(CBS Minnesota) — The Green Bay Packers, behind NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, dominated the NFC North last season. Rodgers returns under center for the Packers, despite some offseason drama that brought into question whether he would remain with the team. His presence solidifies Green Bay as the division favorite going into the season.
The Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, and Chicago Bears all have some questions at the quarterback position. Kirk Cousins has won one playoff game with the Vikings in his three seasons, despite what many considered playoff-caliber squads. Being unvaccinated, he could miss time this season due to illness and NFL protocols. The Lions traded away longtime leader Matthew Stafford for fellow former first-overall pick Jared Goff. The ex-Ram will look to overcome recent turnover issues in leading the subpar Lions. The Bears have their quarterback of the future in rookie Justin Fields. But he will be watching Andy Dalton from the sidelines until his chance arrives.READ MORE: One And Done: Cowboys 4th Quarter Rally Comes Up Short, Fall To 49ers 23-17
Being the first week of the season, all four teams are tied for the division lead. That probably won’t last. CBS Minnesota sports anchor Norman Seawright III looks at the Week 1 matchups in the NFL North.
All times listed are Eastern.
Minnesota Vikings @ Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, September 12 @ 1:00 p.m.
Last season, the Vikings lost five of their first six games. They were all but eliminated from serious playoff contention by the bye week. Minnesota has the offensive weapons to start strong. Cousins threw a career-high 35 touchdowns. Dalvin Cook picked up 1,557 yards rushing, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. But, as Seawright noted, “the Vikings offense hasn’t fully been in sync in the preseason. Mike Zimmer was being strategic with that, trying to make sure he got all the rookies some looks. See what he can get out of these guys in the preseason, so he knows what to do when building depth down the road.”
Tight end Irv Smith Jr. was expected to have a breakout season, but is now sidelined for the year after knee surgery. “Tyler Conklin isn’t necessarily a huge downgrade,” Seawright pointed out. “He’s fine in that position, but I know they really wanted Irv there.”
Defense should be a team strength. “The defense obviously figures to be so much better this year than it was last year,” according to Seawright. “It has been said that it’s largely the same. But that ignores the fact that Danielle Hunter at defensive end has returned. Dalvin Tomlinson is there, Patrick Peterson is there. And it’s not just the physical things they can do. It’s the mentorship they can provide for the younger players, which they really want.”
They’ll have to contain a healthy Joe Burrow leading an inexperienced Bengals squad. It’s unclear if young QB will have the blocking to stay upright in his second season. But he certainly has the targets, namely Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd, to do some damage.
San Francisco 49ers @ Detroit Lions, Sunday, September 12 @ 1:00 p.m.
These 49ers are much different from the banged-up squad that limped to a 6-10 finish last season. They still have some uncertainty at quarterback. Despite the presence of Jimmy Garoppolo, the team drafted Trey Lance with the fifth overall pick. “I think they’re going to end up starting Jimmy Garoppolo, just so he [Lance] kind of gets an idea of what the game is like with Jimmy doing this thing,” Seawright said. “They still seem to believe somewhat in Jimmy, so it’s kind of going to be a toss up between how they feel about these guys.”
The 49ers seem to have settled on Garoppolo for Week 1, a position they haven’t wavered from since trading up to draft Lance.READ MORE: 'It Was Really Terrifying' Congregation Beth Israel Members React To Hostage Situation
He’ll be up against a young, inexperienced Lions defense that didn’t play well in the preseason, and still has plenty of holes. “Detroit’s defense won’t have an answer for this offense really at all,” Seawright said. “So they’ll run and throw all over them. At this point, it doesn’t really matter who that quarterback is. They should be okay offensively.”
The Lions offense, with Goff instead of Stafford, could keep things interesting. An improved offensive line should help D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams pick up yards. It’s unclear who Goff will throw to, however, besides T.J. Hockenson. “Detroit’s offense seems like it’s kind of chaotic in some of the better ways,” according to Seawright. “Jared Goff has a lot to prove. So he will be a little bit more motivated as quarterback. But they will have to score a lot, and they will have to score often, because that defense isn’t going to do them any favors.”
Green Bay Packers @ New Orleans Saints, Sunday, September 12 @ 4:25 p.m.
The Packers are coming off a 13-3 season that saw them run away with the division and fall just short of the Super Bowl. The team averaged a league-high 31.8 points per game, and Rodgers won his third MVP award. The Packers have built a strong team around Rodgers, though maybe not quite strong enough in Rodgers’ eyes. Aaron Jones averaged 5.5 yards per carry en route to a 1,104-yard season. Davante Adams hauled in 115 passes, including a league-leading 18 touchdowns. Randall Cobb returns to the fold after a couple seasons away from the team.
“For as messy as this offseason has been, I think they’re going to be hard to beat,” Seawright said. “Typically speaking, I don’t really bet against Aaron Rodgers. I need to be overwhelmingly convinced that I should be doing that.”
“He’s coming off an MVP year, and he’ll probably be motivated to remind the organization why,” Seawright continued. “Until he gets to the point where he’s declining, he’s pretty much going to want to ride that until the wheels fall off. And he’s got Davante Adams at wide receiver too, so he’ll be comfortable doing what he does.”
The Saints will be without their own future Hall Of Fame QB. Drew Brees’ retirement after a decade and a half under center in New Orleans leaves a big opening to be filled by Jameis Winston, at least for now. Taysom Hill will certainly see the field in some capacity “Who are they going to stick with?” Seawright wondered. “Around the league, folks are still trying to convince themselves that Taysom Hill should be a long-term quarterback, and I’m not convinced about that. I tend to fall a little bit more on Jameis Winston’s side based on his preseason performance.”
Winston and the Saints offense will rely heavily on the multi-dimensional Alvin Kamara for now. Wide receiver will miss the season’s first five games. Running back Latavius Murray was recently released by the team.
Chicago Bears @ Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, September 12 @ 8:20 p.m.
Andy Dalton takes over as the Bears’ quarterback, with rookie Justin Fields waiting in the wings. It won’t be long until Fields takes over from him, but it also won’t necessarily be this week. The Rams boast one of the NFL’s best defenses, and possibly the NFL’s best defensive player in Aaron Donald.
“They want to make sure the rookie quarterback kind of gets an idea for the game,” according to Seawright. “So he doesn’t get beat up by Aaron Donald right away. I totally get that. But Justin Fields is so good. You’ll have fans calling for him probably by the second quarter, like ‘put him in right now.’ But you don’t want to get him mashed up right away. That offensive line is still kind of suspect. They’re not super creative on offense, which isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. But you don’t really want to put your shiny new quarterback out there to get beat up, when you Andy Dalton has at least a chance to make that a little bit more respectable…”MORE NEWS: In Fort Worth, Governor Abbott Defends His Covid-19 Response Amid Criticism From Challengers
Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, and the Bears’ defense may have their own struggles. Matthew Stafford comes in as the Rams’ starting quarterback, in a trade that sent Jared Goff to Detroit. “Stafford wants to ball out this year,” said Seawright. “He wants to prove he’s got something left in him. McVay is going to let him do it. He’ll give him a lot of creativity, a lot of weapons to work with. Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, they will give that defense some headaches.”