NFC North

Chicago Bears: 2017 Record (5-11)

Key Offseason Additions: QB Chase Daniel, QB Tyler Bray, WR Allen Robinson, WR Taylor Gabriel, TE Trey Burton, DE Aaron Lynch, K Cody Parkey.

The Cleveland Browns are looking to have at least one regular season win this year.

Key Offseason Losses: WR Markus Wheaton, G Josh Sitton, DE/OLB Pernell McPhee, DE/OLB Willie Young, LB Jerrell Freeman, S Quintin Demps.

Chicago made a coaching change this offseason and the switch from John Fox to Matt Nagy should open up the offense more in 2018. Chicago struggled to get in the end zone last season, averaging just 16.5 points a game.

Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky struggled in his first season, completing just 59 percent of his passes but will be equipped with a better supporting cast this season. Allen Robinson is the big name that was brought in. Robinson missed all but one game in 2017 because of a knee injury but is just a couple seasons removed from a 1,400 yard and 14 touchdown season. He will be ready for week one against Green Bay. Wide receivers, Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller were also brought in and should be upgrades at the position. Tight end Trey Burton comes over from Philadelphia and will finally get a chance to be a number one tight end after sitting behind Zach Ertz and he looks poised for a big year.

The rest of the supporting cast is headlined by running back Jordan Howard, who has rushed for over 1,100 yards in both of his two seasons. Backup running back Tarik Cohen should get more touches with Fox out of the picture now. Cohen proved early in the season last year he is a threat to score any time he gets the ball but was used sparingly by the coaching staff.

More than half of the Bears’ losses last season were by single digits and the defense was the reason for that. Chicago gave up just 20 points a game and returns the main pieces in 2018. The linebacker group and secondary is the strength of this group. Eighth overall pick Roquan Smith joins Akiem Hicks, who had a big 2017 up front. The secondary will be led by safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos, who are both young and talented players who had big years in 2017.

Detroit Lions: 2017 Record (9-7)

Key Offseason Additions: QB Matt Cassel, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Luke Willson, G Kenny Wiggins, DT Ricky Jean Francois, DT Sylvester Williams, OLB Devon Kennard, OLB Jonathan Freeny, ILB Christian Jones, CB DeShawn Shead.

Key Offseason Losses: TE Eric Ebron, TE Darren Fells, C Travis Swanson, DE Dwight Freeney, DT Haloti Ngata, DT Jordan Hill, OLB Tahir Whitehead, OLB Paul Worrilow, CB D.J. Hayden, S Don Carey.

Detroit’s offensive line was a mess last season. Left tackle Taylor Decker, right tackle Rick Wagner, right guard T.J. Lang and center Travis Swanson all missed games because of injuries. Swanson is gone and first-round pick Frank Ragnow will be his replacement. If everyone stays healthy, the Lions could have one of the better lines in football.

Matthew Stafford has not had a 1,000-yard rusher in his nine years leading the Lions’ offense. He still may not again this year, but the team should get better play at the position. LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson are both upgrades over Ameer Abdullah, who has disappointed in his three seasons in Detroit. Theo Riddick will once again be the third down back and will be counted on mostly in the passing game.

The receiving corps will be strong once again. Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate both eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last season and big things are expected from second year player Kenny Golladay.

All-pro cornerback Darius Slay will lead a defense that struggled in 2017. The team tried upgrading at the other cornerback spot opposite of Slay, but were unable to sign their main target, Malcom Butler. Second year man Jalen Tabor, who was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, could get the starting job after missing much of last year with hamstring problems. 

Green Bay Packers: 2017 Record (7-9)

Key Offseason Additions: TE Jimmy Graham, TE Marcedes Lewis, DE/DT Muhammad Wilkerson, CB Tramon Williams.

Key Offseason Losses: WR Jordy Nelson, WR Jeff Janis, TE Richard Rodgers, G Jahri Evans, DE/OLB Ahmad Brooks, LB Joe Thomas, CB Damarious Randall, S Morgan Burnett.

When Aaron Rodgers went down in week seven last year, the Packers season was pretty much over. As long as Rodgers is healthy and playing in 2018, which isn’t a guarantee anymore, the Packers should once again be a Super Bowl contender. 

While Rodgers was out, the team was able to run the ball effectively. Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones were both effective running the ball and both figure to have big roles in 2018. Receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery will also be in the mix once again. 

