The NFC North is a beast of a division. This season looks like it is going to be a brawl to see who comes down with the division crown just on paper. Sure, there is the obvious hunch that the Bears simply repeat as divisional champions, but when Aaron Rodgers is in the division, that is never a fully guaranteed deal.
Still, there are always key developments team-by-team that can help them reach that division title and the playoffs. Those developments are not always expected, such as Eddie Jackson’s absolute monster season last season. However, it is possible that something like that occurs again, thus here is a bold prediction for each team in the NFC North.
Chicago Bears: Allen Robinson takes the NFC North by storm, goes for over 1,200 receiving yards
The Bears had a bit of weird situation on offense last season. They weren’t overly explosive, but Mitchell Trubisky really spread the ball around well. Granted, their receiving corps is very solid, with multiple guys on the up, but their number one guy, Allen Robinson, actually only had 754 receiving yards in 13 games last year.
I fully expect that to change this year with Trubisky hopefully improving and Robinson hopefully fully healthy. He is the main target in this passing game and is not too far removed from a 1,400 receiving yard season in Jacksonville. Bears fan should be excited about everything they saw out of Robinson last year. For example, he caught 72% of his targets. Robinson is a top-20 receiver in the NFL talent-wise and will have a coming-out show in Chicago this season.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers get two 1,000 yard receivers this season in Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Davante Adams going for another 1,000-yard season? That is not bold or shocking in any way. Now, another receiver joining him there? That is bold, but given the tools Valdes-Scantling has, it should not come out of the blue.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling ran a 4.37 40 at 6’4″, so the athletic tools are astonishing with him. That is rare speed for a guy at that size, and he shows off that speed in games as well. Last year it was key for him to prove that he was not just a workout warrior and that is just what he did.
His route running and releases took a step from where they were in his final season at USF and he even made a few acrobatic catches too. With the potential that Valdes-Scantling has, a 1,000-yard season is not too crazy given his athleticism and the improvement he showed last year. Playing with Rodgers, and a motivated Aaron Rodgers at that, can only help him in that quest. The NFC North needs to look out for him. He could be the next big thing.
Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins is sacked less than 30 times this season
The newly revitalized Vikings offensive line has to come up big for this team to get back to the playoffs and make a deep run, and I think they will do it, largely to the benefit of Kirk Cousins. With Garrett Bradbury and Josh Kline coming in, this unit should be improved immediately. However, also moving Pat Elflein back to Guard, his more natural position, can only further help a unit that gave up over 40 sacks last season.
This should be a more strong-willed and technically sound unit, and most importantly, a more athletic unit too. Not only will they be able to protect Kirk Cousins, but they should open up lanes in the running game too. The wild card is if Elflein can truly make the full transition and be an NFL guard, but if he can, this unit is looking good and can improve heavily this year. Watch out for the Minnesota Vikings.
Detroit Lions: T.J. Hockenson has over 800 yards receiving
Call me crazy for this all you want, but Hockenson’s ability to change a passing game is just special. He was arguably better than Noah Fant, and likely was the best tight end in the draft last season. Now, as he is thrown into a high octane offense in Detroit with Matthew Stafford and company, Hockenson is going to get a ton of opportunities as the starting tight end.
The transition for a polished tight end such as Hockenson, and one that can move in space as well as he can, is not going to be all that hard. This prediction is bold because it is likely the ceiling on expectations for Hockenson in his rookie year, but if there is anything I have learned from Hockenson while studying him at Iowa, it is to never doubt him.