NFC North Talk: One major decision looming for each franchise in 2022

After a 2021 season that sent just one team to the playoffs, the NFC North is officially in hibernation mode for the next eight months, which means the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit Lions will all look ahead to 2022 with the hopes of getting back to prominence in 2022.

So far, the Bears and Vikings have already made major decisions, opting to clean house and start fresh in 2022. As we await the decisions made by ownership on who the next head coach and general managers will be in Chicago and Minnesota, the Packers were eliminated with a playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, while the Detroit Lions season ended after just winning three games.

As major changes loom, let’s take a look at an important decision that each franchise will need to make this offseason.

1) Chicago Bears: How will the organization commit to building around Justin Fields?

This is an important question to consider because whoever is the next HC/GM of the Bears will need to realize that putting Fields in a position to succeed is an absolute necessity when taking the Bears gig. The Bears are in need of an overhaul at key positions on offense, including wide receiver and center but with limited cap space and draft capital, how the Bears build around Fields will depend on what positions the new regime is willing to prioritize.

Fields had enough bright moments in 2021 that showed why the Bears finally have their answer at quarterback. Now it’s up to the franchise to figure out what the next steps are and surround Fields with enough talent to maximize his rookie contract over the next three seasons.

2) Detroit Lions: What to do with the second overall pick?

Despite winning just three games in 2021, the Detroit Lions battled and battled hard for first-year head coach Dan Campbell. Heading into year two of the Campbell era, the Lions are slated to pick second overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. There are a few directions that Detroit could go with this pick, knowing the entire roster needs an overhaul and has to be built from scratch.

Unless the front office and coaching staff feel like Jared Goff underperformed in 2021, Detroit should pass on selecting a quarterback, instead drafting and filling another need on the roster. For the Lions, adding a pass rusher to begin an overhaul on the defensive side of the ball should be a strong priority. Look for Detroit to do its homework on Adian Hutchinson (Michigan) and Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon), with the likelihood that both are selected back-to-back with the first and second overall picks.

3) Green Bay Packers: Is it time to blow it all up?

When former Bears kicker Robbie Gould eliminated the Packers from the postseason, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was seen walking back to the locker room alone. With another disappointing end, the Packers are at a crossroads in 2022. Rodgers’ holdout and silence last summer could indicate that he wants out while wide receiver Davante Adams is set to be an unrestricted free agent in March. As both continue to get older, they could decide that leaving Green Bay is the only way to a championship.

Looking at Green Bay’s salary cap situation, along with 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love waiting in the wings, the Packers are about to face a reality they haven’t faced in three decades: Is the time to start over truly now, or is the can worth kicking down the line for another year with the hope that Rodgers and Adams return.

4) Minnesota Vikings: Who will decide the future of QB Kirk Cousins?

How much football Cousins has left in him is to be determined by the state of the Vikings in 2022 but entering a contract season, along with a new regime set to take over means Cousins’ future is already decided. The Vikings can’t get out of Cousins’ contract, so the only option is to ride it out with the veteran and hope to find a contingency plan either this offseason or in 2023.

When the Vikings opted to fire Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman, it was ownership admitting the Super Bowl window had closed, and signing Cousins turned out to be a massive failure. As Cousins gets ready to turn 34 years old in August the new regime would likely do the same and start fresh, the Vikings will need to prepare for a life without Cousins and get ready to figure out the QB position once again in hopes of getting back to a Super Bowl.


NFC North Recap: What did we takeaway from week two?

With week two of the 2021 NFL season officially in the books, how did the NFC North, the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, and Minnesota Vikings perform? For the first time all season, the NFC North finished with two wins and two losses, as Chicago and Green Bay secured their first wins of the new year while Minnesota and Detroit lost for a second straight week.

1) Chicago Bears

What more could you ask for if you’re a Chicago Bears fan? Sunday saw the Bears get their first win of the season with rookie quarterback Justin Fields getting extended playing time after veteran quarterback Andy Dalton left the game with an apparent knee injury. Fields was explosive as a runner but also showcased the ability to throw wide receivers open, as evidenced by dropped passes that should’ve been touchdowns to Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson.

The Bears’ defense was also fired up, after sacking Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow four times, forcing a fumble and three interceptions. Sitting down with Maxx Smith, my co-host for the Fireside Bears YouTube channel, I mentioned how Cincinnati was the perfect opponent for the Bears defense to turn everything around.

