Bears, Packers, Vikings, Lions: Here’s one burning question for every NFC North team heading into 2020

As the 2020 NFL season (however that may look) draws closer, few divisions promise to be as unpredictable as the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers led the way in 2019 with a 13-3 finish and NFC Championship appearance, but there hasn’t been a back-to-back champion in the North in a half-decade, with the Pack, Chicago Bears, and Minnesota Vikings all claiming at least one crown over the last five seasons. Even the Detroit Lions, who haven’t won a division since the NFC Central in 1993, own two second-place finishes in the last five years.

In other words, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will reign supreme in 2020, especially with all the uncertainty of this offseason.

With that in mind, here’s one burning question for each of the NFC North teams entering the new year:

Bears: Can Nick Foles save the QB room?

This question works in multiple ways, but it’s undoubtedly the most important of the year for Chicago. No matter what general manager Ryan Pace says, the Bears didn’t give up a draft pick and maneuver the salary cap so that Foles can take a back seat to Mitchell Trubisky. They want him to compete, if not wrestle the job right from their former first-round pick’s hands, and the bevy of faces familiar with Foles on the coaching staff guarantee at least the first part — the competition — will happen.

The question, though, remains: Can Foles save the position and, thus, the offense? One way he can do so is by lighting a fire so hot under Trubisky’s rear that the discounted incumbent revs himself back into peak form — and then some. The more likely way he can do so is by simply ensuring Trubisky stays on the bench. Foles has big believers in coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and QBs coach John DeFilippo. If they can’t tailor the offense to get the most out of Foles, then it’s probably the staff and front office that truly deserve the blame, because neither the results nor the supporting cast have been pretty for a while now.

If, however, Foles gets the nod and gets the coaching help he should, he’s well suited for this kind of role, where he can feed off of a good defense and just play point guard under center. The “ifs” are big, yes, but the upside is definitely a return to the postseason.

Lions: How long can Matt Patricia survive?

Sorry if you feel slighted, Lions fans, but by now you should understand: Patricia is in hot water. Detroit sticking with the coach after a 9-22-1 performance over two years might suggest Patricia coaxed some kind of lifetime commitment from the organization, but owner Martha Ford at least publicly laid down the law after 2019: She expects nothing less than the playoffs in 2020.

The follow-up question then becomes: Are the Lions even close to playoff material? Set aside the fact that performance mandates almost never work out for coaches on the hot seat, Detroit’s offseason felt a lot like a Band-Aid rather than the serious surgery this roster and coaching staff needed. D’Andre Swift is a fun addition for Matthew Stafford, and Jeff Okudah should help offset the loss of Darius Slay on defense. But Patricia overseeing imports like Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon smelled of a continued overconfidence in bringing the swagger of his New England Patriots “D” to Motown.

In this division, the Lions’ ceiling can’t be that high, can it? The floor, meanwhile, still seems awfully low.

Packers: Does Aaron Rodgers have enough help?

You can read this one of two ways: 1.) Rodgers is good enough on his own but may or may not have the elite supporting cast to make a Super Bowl run easier; 2.) Rodgers is on enough of a decline that he may¬†need more help to go the distance. Either way, the concern is the same in Green Bay, and it’s that the Packers might be squandering the final years of Rodgers in his prime.

Devin Funchess is an underrated breakout candidate with Jimmy Graham no longer around as a red-zone target, but it’s still Devin Funchess we’re talking about. Packers fans don’t need to be reminded that Green Bay drafted exactly zero wide receivers this April, despite no one other than Funchess and Davante Adams entering 2020 with more than 10 starts in a season. So if it seems like Matt LaFleur is banking a ton on his ground game, complete with bruising rookie A.J. Dillon, and the hit-or-miss emergence of guys like tight end Jace Sternberger, well, you’d probably be accurate.

The Packers’ defense is talented enough to fuel another playoff push, but with Rodgers, 36, suddenly a down-the-road trade candidate with the surprise selection of first-round QB Jordan Love, it’s fair to wonder if their minds aren’t already drifting beyond 2020.

Vikings: Can their rebuilt defense hold up down the stretch?

All of the Vikings’ offensive moves or declarations this offseason — the re-commitment to Kirk Cousins, the trade of Stefon Diggs, the pledge of allegiance to Dalvin Cook — signal a doubling-down of what consistently worked in 2019: A ground-and-pound and play-action attack. Even replacing Diggs with LSU’s Justin Jefferson should be a win for Cousins, who can feed him over the middle and alleviate any lingering concerns about interior protection up front.

But we might be underrating how much uncertainty there is on the other side of the ball, especially considering how much a conservative, play-action offense relies on a stingy “D.” Defense, of course, is coach Mike Zimmer’s calling card, but this year, after a shortened offseason, he’ll be operating with a new coordinator for the first time since coming to Minnesota. And that’s not even mentioning the on-field personnel. Yes, Xavier Rhodes stunk it up in 2019, but losing him, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander means the secondary will be in a near-total rebuild and expecting more than even one of the rookie defensive backs to make an instant impact goes against the odds. The pass rush, meanwhile, hardly has any proven presence beyond Danielle Hunter.

Maybe they can run their way to victory every week, but Zimmer could be in for a frustrating transition elsewhere.

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