NFL Whip Around: What to Watch for in the Northern Divisions

The NFL’s offseason is at a conclusion as teams start to have an eye towards camp. Some teams want to wash the bitter taste of last season out of their mouths while others want more than the sweet appetizer they experienced. The Philadelphia Eagles hope to get comfortable at the head of the table in an all-out buffet.

Yes, it is an exciting time in around the NFL as everyone is undefeated at 0-0. With that being said, let’s take a look at both Northern divisions in the league.

Eastern Divisions

Western Divisions

Southern Divisions

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

2017 Record: 9-7

Key Addition: Lamar Jackson

Notable Loss: Jeremy Maclin

Key an eye on…: Kenneth Dixon.

Alex Collins burst onto the scene last year after he was picked from a scrap pile before the start of the season and he’s the presumed starter heading into training camp. But head coach John Harbaugh has not forgotten the flashes Kenneth Dixon showed in 2016. The Super Bowl winning coach spoke highly of him to reporters back in January saying: “Kenneth has to take care of his business and be ready to go. I see him in here doing it all the time. Heck yeah, Kenneth Dixon is a big part of that conversation.” It’s Collins’s backfield to lose in Baltimore, but Dixon figures to definitely have a role.

Cincinnati Bengals

2017 Record: 7-9

Key Addition: Cordy Glenn

Notable Loss: Jeremy Hill

Keep an eye on…: Tyler Eifert’s injury.

Eifert’s career has been plagued with injuries. Throughout the offseason, it’s been a mystery on his return. He adds an extra layer to the Cincy offense as he is another dynamic target for Andy Dalton. Now, with wide receiver AJ Green and running back Joe Mixon, finally working his way into a starting role, Eifert could be the missing piece the offense needs.

Cleveland Browns

2017 Record: 0-16

Key Addition: Baker Mayfield

Notable Loss: Joe Thomas

Keep an eye on…: Denzel Ward.

Ward was drafted fourth overall by Cleveland in the 2018 NFL draft. Ward was seen by many as the most physically gifted cornerback in the draft and he’ll be adequately tested in Cleveland. The former Buckeye will be matching up against wide receivers AJ Green and Antonio Brown twice as well as Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen, Mike Evans, Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins as the undisputed, potentially, the Browns number one corner this season. First, he has to make it through training camp and preseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2017 Record: 13-3

Key Addition: James Washington

Notable Loss: Ryan Shazier

Keep an eye on…: Leveon Bell’s contract situation.

This has been an ongoing saga for years, but it has come time for the Steelers to make a decision on whether they pay Bell the top tier money that he believes he’s worth or if they let him test the market. LVB was given an exclusive rights franchise tag in 2017 and, this past March, was given the franchise tag. Pittsburgh has to make a decision.

NFC North

Chicago Bears

2017 Record: 5-11

Key Addition: Allen Robinson

Notable Loss: Josh Sitton

Keep an eye on…: Tarik Cohen in Matt Nagy’s offense.

The Bears are in an interesting running back situation. They have one of the best duos in the NFL with Jordan Howard, being the workhorse, and Tarik Cohen, being the Darren Sproles scatback type of player. However, this might not be the case next year. Howard still figures to be the workhorse, but Cohen will likely be facing a bigger role in new coach Nagy’s offense. The second year running back, when asked about his expectations in 2018 said: “I’m doing a little bit of everything — outside receiver, in the slot and at running back as well as special teams.”

Detroit Lions

2017 Record: 9-7

Key Addition: Kerryon Johnson

Notable Loss: Eric Ebron

Keep an eye on…: defensive production.

For the past couple years, the Lions defense has been sub-par. Despite talent like Darius Slay, Glover Quin, and Ezekiel Ansah, the defense has been the Achilles heel for Detroit. They’ve lacked talent beyond the few big playmakers and its been the one thing keeping them from being an NFC superpower for so long. This is the year where it has to come together under new coach, former defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia. The expectations are high and this defense is expected to produce.

Green Bay Packers

2017 Record: 7-9

Key Addition: Jaire Alexander

Notable Loss: Jordy Nelson

Keep an eye on…: the wide receiver room.

The Packers added wide receivers like J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimious St. Brown in the draft. They will join Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Geronimo Allison where all of these receivers could factor into the offense. Some had St. Brown, who was taken in the sixth round, as one of the best receivers in the draft, which would be a massive steal for the Packers. This position group is murky for them and will be fun to see clear out.

Minnesota Vikings

2017 Record: 13-3

Key addition: Kirk Cousins

Notable Loss: Pat Shurmur

Keep an eye on…: the offense without Shurmur.

Now that Shurmur is the head coach of the New York Giants, the Vikings face a dilemma with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. Shurmur is largely credited for Case Keenum’s ascension last season and now DeFilippo takes over an upgraded unit with Cousins at quarterback. He will attempt to recapture the magic the offense had under Shurmur’s leadership.

Certainly there are some interesting situations and players to pay attention to heading into training camp. Things should then begin to pick up and sort themselves out as we approach the end of preseason.

 

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