Team Analysis for the NFC North – Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Roster in 2021
Even though we had an entertaining NFL offseason, the NFC North was one of the busier divisions.
All four of these teams have their share of positives and negatives; and in this article, we’ll look at their strengths and weaknesses.
Without further ado, here are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the four teams that comprise the NFC North.
Chicago has a future at quarterback for once, but the schedule will test them. Even in a division that does not look dominant on paper, it’s tough to predict how the Bears will do.
Bears’ Biggest Strength: Front Seven
The Monsters of the Midway have been elite defensively for years, but will they be able to bring the pain in 2021? How much longer will the Bears waste great defensive performances?
The Bears have a lot going for them. Their front seven have been among the top in the league and overall, they have been dominant for most of their franchise history.
Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were two legendary defensive performers on the Bears for a decade-plus. The tradition of successful players at or near the trenches has continued, but the franchise may never have a repeat of 1985 – which has cemented its place in history as the best defensive year for the Bears so far.
The 2021 Bears won’t be near the ‘85 Bears, but they certainly can try. Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack, and Roquan Smith are the team stars.
Akiem Hicks is a tremendous interior lineman that impacts the game when he is on the field. When he is off the field, the Bears are prone to giving up chunk plays on the ground.
It doesn't take an NFL scout, analyst, etc… to see how much the Bears are missing Akiem Hicks right now – just a totally different defense without him.— Andy Herman (@AndyHermanNFL) November 30, 2020
Hicks has a big, athletic body that eats up opposing linemen. He is a consistent threat to take on two or three players from the opposition.
Hicks can overpower most of them but is quick enough to sneak through blockers. He has quietly become one of the top defenders in the trenches in the entire league.
Khalil Mack has been a menace since he stepped on the field for the Bears. He put together a virtuoso defensive performance against the Packers in his debut back in 2018. He is an aggressive pass-rusher and an opportunistic defender that has given the Bears an edge.
His arrival in 2018 turned the Bears into instant contenders. Check out his stats and Chicago’s success since.
Chicago won the NFC North in Mack’s first year on the job. That 12-win season topped the previous two seasons combined, while the team has had a better record in his three years with the team than any previous season since 2013.
Mack’s strength, size, and pure athleticism are tough to match. He is an alpha dog that every defensive juggernaut wishes they had.
There’s also stud linebacker Roquan Smith, who is stout against the run and has improved in pass coverage.
The former Georgia Bulldog has great instincts and plays like his hair is always on fire. He could be a player Chicago has around for a long while.
Defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. is another stellar option for the Bears lean on. He is a solid-sized defender that brings athleticism to the team.
Edwards Jr. was a former second-round selection to the Raiders and has bounced around (Giants, Saints) due to lack of playing time and production. He has never been an elite pass-rusher, but he was once the number three prospect in the nation as a defensive tackle (per Rivals).
Edwards will have former college Seminoles teammate, Eddie Goldman next to him. Goldman was a starter in the trenches of the FSU club that dethroned Auburn.
Goldman opted out of the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At just 27 years old though, he could put forth the best effort in his career.
Bilal Nichols played a ton last year in Goldman’s place; so, the depth is solid overall.
They can get after the passer and play top defense – and if the secondary improves, they could become one of the best defensively.
Bears’ Biggest Weakness: Offensive Line
The Chicago offensive line has been abysmal for several seasons. They ranked No. 16 in sacks allowed last season (36) but were worse the year before. They allowed 45 sacks in 2019 and have not had a running game worth a darn.
They drafted David Montgomery out of Iowa State two seasons ago, and he is a productive player but should be more effective in an offense.
Sadly, the Bears have been allergic to moving the chains. They ranked No. 26 in the NFL in offensive yards per game (331.4). But where should all the blame be placed?
Daniels is capable, but the other three are question marks. They have not done enough at acquiring talent in the draft or free agency.
They just drafted Tevin Jenkins out of Oklahoma State. He was an underrated prospect, and the OSU Cowboys will surely miss his production. The hope is, he will become one of the better players on the roster.
The o-line is honestly just the start. It’s easily Chicago’s biggest weakness, but there are two more areas of concern.
David Montgomery has been getting buried at or behind the line of scrimmage. Montgomery had a solid season in 2020. He was one of the few bright spots. His 1,000-plus yards were decent, but he failed to dominate games.
The amount of running room was not available due to atrocious blocking. The struggles in the trenches have remained because of the poor talent level. They used Monty in the passing game to offset the lack of a run game.
The strategy by Matt Nagy worked, but it was not enough to overcome their lackluster offense. The depth behind the former Cyclone was not formidable either.
