2021 NFL NFC North Preview – BlackSportsOnline
Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

NFL Playoffs: Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (12) in action vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay, WI 1/24/2021 CREDIT: Jeff Haynes (Photo by Jeff Haynes/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)


2021 NFL NFC North Preview

Three divisions down, five more to go.

We hit both the NFC and AFC East last week. This week, we’re rounding out both the NFC and AFC North divisions. The AFC North was done earlier this week, so check it out either before or after you read this latest installment.

To end this week, we’re previewing the NFC North, a division that’s full of questions and concerns.

Let’s jump into it.

2020 Standings

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)

2. Chicago Bears (8-8)

3. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

4. Detroit Lions (5-11)

Overview of 2020 for the NFC North

The NFC North was a one man show for the most part in 2020.

Matt LaFleur and his Green Bay Packers continued their dominance in the division, riding Aaron Rodgers’ spectacular MVP season and the historic offensive production that came along with it. They cruised through the regular season, trampling on the entire NFC en route to securing the conference’s number one overall seed in the playoffs. But for the second straight season in a row, their regular season success couldn’t be capped off with a trip to the Super Bowl, as they were outclassed by Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Now with the start of training camp just a few weeks away, the team is dealing with a scenario they never thought they would find themselves in. Please your legendary star quarterback in hopes of him returning to the team or lose the PR battle and face the reality of potentially trading him next off-season.

If they can’t get Rodgers to return to the team and play in 2021, then their hopes of continuing their quest towards another Super Bowl berth will ride on the shoulders of inexperienced young quarterback Jordan Love. It’s a tough situation for Green Bay to be in right now, let’s watch how they handle it over the next few weeks.

The Chicago Bears were the opposite of dominant in 2020.

An early 5-1 start had Bears fans dreaming of division contention once again despite the obvious shortcomings of Matt Nagy’s offense. But after a six game losing streak began after the hot start, Bears fans were starting to face a situation in which they could see their team end the season on a depressing note. However, all hope wasn’t lost in the end. The team won three out their last four games to end the season and locked down one of the conference’s final playoff spots, mostly due to the scorching play of David Montgomery.

Their season ended on a sour note courtesy of a frustrating playoff loss to the New Orleans, therefore sending this team to the off-season with nothing but questions and doubts about their future. Once the 2021 NFL Draft rolled around, the team was given a chance to acquire a franchise quarterback, something this organization hasn’t had since the old schools days of McMahon. And that they did by selecting Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick in the draft, giving them an elite quarterback prospect with immense immediate skill and the potential to become even better.

As the team has said, Fields won’t immediately get the starting nod at quarterback. But he’ll be given a chance to redshirt his rookie year and potentially take over the offense in 2022 if everything goes according to plan. With this team not expected to contend for even a playoff spot, the only intriguing storyline surrounding this team that’ll be worth following is if Fields will be able to step onto the field as a starter before the 2021 season ends. Since that scenario is unlikely to occur until at least the middle to later part of the season, it’s probably okay to dismiss any fleeting interest in keeping up with the team for now.

Mike Zimmer’s Vikings are stuck in a state of limbo. On one hand they’re not good enough to contend for the division and on the other hand they’re not bad enough to be in a position to receive a high draft pick. They’re simply an average football team, one that will end up with a wild card spot at best if they’re lucky. The focus in Minnesota is to develop as much of the young talent as they can, while continuing to simply pay the limited amount of high impact veterans that remain on the roster. 2021 likely won’t be kind for the Vikings, so we can pay them no mind.

Detroit, Detroit Detroit.

The Lions are in the beginning phases of a rebuild that was long overdue. They’ve tasked eccentric head coach Dan Campbell to change the culture and oversee this organizational retooling, which can’t be judged as good or bad just yet even after his rather interesting introduction phase to the franchise. Penei Sewell’s development and D’Andre Swift’s promotion to RB1 stand as the only topics worth caring about, so I guess we won’t be paying too much attention to the Lions in 2021.

Best Offense for 2021

Green Bay Packers- When I was forced to pick the best offense in the division in July, I ended up picking the Minnesota Vikings.

Now that was before the whole Aaron Rodgers situation was cleaned up, but it just goes to show you how much the needle moves when Rodgers himself is inserted into the fold. With Rodgers on the field, along with Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, the rest of the glorious depth the Packers have within the skill position group, and that mean offensive line, picking the best offense isn’t even a difficult thing to do.

Best Defense for 2021

Chicago Bears- If you want to use overall talent as the only factor when deciding on who to select as the best defense in the division, then look no further than the Packers. They have three very solid edge rushers in Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, and Rashan Gary. Along with that edge rush talent pool, they have some respectable pieces in the secondary, including Pro Bowl corner Jaire Alexander, veteran safety Adrian Amos, and a younger safety that’s quietly earned a lot of respect over the years in Darnell Savage.

