Despite a lot of promise and three playoff contenders, the NFC North only sent one team to the postseason. The other three all have decisions to make in the coming months. For two of those teams, that will include a new head coach and the third has to replace both coordinators and the general manager.
The Full Press editors of the NFC North team pages shared their thoughts on the three teams in the division that missed out on the postseason.
What about your team makes you optimistic for the future?
Tyler Kading, Bears: The Bears are only a couple pieces away. They finally have their quarterback in place, and with a great running corps, the offense is almost there. The defense has taken strides in the past couple years, and as players like Leonard Floyd finally get back healthy, that defense is a top-10 unit in football.
Matt Urben, Lions: The Lions just fired a coach after back-to-back winning seasons, which indicates the team is not satisfied being slightly above average. Matthew Stafford will be just 30 years old next season and is playing the best football of his career. Another step forward and the team could contend very soon.
Jake Schyvinck, Packers: There are reasons for optimism despite the Packers missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The good news is that Aaron Rodgers will be back and fully ready to go for 2018. Green Bay also brought back two key pieces on offense in Davante Adams and Corey Linsley. Those two extensions are key for 2018. Finally, the Packers are moving on from defensive coordinator Dom Capers. A change on defense could help the Packers moving forward.
What makes you pessimistic?
Kading: While Ryan Pace has done a great job acquiring promising talent, the results just are not there. It is not acceptable in this league to only win 14 games in three seasons, and there is no reason to be certain that these struggles were the fault of the staff. They could very well be the fault of the general manager, and a new coach will be the test to prove otherwise.
Urben: The Lions will have extremely high expectations for next season and if they do not wind up with a winning record, it will feel like a backward step. If the Lions do win fewer than nine games, you have to question the decision to fire Jim Caldwell. The pressure will be on the next head coach.
Schyvinck: The Packers surely are making changes, but is that enough? It will still come down to the new general manager making decisions and improving the roster enough. If the Packers stay stagnant, 2018 could bring similar disappointment. On top of that, the defense still needs impact players on every level. If that does not happen, a Super Bowl run is unlikely.
What is your team’s primary position of need?
Kading: It starts with wide receiver. There was only one NFL-caliber wideout on the Bears team last season, and even he is only a fourth option, at best. After that, the secondary could use a significant upgrade. Both Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are impending free agents, and the depth after them is non-existent. It is possible they return, but even if they do, more quality corners are needed.
Urben: Running back is obviously a big need after such a disappointing season running the ball. Detroit could use a power back capable of converting short yardage situations. The defensive line could use an upgrade and team may need a new center with Travis Swanson‘s future uncertain.
Schyvinck: Green Bay needs help in a few key spots. The most important would be to get help off of the edge. While Clay Matthews had a productive season, he is getting older. Nick Perry is still under contract, but he continues to have injury issues. There is not much depth behind them, so finding an instant impact off the edge is important. Adding another corner on the outside would also benefit the Packers. Finally, the tight end spot is in need of an upgrade.
Who do you think the Bears will hire as their next head coach? Who do you think the Lions hire?
Kading: For the Bears, Matt LaFleur is the ideal coach. The Bears need a coach who has worked with young quarterbacks and inexperienced wide receivers, and LaFleur absolutely fits the bill. His track record, which includes successes with Robert Griffin III, Matt Ryan and Jared Goff, is unmatched among available candidates.
For Detroit, Matt Patricia would be a great hire. Detroit doesn’t need to target an offensive minded guy, but rather a coach who is knowledgeable in all facets of the game. Patricia had a Belichick-esque rise through the ranks in New England, and many around the league think he is more than qualified to control the 53-man roster if needed. He is too good for a playoff-contending team like Detroit to pass up
Urben: I can see the Lions hiring Matt Patricia to replace Jim Caldwell. For the Bears, Mike Vrable or Josh McDaniels would make sense for that young, but talented roster.
Schyvinck: For the Bears, John DeFilippo makes a lot of sense. He has done very well in Cleveland and with the Eagles as a quarterback coach this season. DeFilippo would work well with Mitchell Trubisky and get the offense back on track in Chicago. For the Lions, promoting from within makes sense. Jim Bob Cooter has improved the offense dramatically in his time in Detroit, and Teryl Austin is worthy of the head coaching gig with his work on the defense.
Give your team’s season a grade.
Kading: Since the Bears’ season was the epitome of mediocre, the grade they get is the most mediocre grade there is: C. They finally got the young arm that the franchise has lacked for decades. However, dumb mistakes, bad coaching decisions and inconsistent play cornered the Bears into the NFL’s cellar once again.
Urben: For the Lions, I cannot go any higher than a C+. They were a slightly above average team, but when they had a chance to go beyond that, they failed every time. There have been many worse seasons in Lions history, but this season felt like a missed opportunity.
Schyvinck: For Green Bay, this season was a C- at best. It’s hard when you lose a player like Aaron Rodgers who consistently carries this team, but some players made strides. Adams looks like a true number one receiver. Blake Martinez and Kenny Clark are looking like future studs on defense. Missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 is the main determinant.
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