Tarik Cohen suffered a season-ending injury, and the offense missed his explosiveness.
|NFC North Team||Rush Yards Per Game||2020 NFL Rank|
The lone bright spot was Allen Robinson. One of the top dozen receivers in the NFL has surpassed his expectations he came with to the Windy City.
A-Rob has been unstoppable in the past two seasons. He has totaled 200 receptions to go along with 2,397 yards. Throw in 13 scores, and he has been the best weapon for the Bears by a country mile.
If there was another weapon in the passing game remotely close to Robinson, the Bears could make the postseason with consistency.
It goes to show how dominant their defense has been. Appearing in the playoffs last season was a surprise. Darnell Mooney came out of Tulane with low expectations, but he had a solid rookie campaign.
Mooney can take the momentum from his rookie campaign into a tremendous sophomore season. A lot of the production will be determined by whether or not the quarterback position is consistent.
Can the QB Save the Team?
The much-maligned position under center is always crucial in the NFL. If the offensive line has issues, the quarterback is often the player that can carry an offense towards relevance. That is where the hype begins with Justin Fields.
The signal-caller woes go back to Sid Luckman and Bobby Douglas. They have been among the five worst franchises in football at quarterback. Excluding the newer franchises, only Cleveland can have a bigger beef than the Bears.
The lack of a pocket passer has not allowed their youngsters to develop much over the years. Fields can change all of that.
The former Buckeye is a tremendous athlete with a plus arm. He put together one of the best performances in the history of the College Football Playoff.
If he can see that translate to the next level, Fields may be able to off-set a lot of the Bears’ weaknesses as early as 2021.
The Bears have a bright future ahead of them. The hope is they can find a way to keep Allen Robinson to allow future success for Fields. Many are not expecting Fields to start the season under center, but he should see more snaps towards the end of November.
The issue entering the season, other than the lack of a run game and protection from the offensive line, will be the play of Andy Dalton. Dalton struggled behind a mediocre Cowboys offensive line last season.
Even though his arm strength and accuracy have been inconsistent, “The Red Rifle” is a decent veteran that perhaps could surprise many in 2021.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers has stolen the headlines after a disappointing postseason ended in another non-Super Bowl appearance. will be among the favorites to win the NFC yet again, if Rodgers is under center.
Packers’ Biggest Strength: Adams and Rodgers
Arguably the best franchise in NFC history; the ability to keep piling up Hall of Famers under center has been a Green Bay tradition. Attracting premier wide receivers has not been a weakness either.
The rapport that Adams has built with Rodgers is incredible. Many questions how much longer the duo will be around together, but Rodgers might be the only one to answer that. Fans just want to see them continue to play together, and others are hoping for further dominance.
The amount of red zone dominance from the pair has been video game-like.
Adams set a new career-high with 18 touchdowns last season. Adams’ ability to put on the brakes and accelerate is poetry in motion. Green Bay has been a joy to watch, thanks to Rodgers and Adams.
How many championships will the pair win together?
Davante Adams’ Talents
Adams ranks among the best and Green Bay has taken advantage of his talents. Adams has caught 111-plus receptions in two of the past three seasons. He had 1,300-plus yards in those two seasons.
Many have questioned the size and overall explosiveness that Adams has shown, and yet production continues. He is one of the top route runners in the NFL, and is deceptively quick, but the ability to get open is an art form.
His elite route-running chops have resulted in some Packers records already. Here’s where he sits with some impressive single-season marks.
|Stat||Production||Franchise Team Rank|
|Career Receiving Yards||6,568||8th|
Aaron Rodgers’ Talent
The offensive line has always been respectable. Rodgers has made the most out of what has been at his disposal. Green Bay prays that he continues to play for the franchise since the team was close to appearing in the Super Bowl last season.
The arm strength and pocket presence of Aaron Rodgers have allowed other weapons to flourish.
It is undeniable that Rodgers is one of the ten greatest passers in NFL history. Some believe he is a top-five signal-caller due to his arm strength, accuracy, poise, and ability to carry an offense.
There was some uncertainty surrounding Rodgers’ status for this year, but it looks like he’s in for 2021.
#Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has indicated to people close to him that he does plan to play for GB this season, sources say. That is the expectation. Many factors at play, but with GM Brian Gutekunst saying he is “hopeful” for a positive outcome, there is a glimmer of optimism.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 26, 2021
The dynamic duo of Rodgers and Adams has been most entertaining to watch.
Nobody has found ways to limit these two, and the faithful in Green Bay are hoping the pair take the field a few more seasons together.
