NFC North a Two-Horse Race Between Packers, Vikings Again?

The Minnesota Vikings, who won the NFC North, and the Green Bay Packers, who won 10 games plus a playoff game, were far and away the cream of the crop last year.

INDIANAPOLIS – The Minnesota Vikings ended the Green Bay Packers’ four-year reign as NFC North champions last season. While Minnesota (11-5) and Green Bay (10-6) easily outdistanced division rivals Detroit (7-9) and Chicago (6-10), there’s no guarantee it will be a two-horse race again in 2016.

“No, because I think Detroit has a very good football team. And Chicago, I have the utmost respect for what John Fox has done everywhere he has been,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said at the Scouting Combine on Wednesday. “I think it’s going to be a very competitive division next year.”

The Bears will be entering Year 2 with coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace. Fox didn’t sugarcoat the team’s record or try to convince anyone that his team was closer to the leaders than the standing would indicate. However, Fox likes his team’s direction. Based on a $155 million salary cap, Chicago is a whopping $60 million under the cap.

“You know, we were last. We were 6-10. That’s reality,” Fox said. “I think we were competitive. I don’t think there were too many off-kilter games. We did a lot. We were one of the older rosters in the league and became one of the youngest in one season. I think we’re in good position with nine picks. We’ve got way better cap room this year than last -- not that that means we’re going to go crazy -- but we’re in better financial position that way. And again, this is about evaluating and decision-making, and we need to do very well this offseason.”

The Lions are sort of starting over. While Jim Caldwell remains the coach, Bob Quinn is taking the reins as first-year general manager. He released running back Joique Bell and linebacker Stephon Tulloch and is grappling with star receiver Calvin Johnson’s retirement. Based on a potential $155 million salary cap, the Lions have more than $26 million in cap space. So, the Lions could be players in free agency.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Quinn said. “The thing about free agency is you don’t really know who’s going to be available. I have a list of players like everyone else does, but these guys are getting signed every hour right now. There’s a couple guys I saw on NFL Network half an hour ago that just redid their contracts. So we’re prepared for all scenarios. We have the guys that we want to target at each level, different positions, across the board. I really want to build the depth of this team. That’s something that I really truly believe in. we have some good players. I think the depth really needs to improve and that’s something I’m going to set out and do in free agency. Hopefully.”

Still, with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback for Green Bay and Minnesota having youth and defense, it’s hard to believe the Packers and Vikings won’t be the lead dogs in the NFC North again next year. Spielman called Green Bay a “great” team and organization but said his team has to take the next step.

“The one thing, even though we had success and built on that this past year and were able to win the division, we still haven’t reached all of our goals,” he said. “And every year is a new year. You can’t predict injuries. You can’t predict what’s going to happen with players. But we have to take the approach that we are starting over. What we did last year doesn’t matter. It’s what we’re going to do going forward and that’s the approach we have to take.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson will address reporters on Thursday.

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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