The Green Bay Packers got within one game of the Super Bowl last season and should once again be a championship contender and the class of the NFC North.
The signings of free agents Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks give Green Bay a dangerous tight ends group to go with Richard Rodgers. The Packers also used their first four draft picks on defensive players and selected three running backs late to add depth behind converted receiver Ty Montgomery.
What places the Packers head and shoulders above everyone else in the division is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was imperious once again as he led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes last season.
The Minnesota Vikings, and their stellar defense, will be Green Bay's main competition in the division. But it is hard to see Minnesota preventing the Packers from claiming their sixth NFC North title in seven years.
Player to watch: Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers — Montgomery began the 2016 season as a wide receiver, but injuries forced him into the switch to running back. He ran for 457 yards and three touchdowns, with a 5.9 yards-per-carry average. He has been a full-time running back through the offseason and training camp, so it will be interesting to see how well he adapts to being Green Bay's starter.
Impact rookie: Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings — Cook looked impressive in preseason as he averaged 4.1 yards per carry. The Vikings need a strong running back to ease the pressure on quarterback Sam Bradford if they are to have any chance of overtaking the Packers and second-round pick Cook seems to fit the bill.
Coach on the hot seat: Jim Caldwell, Lions — The Detroit Lions went 9-7 and sneaked into the playoffs last season, but it was not exactly an impressive playoff year. The Lions needed eight come-from-behind victories and change could be in store if they fail to reach the postseason in Caldwell's fourth campaign in charge.
Falling: Lions — The Lions are still heavily reliant on Matthew Stafford's right arm and did not do much to upgrade a defense that ranked 18th overall in 2016.
Rising: Jordan Howard, RB, Bears — Chicago's pass offense still has plenty of question marks and the Bears might still finish last in the division, but they are a million miles away from playoff contention. Howard was a surprise, finishing second in the NFL with 1,313 rushing yards as a rookie and figures to the focal point of Chicago's attack.
Circle this game on the schedule: Vikings at Packers, Dec. 23 — The Saturday game on Christmas weekend could be huge if the Vikings are in a position to challenge the Packers for the division title.
Predicted order of finish:
Green Bay 12-4 (No. 1 seed, Super Bowl champions)
|Vikings´ Griffen asks fans to help name his baby during Thanksgiving game|
|Thunder roll as Westbrook goes off against Warriors, Cavs win|
|Heat snap Celtics´ 16-game winning streak|
|Spurs star Leonard has unique issue, Popovich says|
|Chiefs sign veteran CB Revis|
|Beathard, not Garoppolo, named 49ers starter v Seahawks|
|Freeney joins Lions day after being cut by Seahawks|
|Broncos name Lynch starting QB for Raiders game|
|LeBron: Defensive consistency key to Cavs winning streak|
|Bills revert to Tyrod Taylor as starting QB after Nathan Peterman disaster|
|Warriors star Durant says he will play against Thunder|
|Browns´ Josh Gordon returns to practice|
|Lakers rally past Bulls|
|Yankees All-Star Judge undergoes shoulder surgery|
|MLB great Joe Morgan urges voters not to elect steroid users to Baseball HOF|
|Bears TE Zach Miller out of hospital three weeks after serious injury|
|Irving leads Celtics to 16th straight win|
|He Said What?! The Best NFL quotes of week 11|
|Falcons hold off Seahawks|
|Jackson excited about Gordon´s return: I get to open a new toy|
|Nuggets head coach Malone suspended for one game|
|Steelers OT Gilbert handed four-game PED suspension|
|Dolphins QB Cutler placed in concussion protocol|
|Broncos fire offensive coordinator Mike McCoy|
|Trump calls for Lynch to be suspended as anthem row returns|
|Curry´s offensive explosion leads Warriors past Nets|
|Ball records second triple-double to join Magic, West in record books|
|Patriots, Ravens win among multiple blowouts|
|Flyers´ Gudas suspended for 10 games for violent slash|
|Two-time NBA All-Star David Lee announces retirement|
|Bills coach McDermott to ´evaluate´ quarterback position|
|LeBron on Kaepernick controversy: I don´t respect the NFL|
|Cardinals´ Fitzgerald now fifth all-time in receiving yards|
|NFL extends deal to play in Mexico through 2021|
|Celtics win 15th straight, 76ers in collapse against Warriors|
|Celtics coach Stevens wants more despite 14-game streak|
|Kerr: What Embiid did against the Lakers was terrifying|
|Spurs erase 23-point deficit to beat Thunder|
|Davis suffers concussion against Nuggets|
|Broncos GM Elway calls team ´soft´|
|Chargers´ Rivers cleared to face Bills|
|Nets PG Russell undergoes successful surgery|
|Cardinals & Larry Fitzgerald agree to 2018 contract extension|
|Harden scores 48 points as Rockets soar|
|Brown stars as Steelers crush Titans|
|Celtics claim 14th straight victory with comeback win over Warriors|
|WATCH: Brown makes incredible helmet catch for Steelers|
|Steelers QB Roethlisberger reaches new career milestones|
|Altuve, Stanton named MVPs|
|Red Wings defenseman Witkowski handed 10-game ban after brawl|
|Sherman targets comeback in May or June|
|Bucks, Wizards make moves in East with fourth straight wins|
|Mariners acquire slugger Healy from Athletics|
|Giants coach McAdoo holds ´honest´ meeting with players|
|Kluber, Scherzer win 2017 MLB Cy Young awards|
|Butkevicius triple-double lifts Neptunas, Besiktas stun Bonn at the death|
|Cowboys´ Elliott withdraws appeal of six-game ban|
|Jeter: Marlins listening to offers for All-Star Stanton|
|Vikings stick with Keenum as starting QB v Rams|
|Bills rookie QB Peterman replaces Taylor as starter|
|Raptors hang 129 on Houston, snap Rockets´ win streak|
|Warriors coach Kerr: Celtics team of future in East|
|Molitor, Lovullo take Manager of the Year honours|
|Monaco retain unbeaten record, Banvit show grit|
|Celtics´ Kyrie Irving expected to return against Nets|
|Raiders break ground on new stadium in Las Vegas|
|He Said What?! The Best NFL quotes of week 10|
|Cavs rally deflates Knicks, Curry misses Warriors win|
|Longley: Bulls need continuity to restore NBA glory days|
|Newton stars as Panthers beat Dolphins|