Davante Adams and Randall Cobb will be Rodgers’ main targets now that Jordy Nelson is no longer with the team. Adams has 17 touchdowns in his last 22 games with Rodgers under center and had a productive 2017, even with Brett Hundley at quarterback for over half the year. Tight end Jimmy Graham was signed in the offseason after catching 16 touchdowns in Seattle the past two seasons.

Rodgers missing half the season wasn’t the only problem in Green Bay in 2017. The defensive secondary was one of the worst in football — the team used its first two draft picks on cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson to help improve that side of the ball. Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams was also brought in to help provide depth at the team’s weakest position. 

Another position the team upgraded this offseason was the defensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson was signed to a one-year deal after disappointing in his last two years with the Jets. Prior to 2016, Wilkerson was viewed as one of the best defensive ends in football so he will be looking to have a big year before he reaches free agency after this season.

Minnesota Vikings: 2017 Record (13-3)

Key Offseason Additions: QB Kirk Cousins, QB Trevor Siemian, WR Kendall Wright, G Tom Compton, DT Sheldon Richardson.

Key Offseason Losses: QB Case Keenum, QB Teddy Bridgewater, QB Sam Bradford, RB Jerick McKinnon, WR Michael Floyd, WR Jarius Wright, G/C Joe Berger, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, CB Tramaine Brock, CB Marcus Sherels.

Minnesota signed Kirk Cousins to a three-year $84 million dollar deal this offseason to replace Case Keenum at quarterback, who led the Vikings to the playoffs in 2017. Cousins definitely has the ability to do the same in 2018 and he’ll have a better supporting cast than he did in Washington. 

Running back Dalvin Cook got off to a great rookie campaign before tearing his ACL in week four. He will be expected to start the season and looks poised for a big 2018 campaign.

Minnesota has one of the best wide receiver tandems in the league in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen had a career year in 2017, catching 91 balls for more than 1,200 yards. Diggs’ issue is staying healthy. He hasn’t played a full 16 games in his short career and despite that has still nearly had 1,000 yards the last two seasons. 

The Minnesota defense is loaded and return the majority of the group that ranked in the top three in every major team defensive stat in 2017. 

The Vikings have arguably the best cornerback and safety tandem in the league in Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith and both return to a defense that should again be one of the league’s best. 

The defensive line is also one of the league’s best. Defensive end Everson Griffen tallied 13 sacks in 2017 and will be joined on the line by defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who, like Leonard Williams of the Jets, signed a one-year deal to increase his value again before being reaching free agency in 2019.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: 2017 Record (9-7)

Key Offseason Additions: QB Robert Griffin III, WR Michael Crabtree, WR John Brown, WR Willie Snead.

Key Offseason Losses: RB Danny Woodhead, WR Mike Wallace, WR Jeremy Maclin, WR Michael Campanaro, TE Ben Watson, TE Crockett Gillmore, OT Austin Howard, C Ryan Jensen, S Lardarius Webb.

In the five seasons since winning the Super Bowl in 2012, quarterback Joe Flacco has underperformed. Because of that, the team traded back into the first round of the 2018 draft to take former Heisman-winning QB, Lamar Jackson. Jackson isn’t ready to take over right now, but should Flacco have another down year, the team hopes Jackson will be capable of taking over.

Flacco’s supporting cast should be better in 2018. Michael Crabtree will be the new number one receiver after catching 25 touchdowns the last three seasons in Oakland. John Brown and Willie Snead both signed and could be upgrades. Running back Alex Collins impressed down the stretch in 2017, gaining nearly 1,000 yards in his second season. He will be the starting running back in 2018.

The defense will once again be the strength of this Ravens team. Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey, as well as safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, form one of the better secondaries in the league. 

The pass rush that the defensive front provides boosts the play of the secondary. Terrell Suggs is back and will be the leader of the defense again after an 11-sack season in 2017. He is joined by Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser, who are all younger players and have potential to make a big impact in 2018.

Cincinnati Bengals: 2017 Record (7-9)

Key Offseason Additions: OT Cordy Glenn, ILB Preston Brown.

Key Offseason Losses: QB AJ McCarron, RB Jeremy Hill, OT Andre Smith, C Russell Bodine, DE Chris Smith, LB Kevin Minter, CB Adam "Pacman" Jones.

Poor offensive line play and average quarterback play were the reasons Cincinnati missed the playoffs for the second straight year. The team traded for left tackle Cordy Glenn in the offseason and drafted center Billy Price in the first round so that unit should be improved.