Packers’ Biggest Weakness: Lack of Depth
Green Bay has not won a Super Bowl since 2011, and many are losing their patience. The Packers have had the stars aligned for them to go deep in the postseason, but the role players have been disastrous in spots and it is a growing concern.
So much so, Rodgers had considered not playing for the franchise.
AJ Dillion is an exceptional backup that deserves some love. If anything were to happen to Aaron Jones, most teams would be in trouble.
Dillon is the man in charge if Jones gets dinged.
- Dillon is a monster among men due to his size, speed, and athleticism.
- He was able to catch the ball out of the backfield when he was called.
- He has not had an extraordinary number of plays designed for him, but playing time will increase.
As much talent as Dillon has, the passing targets are where this team needs improvement.
Green Bay’s Wide Receivers
Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard are two players that started to show growth.
Valdes-Scantling is one of the faster players on the team. He can take the top off the defense with his speed but has not found enough ways to get open.
The speed of Valdes-Scantling should be a weapon used more often, but he will need to improve the consistency.
Lazard has been more of a possession wideout for Green Bay. He has often used his body to get open towards the red zone, but his speed has been lacking.
At Clemson, Amari Rodgers could get open and often came down with heroic catches.
Equanimeous St. Brown is another option due to his speed, but he has only seen increased snaps if somebody goes down with an injury.
Green Bay’s Tight End
The lack of tight-end production finally changed last season.
Robert Tonyan was a touchdown machine, but that was bound to happen after Aaron Rodgers threw 48 passing scores.
Tonyan was one of the few reliable targets in the passing attack for Green Bay. Entering his fourth season at 27 years old, Tonyan could be the security blanket for Rodgers towards the goal-line. Adams and Jones usually are, but teams will adjust to the top arsenal on the Packers.
The Defensive Role Players
Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster, Krys Barnes, Kamal Martin, and Oren Burks are all capable players in the front seven.
Having any of them improve and become factors against both the run and pass would be a bonus.
They have enough good players on both sides of the ball.
Jaire Alexander has turned into an elite shutdown corner that most have labeled as a top 10 defensive corner in the league. Some argue the role players around Alexander in the secondary will determine their success.
I believe the front seven will dictate the success Green Bay has for the season to come.
The Minnesota Vikings could be the wild card in this division. They have enough stars to challenge for a playoff spot, but last season proved that it might not matter.
Vikings’ Biggest Strength: Home-Run Hitters
The Vikings have a few superstar offensive skill players that every team would love to have.
Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen will be one of the more entertaining squads to keep an eye on. The Vikings fell short of a trip to the postseason last season, and the expectations will remain as division challengers.
Cook, Jefferson, and Thielen are stars and they will put up numbers, and hopefully we will see some fireworks at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2021.
Dalvin Cook has been one of the elite running backs in the NFL due to his ability to hit the hole.
The Viking superstar has been able to go deep on any opposing defense. The Lions were silly enough to leave ten guys out on the field, and Cook buried them for a long score.
Cook is due for a 2,000-plus yard season now that there is an extra game on the schedule. He came a few hundred short of it last season, but missed two-plus games for the fourth straight season.
Entering his fifth season, Cook has missed 21 games in four seasons. The injuries need to lessen, and the former Florida State back needs to play in all the games if the Vikings expect to reach the postseason.
Cook bounces off tackles and can reach a top-end speed at the drop of a hat. Cook is a superstar touchdown machine as well.
- The Minnesota star has totaled 36 touchdowns in his 43 career games.
- He has had seven multi-touchdown games, and that does not include his 100-plus yard postseason performance against the Saints.
- He found paydirt twice in the overtime victory against New Orleans.
- Cook gave Kirk Cousins his first-ever playoff win.
Cook might be my favorite home-run hitter in the entire NFL, but he has a pair of teammates that are not too shabby either.
Justin Jefferson had a flawless rookie season.
He was overly explosive in the passing game. Most average to above-average players in the NFL cannot make the most of their limited opportunities. Many cannot turn a five-yard slant into a 60-yard score. Jefferson often made those types of splash plays last year.
He was a machine on slants and curls with Cousins as his quarterback. Jefferson used his jets to bail him out when trouble ensued, but the kid deserves some love. He was out there playing like Randy Moss, and there was no slowing down.
Jefferson only had seven games with double-digit targets. Yet, there were nine games in which he reached paydirt or topped 100 yards. Jefferson was a star at LSU, but many were unsure of his production last season due to Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen’s outstanding moves.
|2019 at LSU||111**||1,540***||18****|
|*Rookie NFL Record||**LSU Single-Season Record||***Third Most Single-Season Receiving Yards in LSU History||****Second Most Single-Season TD in LSU History|
He was able to scoot by all defenders once he caught the ball, but getting open as a rookie is difficult.
