What you need to know about the NFC North


Aaron Rodgers could only watch after breaking his collarbone in early November. (Mike Roemer / AP)

The Green Bay Packers won NFC North with an 8-7-1 record while the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings stumbled and, this season, all four teams have cause for varying degrees of optimism.

The Packers have a healthy quarterback in Aaron Rodgers; the Lions have a new coach who happens to be a quarterback whisperer; the Bears are looking at defense again; and the Vikings have to believe they can’t start 1-7 again.

Chicago

Top story line – If it’s not one thing, it’s another. The Bears’ offense progressed in Marc Trestman’s first year as coach, but the defense, the always-vaunted Bears defense, finished near the bottom of the league.

Key acquisition – The Bears used four draft picks on defense and took Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the 14th overall pick.

Biggest loss – Julius Peppers, who may be aging but will see the Bears twice this season after signing with Green Bay.

Detroit

Top story line – There’s a new sheriff in town, with Coach Jim Caldwell replacing Jim Schwartz and presumably preparing to impose some discipline on a ridiculously talented team.

Key acquisition – Caldwell (whose résumé boasts success with Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco) will work to correct the technical flaws of Matthew Stafford, who now has another talented receiver in former Seahawk Golden Tate.

Biggest loss – Defensive end Willie Young led the Lions’ ends in total pressures with 60 and was third in the league in quarterback hurries.

Green Bay

Top story line – They’re the Packers. No sudden, flashy moves here. Just stability and common sense. Now, if they can just keep Aaron Rodgers healthy, they might be in position to advance in the playoffs.

Key acquisition – Playing alongside Clay Matthews Jr., Julius Peppers, who comes from the division-rival Bears, gives the Packers another force off the edge on defense. And first-round draft pick Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix is likely to be a starter on Day 1.

Biggest loss – Wide receiver James Jones ended up in Oakland.

Minnesota

Top story line – Mike Zimmer, Cincinnati’s former defensive coordinator, gets a chance to try to fix the Vikings, who had the worst scoring defense in the league last season. Zimmer is widely respected, but he joins a franchise that has fired three head coaches since 2005.

Key acquisition – Brett Favre. Kidding! It’s defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who should thrive under Zimmer.

Biggest loss – Jared Allen isn’t what he used to be, but he’ll be facing the Vikings twice a year in his new capacity with the Bears.

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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Cindy Boren · July 22