Minnesota broke Green Bay’s stranglehold on the NFC East last season, and don’t be surprised if these two battle for the top spot again. The Vikings took a wide receiver in the first round of the draft to give quarterback Teddy Bridgewater another weapon and have a young defense that continues to get better. The Packers are hoping their offense will revert to its old form with the return of a healthy Jordy Nelson and a trimmer Eddie Lacy. Chicago is hoping to take a step forward in John Fox’s second season as the Bears have added several new faces on defense. Detroit is entering a bit of a transition as Calvin Johnson has retired and the Lions cut ties with linebacker Stephen Tulloch.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the four NFC North teams are shaping up heading into the 2016 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“They really needed to shore up the offensive line and did that in the second round of the draft with Cody Whitehair, who should be able to start right away at left guard."
"The problem is still the tackles. Charles Leno [LT] played OK last year and Bobbie Massie [RT] did, too, at Arizona, but both are going to struggle against the better ends in the league."
"Even so, this team has a chance to be good on offense."
"Getting Kevin White back after he missed his rookie season to go with Alshon Jeffery gives them more explosion at wide receiver."
"They don’t have a great tight end and Matt Forté is now gone, but Jeremy Langford is a nice little running back."
"So much is going to depend on whether the new offensive coordinator [Dowell Loggains] knows what he’s doing trying to fill the shoes of Adam Gase, who did a good job before leaving for Miami. Gase was able to get the best out of Jay Cutler with some tough-love coaching and an effective offensive system."
"Where this team has no doubt gotten better is on defense."
"They needed an edge presence in the pass rush and got it in the first round with Georgia’s Leonard Floyd to pair with Pernell McPhee."
"They got big-time help at linebacker in free agency by signing Danny Trevathan away from Denver and using a fourth-round pick on Nick Kwiatkoski to give them some depth."
"The cornerbacks, though, are just OK.”
“A strong second-half performance in what was already a wasted season helped head coach Jim Caldwell keep his job, but such security may be fleeting if new general manager Bob Quinn doesn’t see results in 2016."
"The Lions entered the offseason wanting to get stronger on the lines and achieved that in the draft."
"Matthew Stafford was getting beat up too much, so they helped themselves by taking Ohio State’s Taylor Decker in Round 1. Decker can play left tackle and Riley Reiff can now move to right tackle, which is where he’s better suited to play."
"Detroit also got better at center in the third round when taking Graham Glasgow, who is really athletic with good size."
"I love Ameer Abdullah’s quickness and expect him to take the next step and clean up his fumbling issues to become Detroit’s lead running back."
"The defense needs more work than the offense."
"Defensive end Ziggy Ansah is a beast, but the Lions really have nothing opposite him. Devin Taylor has ability and a chance to get it done but he hasn’t so far."
"Second-round pick A’Shawn Robinson is a big, strong guy who’s going to help inside at tackle behind Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker."
"The secondary isn’t great although Darius Slay is a good corner. They should be fine at free safety thanks to Glover Quin."
"A healthy DeAndre Levy would provide a huge boost to the linebacker corps because he’s one of the most instinctive players in the league at the position.”
“As long as Aaron Rodgers plays like Aaron Rodgers, the Packers will remain a legitimate threat. You had to feel for him last year with all the issues on offense from injured talent to coaching issues, but he still threw for 31 touchdowns with just eight interceptions."
"The weakness last year was this team didn’t have a real explosive playmaker in the passing game with Jordy Nelson down, but now he’s back."
"They’ve helped themselves with tight end Jared Cook because he gives Aaron another big-bodied fast guy. Cook should be better than in St. Louis, where he never had a quarterback. The Packers now have a vertical guy at the position who can help open up the offense, which Richard Rodgers couldn’t do in 2015."
"They need Eddie Lacy to keep the weight off, and [they] showed a lot of faith that he would do that by not drafting another running back. He was way too sluggish in 2015."
"They’ve got a pretty good offensive line and really helped themselves by picking Jason Spriggs in Round 2 because they were not great at backup tackle."
"The defense really helped itself in Round 1 by drafting Kenny Clark, who should be a great replacement for B.J. Raji because he can be active along the line."
"The secondary is young and good and shouldn’t miss Casey Hayward, who signed with San Diego.”
“The Vikings are on the cusp of being the next dominant team in the NFC."
"Whether they get there will depend a lot on Teddy Bridgewater’s improvement in his third NFL season. He’s potentially a good quarterback and did improve last season, but I don’t know if he has elite upside."
"Still, the rest of the team around Bridgewater is really good. That speaks to an outstanding front office and head coach in Mike Zimmer."
"I really like the Laquon Treadwell pick in Round 1. He’s not a burner at wide receiver but is someone who could move the chains for a long time to come like Anquan Boldin and Jarvis Landry."
"It’s remarkable that Adrian Peterson can return from his layoff and not show any signs of slowing down while still being the most dominant running back in the game."
"The Vikings are really good along both lines and have a lot of depth."
"The hallmark of a Zimmer defense is that the whole plays greater than the sum of its parts. The totality of the defense really helps out the cornerbacks, pass rush and safety play."
"In a lot of ways, the Vikings are built roster-wise like the NFC’s version of Cincinnati. It’s especially true with the game-manager role that both Bridgewater and Andy Dalton are in. Both teams also suffered inexcusable losses in last season’s playoffs. Getting over that hump seems viable for the Bengals and Vikings in 2016.”