What’s next for the Bears? Well with Dalton’s future uncertain, the Fields show has officially arrived and a new energy has descended upon the Bears locker room as the team looks to stack wins between September and October, laying the foundation for a potential playoff run over the final two months of the season.

2) Minnesota Vikings

Someone needs to figure out what’s wrong with the Minnesota Vikings and quickly if possible. Kirk Cousins tossed three touchdowns but it wasn’t enough to beat the Arizona Cardinals, who scored 34 points, including 17 points in the second quarter. For the entire afternoon, outside of one sack, the Vikings’ offensive line did keep Cousins upright but when the game mattered the most, the Vikings failed to capitalize.

Switch over to the defensive side of the ball, traditionally a strength of the Vikings under Zimmer and there are mixed reactions. Two interceptions and three sacks weren’t enough to propel the Vikings past the Cardinals either, despite one interception being returned for a touchdown. Minnesota lost this game because Kicker Greg Joseph failed to missed a 37-yard field goal as time expired after Cousins and the offense marched down the field on a nine-play, 58-yard drive that took 2:09 off the clock.

What’s next for the Vikings? Three straight home games against the Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns, and Detroit Lions gives the entire team an opportunity to get some wins at home. Zimmer knows the Vikings need to win at least two of these three games, maybe even all three to stave off the hot seat, which could get hot quickly.

3) Green Bay Packers

Well, the Packers are officially back. If you watched Green Bay on Monday night, Aaron Rodgers and the offense started slow but picked up steam as the game progressed. Major credit goes to running back Aaron Jones, who scored four touchdowns while Rodgers connected with wide receiver Devante Adams eight times for 121 yards, averaging 15.1 yards per reception.

One name that stuck out on the Packers’ defense was rookie cornerback Eric Stokes. The 29th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft had two pass breakups and one tackle, shutting down Lions wide receiver Quintez Cephus on a key play to force a Lions punt. Green Bay’s defense as a unit did improve as the game progressed with defensive coordinator Joe Barry proving he can get the whole unit playing at a high level.

Up next for Green Bay is a primetime matchup in the Bay Area against the San Francisco 49ers, who’ve won two straight road games. With the 49ers’ defense playing at a high level, San Francisco’s defense will present Green Bay’s offense with another great test to see if Rodgers can get Green Bay clicking even more.

4) Detroit Lions

The Lions haven’t looked as bad as many expected and while flaws do exist, Detroit’s offensive line has looked more than solid so far. Penei Sewell, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Matt Nelson gave quarterback Jared Goff more than enough time to throw. With wide receiver Tyrell Williams out, Quintez Cephus stepped up, catching four passes for 63 yards, including one touchdown. Cephus averaged15.8 yards per reception, proving he could be a big-play threat in Detroit’s offense.

The Lions’ defense did do enough to remain in the first half of the game but big plays throughout the second half helped break the game wide open in Green Bay’s favor. Having a banged up secondary, with Jeffery Okudah, the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft sidelined for the year doesn’t help Detroit’s case but the defensive line did look solid, sacking Aaron Rodgers on three occasions.

What’s next for Detroit? The Baltimore Ravens will come to town with a road trip to Chicago in week 4. It’s very much possible that the Lions start the 2021 season winless through the first quarter of the season but credit head coach Dan Campbell for continuing to have his team fight on every play, even when the game seems out of reach.


Chicago Bears: NFC North Week One Recap

bears, matt nagy

With week one of the 2021 NFL regular season officially in the books, it’s time to recap how the Chicago Bears and their NFC North counterparts performed.


1) Chicago Bears

Well, the Bears lost to the Los Angeles Rams and are now 1-3 in season openers under head coach Matt Nagy. The Bears did too little too late and struggled to limit big plays, allowing Matthew Stafford and the Rams offense to score points. Chicago did look solid in the running game, where David Montgomery had a 41-yard run on the first possession of the game.

Bears QB Andy Dalton was efficient throughout the evening and while Justin Fields did see some action, Chicago’s first drive ended in a redzone interception. The Bears also failed to convert on fourth down, going 0-for-4, a stat that Nagy will likely want to forget. Chicago ran 69 plays and had the ball for nearly 35 minutes but still failed to score in both the first and fourth quarter.