Quarterback Andy Dalton struggled in 2017, completing just 59 percent of his passes, but an improved offensive line could help him get back on track. It would also help if some of his weapons stayed healthy. Tight end, Tyler Eifert has played just 10 games the last two years but, when healthy, has caught 20 touchdowns in the 39 games he’s been available for. 2017 first-round pick John Ross dealt with a shoulder injury all of last year and played just three games but didn’t catch a pass. If those two are healthy it should take some of the attention away from All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green, and open the field up more for Dalton.

Second year running back Joe Mixon struggled in his first year, averaging just 3.5 yards a carry, but part of that could be blamed on the play of the offensive line. Mixon should be more effective in 2018 with the improved offensive line. 

Cincinnati's defense will again depend on its strong defensive line, lead by defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who has at least seven sacks in six straight seasons. They are joined by defensive tackle Chris Baker, who comes over from Washington, defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carl Lawson, as well third-round pick from Ohio State University, Sam Hubbard.

If that unit can get pressure on the quarterback, it will help the Bengals’ secondary, which will return Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. They will be joined by 2016 first-round pick, William Jackson, who had a good first season after missing his entire rookie season.

Cleveland Browns: 2017 Record (0-16)

Key Offseason Additions: QB Tyrod Taylor, QB Drew Stanton, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Jeff Janis, TE Darren Fells, OT Chris Hubbard, DE Chris Smith, LB Mychal Kendricks, CB E.J. Gaines, CB T.J. Carrie, CB Terrance Mitchell, S Damarious Randall

Key Offseason Losses: QB DeShone Kizer, QB Cody Kessler, •RB Isaiah Crowell, TE Randall Telfer, OT Joe Thomas, DT Danny Shelton, LB Tank Carder, CB Jason McCourty, CB Jamar Taylor

It’s hard to get worse after a 1-15 season but that’s what the Browns did, going winless in 2017. It was another season of terrible quarterback play in Cleveland but that should improve after the Browns traded for Tyrod Taylor and selected Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield with the first-overall pick. The former will be the starting quarterback to start the season.

Taylor will have better weapons in Cleveland than he had in Buffalo. Jarvis Landry was traded in the offseason after averaging 100 receptions and around 1,000 yards a season in his four years with Miami. Josh Gordon is back after several years of off-the-field troubles. Landry and the talented Gordon will form a nice duo for Taylor to throw the ball to. Second year tight end David Njoku had a nice rookie year, catching four touchdowns.

New general manager John Dorsey added a lot of talent this offseason on the defensive side of the ball — Dorsey signed cornerbacks, E.J. Gaines and T.J. Carrie and drafted Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick to bolster the secondary. Dorsey also traded for Damarious Randall, who will move to safety after playing cornerback in Green Bay. He will start next to 2017 first-round pick, Jabrill Peppers. 

2017 first-overall pick Myles Garrett looks poised for a monster season after getting seven sacks in just 11 games. His presence should allow Emmanuel Ogbah to get pressure on the quarterback.

Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 Record (13-3)

Key Offseason Additions: LB Jon Bostic, S Morgan Burnett, S Nat Berhe.

Key Offseason Losses: WR Martavis Bryant, OT Chris Hubbard, DE/OLB Arthur Moats, S Mike Mitchell, S Robert Golden, S J.J. Wilcox, S William Gay.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is back after mentioning retirement a couple times in the offseason. As long as he’s playing, the Steelers have a chance to advance deep into the playoffs.

Roethlisberger will have a great supporting cast around him once again. Le’Veon Bell will get all the touches he can handle, as this could be his last season in Pittsburgh after a couple off-seasons of contract disputes. Bell could see more than 400 touches for the second straight season. Arguably the best player at his position in the NFL, Bell is certainty capable after a 321-carry and 85-reception season in 2017.

Antonio Brown is also arguably the best player at his position in the league. The four-time All-Pro has caught more than 100 balls and eclipsed 1,200 yards in five straight seasons. Number two receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was the youngest player in the NFL, but impressed in his rookie season with 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Second round pick James Washington will fill the void left by Martavis Bryant. 

When Ryan Shazier went down with a spinal injury late last season, the defense really struggled to end the season. Stopping the run was the main issue, and the team gave up 26.7 points per game, down from 17.5, after Shazier went down — all against mediocre quarterbacks. 

Pittsburgh never replaced Shazier this off-season so stopping the run could be an issue again. 

The strength of the defense will be the defensive front, led by •Cameron Heyward and •Stephon Tuitt. •T.J. Watt is back as one of the edge rushers after an impressive rookie season where he had seven sacks.

@CWickham2

cwickham687616@ohio.edu

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