But as we all know, it’s rather foolish to judge something as important as a defensive unit on the basis of overall talent.

Instead, we rely on stats, the eye test, and proven production to judge who has the better unit. Using those three factors I just brought up, I think it’s obvious who’ll be taking home this useless honor from me, well that’s if you paid attention to them at all last season.

The Chicago Bears were a literal roadblock defensively last season. While the offense sputtered and couldn’t find even an ounce of rhythm, it was the defense that stepped up and carried this team to victory after victory during their 5-1 start last year.

Heading into 2021, they still look like a strong unit on paper. The only concern(s) I’d have for this group right now is whether Jaylon Johnson is ready to become the team’s CB1 after Kyle Fuller was released in the off-season, if Robert Quinn can do anything to make his contract not look like one of the worst in football, and if new defensive coordinator Sean Desai can continue to guide this unit to success.

Other than that, I don’t have too much to complain about regarding this defense.

Best Head Coach for 2021

Matt LaFleur- LaFleur is the only viable candidate for this specific honor/award. Matt Nagy’s future in Chicago will depend on the development of Justin Fields, Mike Zimmer could be seeing the exit door soon, and Dan Campbell hasn’t even coached a game yet with the Lions.

In his first two seasons as head coach of the Packers, LaFleur had led the team to two straight NFC championship games, has given this offense an identity to lean on, and his play action passing game has allowed Aaron Rodgers to rediscover the consistent greatness he showed before his fallout with Mike McCarthy.

There’s just no way you can give this honor to anyone else without being a little bit crazy.

Case closed.

Potential Breakout Player to Watch for Each Team in 2021

Green Bay Packers- CB Eric Stokes

Before Stokes was drafted by the Packers at the end of the first round in the 2021 NFL Draft, the corner situation aside from Jaire Alexander was worrying.

Kevin King has continued to disappoint and Josh Jackson hasn’t panned out the way the organization hoped he would. Now with Stokes in the picture, it feels like he can bring some relief to Green Bay’s awkward corner room. Reports out of Green Bay say Stokes might compete with Kevin King for the starting boundary corner spot opposite Jaire Alexander.

If Stokes wins that competition, he’ll be due for a ton of playing time right away. Which in part could lead to a breakout type of season for the ex-Georgia Bulldog.

Chicago Bears- CB Jaylon Johnson

Johnson had a pretty impressive rookie year in 2020, playing opposite of shutdown corner Kyle Fuller on a dominating Bears defense.

But now in 2021, Johnson will be tasked with repeating his play from 2020, but this time as the top corner on the team. Fuller was released over the off-season because of his status as a cap casualty. That move seemingly elevated Johnson to CB1 and instantly gave him the opportunity to prepare for a big time upgrade in terms of role.

Because of Johnson having the luxury of playing alongside a shutdown corner in Fuller, some thought the eye opening metrics tied to Johnson’s name during his rookie season weren’t…..true in a sense. However Johnson has a chance to shut all of that talk down with a big 2021 playing against the the opposing team’s best receiver week in and week out.

Good luck to him.

Minnesota Vikings- TE Irv Smith Jr.

With Kyle Rudolph now out of the picture, it seems the ex-Alabama star Irv Smith Jr. will be given every chance to lock down the top tight end spot. Smith Jr. impressed in the limited game time he received over the last few seasons, which has some wondering if he’s set to breakout in 2021 and beyond.

The likes of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook will undoubtedly take away a good amount of Smith Jr.’s potential touches. But if he can capitalize on his opportunities in the redzone, then maybe we’ll see his involvement in the offense increase as the season rolls along.

Detroit Lions- RB D’Andre Swift

Swift was stuck sharing carries with Adrian Peterson in 2020, limiting his output in the process. Peterson is now gone, therefore putting Swift in a prime position to receive more carries and put up better numbers as a result.

New offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has a history of getting the absolute best out of his running backs dating back to his time with the Chargers, whether it’s in the run game or the passing game. With Swift excelling in both of those facets of the game, could we be seeing the stars aligning for a lot of touches for Swift in 2021?

I can only hope so for the sake of my future fantasy football endeavors.

Who Wins the Division in 2021?

With Aaron Rodgers back, there’s no question regarding who’ll win the NFC North this season.

It’s Green Bay’s crown to lose 100%.

You remember when we were discussing the Vikings as potential NFC North champions when the whole Rodgers situation wasn’t solved? That seems like a long long long time ago now doesn’t it?

Fans we’re excited to watch Green Bay’s demise only to see their apparent demise be burned to ashes, reduced to nothingness.

Well, that’s just how the cookie crumbles.