It’s a long season and with 16 more games to go, the Bears have an opportunity to turn this ship around. Nobody in Chicago is panicking just yet but the Bears did flash some positives in week 1.

2) Green Bay Packers

Um, what just happened. The Packers playing the New Orleans Saints was America’s Game of the Week but it looked more like a Super Bowl contender (New Orleans) playing against a team that’s heading towards a full-scale rebuild Green Bay struggled all afternoon. The offense couldn’t move the ball and the defense couldn’t come up with any stops.

The bigger issue here is the play of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who tossed two interceptions, zero touchdowns, and had just 15 completions. This could be rust that Rodgers is shaking off after being absent from the Packers offseason programs but reporting to training camp on time. Or it could be that Rodgers’ absence has led to trust issues among players, the coaching staff, and front office.

It’s only week 1 but the Packers’ performance isn’t encouraging. Time for head coach Matt LaFleur and the coaching staff to reflect hard about what just happened.

3) Minnesota Vikings

One minute it seems like the Vikings are ready to win, the next minute, Mike Zimmer’s squad looks like a young team that’s learning how to play football. The Vikings are all over the place, it’s that simple. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow sliced up the Vikings defense all afternoon, winning by three scores at one point.

Minnesota also had 12 penalties on the afternoon. Wide receiver Adam Thielen had two touchdowns but the quarterback Kirk Cousins was unable to capitalize in key situations, once again proving that the Vikings need to get better at the quarterback position if a deep run in the playoffs is to be made.

4) Detroit Lions

Despite being down by 21 points at halftime, give the Lions credit. Head coach Dan Campbell, who’s been made fun of by NFC North fans this offseason for his passion and enthusiasm coached hard on Sunday afternoon. Detroit battled back in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 points, losing by eight just points.

Running backs Jamal Williams and D’Andre Swift combined for 16 receptions, averaging 7.5 yards per reception. Up next for the Lions is the division rival Green Bay Packers, meaning that some NFC North team will be in the win column next week. By the way, credit to quarterback Jared Goff, who was traded to the Lions this offseason for tossing three touchdowns in his Lions debut while posting a passer rating of 92.6.

BREAKING: LB Jarrad Davis to New York Jets on one-year deal (Report)

Davis, a former first-round pick in Detroit, has reportedly joined the New York Jets on a one-year deal worth $7 million.

Per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY, the New York Jets have agreed to a one-year deal with linebacker Jarrad Davis, formerly of the Detroit Lions. The deal is reportedly worth $7 million. Davis, chosen 21st in the 2017 draft, earned 305 tackles, including 10.5 sacks over four years in the Motor City.

Davis, a 26-year-old Florida alum, never reached his first-billing with the Lions, but some felt that he was not properly utilized in Detroit. His experience under a 4-3 defense in Gainesville will help under the transition under Robert Saleh, who ran the format in San Francisco. Davis would often play the Mike under then-co-defensive coordinators Geoff Collins and Randy Shannon, earning 17 tackles for a loss over his latter two seasons at a Gator.

Davis’ best season in Detroit came in 2018, when he earned 100 tackles (10 for a loss), six sacks, and a fumble recovery. He earned 46 tackles over 14 games this past season, briefly spending time on the COVID-19 list. Davis was also named to the Pro Football Writers Association’s All-Rookie team at the end of his rookie campaign the year before (96 tackles and an interception).

The addition of Davis helps the Jets shore up their linebacker corps. Separate, respective reports from Vacchiano and Connor Hughes indicate that team likely won’t retain Tarell Basham and Harvey Langi. Another report from NFL Network’s Tom Pellissero has also claimed that the Jets have received calls on C.J. Mosley, who has been limited to two games in a five-year, $85 million contract. Other linebackers potentially on the market for the Jets include Jordan Jenkins, Neville Hewitt, Frankie Luvu, Patrick Onwuasor, and Bryce Hager.

Davis joins Vyncint Smith and Marcus Maye in terms of the 2021 transactions thus far. The former was re-signed on Sunday while Maye was franchise tagged earlier this month.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants: Is Miami having a change of heart on Tua?

Tua Tagovailoa

It’s no secret that the New York Giants are sitting in a great spot with the number four overall pick.  April’s draft could still become much more interesting if things go a little differently than expected.

