, they lived it in 2022. They have been slowly moving on from aging veterans while also bringing in a lot of young talent. That youth movement has the Vikings with a very young, but talented roster. There are currently eight players on the roster over the age of 30 with quarterback Kirk Cousins and long snapper Andrew DePaola being two of them.
Last season, the Vikings finished 13-4 and won the NFC North division. Repeating as division champions is the first goal in a weak NFC. After that, it’s about fixing the weaknesses of 2022. The Vikings were the 31st ranked defense in 2022 and struggled mightily in the second and third quarters of games. Kevin O’Connell’s growth as a play caller will be key in taking another step in 2023.