Jefferson built a great rapport early on with Cousins. The first two games of his career were underwhelming, but he took off in Week 3 against Tennessee. Jefferson then hauled in seven of his nine targets for 175 yards and a score.
He followed that up the following week against another AFC South opponent. The rookie receiver torched the Houston secondary, going off for 103 yards on just four catches.
It was the first win of the season by Minnesota, and the Vikings needed that since victories were hard to come by.
Cousins has been a solid signal-caller for much of his career. Despite posting a 1-9 record on Monday Night Football, the Minnesota skill players have been targeted a lot by Cousins.
Jefferson gives the Vikings plenty of hope due to his athleticism and speed, and the future is bright due to his age. Cook will be turning 26 years old by the season opener, and Jefferson is only 22.
The lone veteran is Adam Thielen and he will be 31 by Week 1, and he has shown he has plenty left in the tank.
Cousins always looked for him towards paydirt. The connection between the tandem resulted in 14 scores, a career high for Thielen. The underrated passing option has always been known for great route running, hands, and speed.
While a touchdown regression is sure to happen even in a 17-game schedule, Thielen is a legit number two option in any passing game. Jefferson will take over as the go-to guy on most downs, and it should prolong the career of Kirk Cousins.
If Cousins can stay upright in the pocket and avoid big collisions, the Minnesota offense will keep them in most of their ball games. In fact, they’re among the best bets to go over their 2021-win total.
Vikings’ Biggest Weakness: Lackluster Defense
Back in the day, the Minnesota defense was able to carry the franchise when they had the likes of Tavaris Jackson and Teddy Bridgewater. Adrian Peterson was unstoppable. The Vikings were fortunate, and he certainly was a Hall of Fame legend, but the defense did its part.
They were top notch at getting after the passer and hardly allowed long drives down the field. They were far too talented, disciplined, and well-coached to struggle for long spurts.
2020 Viking Defense
The 2020 Vikings defense was atrocious. It was flat-out embarrassing in some games, and they needed lots of breaks just to avoid being disastrous.
Ranking No. 27 in yards allowed per game was a drop-off from the prior season (No. 14 at 341.6 yards per game). They ranked in the top 15 against both the run and pass a few seasons ago (2018). There were no glaring weaknesses, but they fell off a cliff in 2020.
Minnesota was No. 25 against the pass last season, allowing 258.8 yards per game. The loss of Xavier Rhodes was tough to replace and every Viking fan wanted him to get lost after a struggling 2019 campaign.
The team was equally as bad against the run as well. They ranked No. 27 allowing 134.4 rushing yards per game. That is not good enough to contend for a playoff spot.
It did not help they missed Danielle Hunter for all last season. The former LSU pass-rusher was unblockable in the early stages of his NFL career. His 54.5 sacks through five seasons were incredible for a team lacking star talent.
Hunter, Barr, Hendricks and Smith
Hunter is back, and the Minnesota defense should dramatically improve. The lack of studs in the trenches would explain why there were so many struggles last season.
Times have been tough on the defensive side, but safety Harrison Smith has been an All-Pro defender.
He can knock away any long pass attempts, and he is a heat-sinking missile in terms of defending the run. Smith has the athleticism, and the former Golden Domer should have the defensive backs return to at least mediocrity.
Postseason Could be Difficult
Until other youngsters improve around Smith, Kendricks, and Barr, the defense will have concerns.
The front four with Hunter does not possess a ton of team speed. The lack of next-level defenders puts pressure on the secondary.
The number of youngsters at cornerback (Jeff Gladney and Bashaud Breeland) will need to shine. The signing of Patrick Peterson shows the lack of talent and experience they have.
The rookies may shoulder most of the blame, but the lack of proven production is always a concern.
If Gladney and Breeland do not perform, this defense will make life difficult for the franchise to reach the postseason. It could be an issue for years to come.
The Detroit Lions start a new tenure under Dan Campbell, and they are in the same boat as the Bears. After trading Matthew Stafford away and acquiring Jared Goff, it could be their most grueling season in a while.
Lions’ Biggest Strength: Running Game
Former Georgia Bulldog, D’Andre Swift, was an absolute stud in the SEC. He was a third string back in their national championship trip in 2017. He gashed the SEC for 618 yards on a measly 81 carries but dominated during his sophomore and junior seasons.