The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero suggests that the Miami Dolphins might prefer Oregon’s Justin Herbert over Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.  Per Salguero, the Dolphins are not fully sold on Tua’s durability. The Alabama star suffered a season-ending hip injury against Mississippi State.  This was not the first setback for Tua.  In the 2018 season alone, Tagovailoa suffered injuries to his knee, quad, and ankle on three separate occasions. This string of knocks could certainly raise serious concerns for a team searching for their franchise QB.

What this could mean for the Giants’ draft plans.

It is nothing new to suggest Miami could use their draft capital to third with the Detroit Lions to acquire Tua.  They very well could do the same for Justin Herbert.  

This wouldn’t change things for the Giants if they were to stay at four.  They’d still have their pick of an offensive tackle, or a defensive playmaker, such as Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons.  However, if Tua is still available at four, the return for a trade back by the Giants could increase.

It has already been well documented that the Los Angeles Chargers and QB Philip Rivers have parted ways.  The Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton’s divorce seems inevitable.  As well, with the young QB guru Joe Brady on board, a new signal-caller makes plenty of sense.  Let us also not forget Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders. Although going from fourth to the twelve spots is unappealing, acquiring another first-round pick (Las Vegas owns the 19th pick as well) is not something to easily shy away from.

These teams have already been rumored as potential trade partners for the Giants.  However, if Tua and his talents are available, that bidding war could become much more intense.  

What could the Giants get for the 4th overall pick?

As ESM’s Anthony Rivardo suggested last week, the New York Giants return on a trade back from fourth for a QB could already be large.  If one of these quarterback-needy teams prefers Tua’s skillset to Herbert’s and Tagovailoa is available at four, the likelihood of a future first-round pick being in the return increases significantly.  

It is far too early to speculate let 2021 NFL Draft and remaining optimistic for the 2020 NFL season is important.  However, for a team that is really not soon making any deep playoff runs, these extra picks this year and beyond are critical.  Although Dave Gettleman has never traded back in the first before, now would be the year to do so.

2020 NFL Draft: Lions ‘In Play’ to Grab QB at No. 3?

Tua Tagovailoa

The 2020 NFL Draft is approaching rapidly. With the Senior Bowl transpiring this week in Mobile, Alabama and the NFL Combine just a few weeks away, NFL teams will be posturing and posing as they jockey for position for the first round of the draft on April 23 in Las Vegas.

The Cincinnati Bengals are selecting first and are expected to choose LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner. At No. 2, the Washington Redskins are almost a lock to take Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young.

No. 3 overall belongs to the Detroit Lions, who could go a number of ways with the pick. They could trade it for a bounty of players/picksto a team seeking a QB, or stay in place and grab a quarterback themselves.

Veteran NFL reporter Omar Kelly believes Detroit could be looking to replace Matthew Stafford sooner rather than later. Stafford missed the final eight games of the 2019 season with a back injury and there is speculation that he may never re-gain his pre-injury form.

Should a quarterback be taken at No. 3, the Giants’ options could be altered along with it. A rush on quarterbacks will make their pick at No. 4 more valuable. Should they not get an offer they can’t refuse and stay in place, they could be looking at several stud players at some key need positions.

Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, Georgia OT Andrew Thomas, Auburn DT Derrick Brown, Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons, Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah and Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa are some of the names they will be looking at.

Giants’ Upcoming Schedule: what it’ll take for playoff hopes in December

A modest 2-3 record for the New York Giants heading into week 6 hasn’t felt so good for fans in a while. The team did suffer a tough loss against the Minnesota Vikings losing 28-10 last week but entering October with a 2-2 record wasn’t something that happened since 2016.

The team certainly has its flaws, but if they were to make a push for the playoffs there are certain matchups they need to capitalize on. The Patriots likely push this team down to 2-4, pushing their backs a little closer to the wall.

Without going too far ahead, since its a week to week league, let’s take a look at the opponents after week 6 leading up to December:

Arizona Cardinals, 10/20, 1:00 PM

This will be a battle of the top two rookie quarterbacks drafted between Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones. The Cardinals have a 1-3-1 record through 5 games. Their lone win came against a winless team in the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Giants also have a rookie quarterback this Arizona team has proven to be very a beatable team. They have a decent rushing attack that ranks 11th in the league in yards and they are a middle-of-the-pack team in first downs gained.

