It could be argued that no NFC North team improved as much as the Chicago Bears this off-season. Whether they can reclaim their spot on top of the NFC North is still a major question.
Starting today with the offense, here is how the Bears stack up with the rest of the division.
2. Green Bay
Analysis: It is impossible to rank Chicago’s quarterback — whether it be Trubisky or Foles — ahead of the others in the NFC North.
The big knock on Cousins has been his performance in big games, but he seemed to disprove that last year with a road playoff win over New Orleans. Rodgers is coming off of one of the worst seasons of his career and is 36 years old. He hasn’t sniffed his career passer rating of 102.4 in three years and has finished with passer ratings below 98 in four of the last five years. (While many have blamed his relative lack of production on a poor supporting cast, Green Bay’s front office clearly doesn’t agree as the only position they invested a major asset into this off-season was quarterback.) And despite Detroit’s constant attempts to ruin him, Stafford is right there with the other two, although a back injury makes him a bit of a question mark heading into the 2020 season.
Bears don’t have quarterbacks of this caliber.
2. Green Bay
Analysis: The Vikings and Packers take the top two spots simply because they have proven game breakers at the top of their depth charts and depth behind them. Both Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones had breakout seasons in 2019 and don’t appear to be going anywhere in the near future. Cook ran for 1,135 yards (4.5 per carry) and caught 53 passes with 13 total touchdowns in 14 games while Jones ran for 1,084 yards and caught 49 passes for 19 total touchdowns in 16 games. (Minnesota gets the edge because backup Alexander Mattison is better than Jamal Williams. Green Bay spent its second round pick on a running back, but how much he plays remains to be seen.)
For the Bears, David Montgomery seemed so close to putting it all together last year. With a stronger commitment to the running game and improved blocking, he could be in for a big season. And if Tarik Cohen returns to previous form, the Bears could climb this ranking easily.
Detroit’s situation is interesting. Kerryon Johnson got off to a strong start, averaging 5.4 yards per carry as a rookie, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field, playing just 18 games in two years. They drafted D’Andre Swift from Georgia in the second round, but it’s hard to rank him ahead of Montgomery or Cohen before he has played a single snap.
3. Green Bay
Analysis: Kenny Golladay broke out last year, producing nearly as well with Detroit’s backup QBs as he did with Stafford. Marvin Jones is reliable second option and Danny Amendola is a reliable slot threat.
Have the Bears extended Allen Robinson yet? He’s a large part of the reason they’re in this discussion, but Anthony Miller appears to be on the verge of something huge. And a big move was made late when the Bears added burner Ted Ginn Jr. He may not be a high volume receiver, but Ginn changes the geometry of the defense.
Neither Green Bay nor Minnesota have much beyond their top options.
4. Green Bay
Analysis: Irv Smith is about to become a problem in the NFL.
While he had a relatively quiet rookie year with 36 catches at 8.6 yards per reception, the 22-year-old gives the Vikings speed at the position to pair with the divisions’ most well-rounded tight end, Kyle Rudolph. (The Lions will still likely have the best tight end in the division in T.J. Hockenson, but the Vikings got the edge because of the difference between Rudolph and Jesse James.)
Say what you will about Jimmy Graham, but he was still Green Bay’s best tight end in 2019 and now he’s on the Bears. The Packers limited Graham’s role late in the year and even tried to play Jace Sternberger over him, but Graham was still their best receiving option at the position and arguably one of their best players in the playoffs last year. Then the Bears added Cole Kmet with the 43rd pick. He has the size to be effective in the running game and the speed to get down the field.
1. Green Bay
Analysis: The Packers suffered a big loss with Bryan Bulaga going to the Chargers, but they did a good job replacing him with Ricky Wagner. The right side of their offensive line is relatively weak — they might be worse at right guard than the Bears — but they are among the best in the league at the other three spots.
The Bears unit is much maligned, but it seems likely that players like Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie and Cody Whitehair all rebound after down 2019 seasons. While he struggled at center, James Daniels has been an adequate guard in his NFL career and has as much potential as any young offensive lineman in the division.
The biggest reason the Vikings will continue to struggle in the NFC North is because they can’t block the Bears or the Packers. They’re expected to make some moves, possibly moving Brian O’Neill to the left side or starting Ezra Cleveland there with Riley Reiff moving inside. But wherever they move them, O’Neill and Reiff, struggle against the pass rushers.
The Lions would have been second on this list, but replacing Wagner and Graham Glasgow with Hal Vaitai and Jonah Jackson, which seems to be a significant downgrade.
A quick position-by-position snapshot of the NFC North shows clearly that if the Bears aren’t able to compete for the division title, quarterback will be the reason why.