The hope is to get Swift towards 1,000-plus yards to end an awful Detroit drought at the running back position.
|Most Detroit Single-Season Rush Yards Since 2013||Reggie Bush||Joique Bell||Kerryon Johnson|
|Yards (Year)||1,006 (2013)||860 (2014)||641 (2018)|
Swift posted consecutive seasons of 1,000-plus yards despite never getting 200 carries. The yards he reached every carry were off the charts during his career.
The 6.6 yards per tote was impressive in Athens, and he was able to hit paydirt on the ground 20 times. The receiving department is where he was productive.
Most college backs are a complete no-show at catching the ball out of the backfield. Swift hauled in 73 catches for 666 yards and five scores. That is outstanding, and the Lions should take advantage of that with Jared Goff threading the needle. Goff does not have a strong arm and should rely on the check-downs to Swift in the flats.
Another advantage for Swift is the offensive line should be respectable.
Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson and Penei Sewell are four solid blocks in the trenches. Decker and Ragnow were legitimate collegiate blockers, and they should avoid falling off the map in the NFL.
The best of the bunch is Sewell. He opted out of college football last season with the Ducks, but it was a good decision. He still went within the top 10 picks in the NFL Draft, and he has a bright future ahead of him.
They likely will be looking for a new starting quarterback shortly, but Sewell will be there for the long haul. He has Hall of Fame talent and is the perfect building block for the Lions to grow together.
Swift should run behind Sewell as much as possible. It will be up to the development of Goff to allow teams to quit stacking the box to limit Swift.
What should separate Swift from other running backs besides his receiving ability will be his pure speed. Swift can make a quick cut and take it to the house. He showed solid vision as a rookie rushing for eight scores to go along with the two, he had hauled in.
Falling short of 1,000 yards from the line of scrimmage in 13 games is nothing to beef on. He played well when he was on the field, which excluded Matthew Stafford.
Assuming Goff can stay healthy, the offense should be more equipped for yardage improvement. The end of the season was rough to watch, but watching Swift run behind Sewell is arguably the best part about this entire roster.
Enjoy these two in 2021 since it might be the only thing worth watching. The good news is the young duo will likely remain together for a while in the Motor City.
Lions’ Biggest Weakness: Passing Offense
Jared Goff is taking the job of Matthew Stafford. Many are not happy for another rebuilding season that is likely ahead. Many wanted Matt Patricia gone, and now the Dan Campbell knee-cap biting era has begun.
Unfortunately, the team traded Stafford for Goff, and the weapons surrounding the former Ram signal-caller are horrendous on paper. Here’s a quick look at what Goff’s arrival means for Detroit.
Who is going to come through with all the clutch catches on this team?
The experience factor could be costly. The depth is weak, and the number of stars is non-existent. It might be the oddest group of players among the wide receivers in the entire league. Who is the go-to guy on this roster?
Breshad Perriman had a few solid games but has limited experience in the NFL.
We saw him with the Jets and Buccaneers, but this could be an absolute mess. I rank it as the most concerning among any team in the NFC North by a country mile. The number of bad options on the Lions at wide receiver is tough to endure.
|Lions WR||Breshad Perriman||Quintez Cephus||Tyrell Williams||Kalif Raymond|
Amon-Ra St. Brown might have the most upside among all the Lion wideouts. The rookie out of USC could lift this group towards relevance.
I have my doubts due to a struggling quarterback. The lack of a true, proven wideout can be costly. The inability to complete enough passes cost Cleveland in their AFC playoff loss to Kansas City.
The Lions may have to bring up players off the practice squad to field a team on Sundays. I am not overly in love with the roster in Detroit, but the receivers take the cake.
This unit is the worst in the NFL among receivers, and I feel like the passing offense will cost them a few games. They may only win a few to start, but the Lions are a complete mess.
There are odds for the Lions to have the fewest wins in the entire league at +350. Only the Texans have worse odds at +250. It will be a long season for Detroit, and poor Dan Campbell has his work cut out.
There are not enough kneecaps to bite off to garner enough wins to avoid major disappointment.
Even so, the Lions are among the 12 teams that could win their first Super Bowl in 2021. Technically speaking, of course.
Which Team Is Strongest in The NFC North?
Green Bay is the easy choice with Aaron Rodgers deciding to continue his career with the Packers. If he were to sit out a season, retire, or play elsewhere outside the division, then the NFC North would be up for grabs.
Among the lesser talented divisions, nine wins should be enough to capture their third straight division title.
I would lean toward Minnesota over Chicago, but that certainly would be close. Detroit is still in rebuild mode regardless of what happens to the premier players in the division.
Want to learn more about NFL strengths and weaknesses for 2021? Check out the following posts.
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the AFC North
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the NFC South
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the AFC South
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the NFC East
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the AFC East
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the NFC West
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the AFC West