That much is encouraging but they also have a defense that’s 29th in yards allowed. This needs to be a bounce-back game for the team if they suffer another loss against the Patriots on Thursday. Letting the Cardinals potentially push the Giants down to 2-5 would be detrimental to their season with tougher matchups down the road.

Detroit Lions, 10/27, 1:00 PM

The Giants don’t have the best record against the Lions in recent history but they’re one of the more friendly matchups left on the schedule. While their offense is top 10 in yards gained with big names like Matthew Stafford and Kerryon Johnson, their defense is struggling. Their best rank in defense is a 20th ranked run-stopping unit. The Lions aren’t among the leagues best in rushing defense but still have Damon “Snacks” Harrison who will give the interior of the Giants offensive line a good fight.

Much like the upcoming matchup with the Cardinals, a top-ranked offense and bottom-ranked defense should at least give the Giants the chance to keep up in these weeks 7 and 8 matchups. While they’ve struggled on defense the Lions won’t lay down for Daniel Jones, they’ve only given up 4 passing touchdowns in 4 games. Winning both of these games is most likely a must with tougher teams around the corner. Improving to 4-4 with wins against the Lions and Cardinals (assuming they lose to NE) would be a record they haven’t matched since 2016.

Dallas Cowboys, 11/4, 8:15 PM

It would’ve been nice for most fans to take a long break from the Cowboys but in less than a month they’ll be in NJ for a rematch. We all know how bad Dak Prescott embarrassed the young Giants defense but they should have their sea legs this time. After a strong 3-0 start against beatable teams like the Giants, Dolphins, and Redskins they’ve stumbled against solid teams like the Saints and Packers. James Bettcher committed to neutralizing Elliott in the first game but at the expense of exposing his secondary, they let Dak Prescott reach a career-high efficiency.

The defensive coordinator will need to ease up in the trenches next time. Daniel Jones will need to bring his A-game against a defense that currently ranks 9th in passing yards allowed. Pat Shurmur will also need to bring his A-game by calling rushing plays more often this time, Dallas currently ranks 23rd against the run. With Saquon likely back to his normal self, the second time around Shurmur will have a chance to redeem himself. A win at home against Dallas would greatly brighten the playoff outlook.

New York Jets, 11/10, 1:00 PM

We can put the Jets in the same category as the Cardinals and Lions for must-win matchups. This is one of the last friendly matchups of the year, although the team will get tougher with Sam Darnold returning soon. They’ve been sinking without their starting quarterback at 0-4 but they aren’t exactly a pushover either. They are 21st in yards allowed which isn’t terrible and giving up 5 touchdown passes in 4 games is respectable as well. Only finding a single touchdown pass so far on offense is the main reason they can’t build any momentum. They’re not as bad as their record and will have some catching up to do themselves but still an opportunistic matchup compared to most of the other remaining opponents.

Chicago Bears, 11/24, 1:00 PM

If the offensive struggles looked bad against the Vikings expect the same, if not worse against the Bears. This defense is stacked from top to bottom, currently ranked 11th against the pass and 6th against rushing offenses. The only hope at taking down a team like this has a lot to do with Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. He’s held their offensive unit back so far, failing to score a touchdown in his first 2 starts this year and continues to struggle with reading the entire field in his 3rd season. This will most likely be a low-scoring grind but the Giants could possibly come out on top with an edge in quarterback play. Daniel Jones has looked much better than Trubisky, even as a rookie. Beating either the Bears or Cowboys is most likely crucial for playoff hopes in December.

That’s it for the games leading up to December, excluding the terrifying matchup with the Patriots on Thursday night. The Cowboys and Bears are obviously tough upcoming matchups with overwhelming defenses. Outside of those 2 teams, the Cardinals, Lions, and Jets are matchups this young Giants team should capitalize on if they have playoff hopes.

If the team is really about to fall to 2-4, winning those 3 friendly matchups and managing to pull 1-1 from the Cowboys and Bears games would put this team at 6-5 going into December. A record many New York Giants fans would ultimately be pleased with heading into the final month that includes matchups with Washington and Miami.

It’s a week to week league and a lot can change at any time, however, taking a look at the next couple months this team could have a shot at their first playoff berth since Dave Gettleman took over as GM just a season ago.