NFC North beat writers shared story lines they’re most excited for this season with The Detroit News, along with predictions for conference standings at the end of the regular season. Here’s what they had to say:
Kevin Fishbain covers the Bears for The Athletic. Follow him on Twitter: @kfishbain
Everything is set up for the Bears to make a run ... as long as Mitch Trubisky shows the progress on the field the coaches have seen in practice and in the meeting rooms. He doesn’t have to make a drastic leap to MVP-level play, but he has to be better to help the offense be more efficient. The kickers have been the story of the offseason, but once things kick off, it’s all eyes on Mitch.
Bears record prediction: 10-6 | Standings prediction: Bears, Packers, Vikings, Lions
2018 regular-season record: 12-4 | vs. Lions: 2-0
Green Bay Packers
Matt Schneidman covers the Packers for The Athletic. Follow him on Twitter @mattschneidman
I want to see if these new pass rushers are for real. The Packers revamped their linebacker corps by signing Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith this offseason, and they still have last year’s sack leader, Kyler Fackrell (10.5 sacks in 2018), as a No. 3 or No. 4 option off the edge. Za'Darius Smith has lived up to the hype and then some, even beating first-team All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari in back-to-back one-on-ones early in camp (that never happens). If Preston Smith can discover his eight-sack form of two seasons ago, the Packers might have the defense to complement an explosive offense and avoid their first three-year playoff drought since 1990-92.
Packers record prediction: 10-6 | Standings prediction: Bears, Packers, Vikings, Lions
2018 regular-season record: 6-9-1 | vs. Lions: 0-2
Chris Tomasson covers the Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Follow him on Twitter: @christomasson
The most intriguing story line involving the Vikings this season is whether Kirk Cousins takes a step forward and becomes a possible long-term quarterback with the team. The Vikings signed Cousins to a three-year, $84 million contract last year and the goal was he would lead them to the Super Bowl. But the Vikings, after making the NFC Championship Game, didn’t even earn a playoff spot, going 8-7-1. Cousins hasn’t shied away from the belief this is a make-or-break season for him. He admitted he has been a “.500 quarterback” and said he has to win games this season to get to the next level in his career.
Vikings record prediction: 11-5 | Standings prediction: Vikings, Bears, Packers, Lions
2018 regular-season record: 8-7-1 | vs. Lions: 2-0