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State of the NFC North: Best-Case Scenario for Bears and Others

Only the Green Bay Packers seem capable of maxing out with wins in the NFC North this season but there are ways it could happen for the other three teams at lower levels.

It's not easy for Bears fans to be optimistic heading into this season.

There are ways it can work out, although not at a high level like it can for a few other NFC North teams.

At least the eighth-easiest schedule in the league based on opponents' 2021 winning percentages gives the Bears hope they can win enough to keep their fan base engaged until 2023.

It's then when they'll have enough salary cap space to address personnel deficiencies, but 2022 promises to be difficult unless they take advatange of  schedule breaks and all other possible beneficial factors.

The best-case scenario for the Bears in 2022 includes maxing out at eight wins by staying at or close to .500 until the final five games, when they are at home four times. This is the absolute best case and it requires they stay almost 100% healthy, something rarely accomplished in the NFL by any team.

The formula is simple enough: They take away the ball and rely on the running game, which is the basis for the attack being installed by offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. It's a play-action passing game and Justin Fields' running ability would greatly aid in ball control.

The Bears need to build their running game into a top five group the way the Eagles did, buying Fields more time to work at knowing new receivers such as Velus Jones and Byron Pringle.

Their unproven offensive line could do it because seven games are against teams ranked 22nd or worse last season at stopping the run. It's not entirely unrealistic for an offensive line to improve out of nowhere. The Eagles did it, going from 19th in Pro Football Focus ranking for O-lines now to first in one year. But the Bears are starting much lower, 31st according to PFF line ratings.

Bears backs averaged 3.8 yards a carry last year and bringing this average up a small amount, combined with effective play-action passing, can keep their defense off the field.

Coach Matt Eberflus is going to aim his defense at increasing takeaways like with the Colts. Players like Roquan Smith at weak side linebacker, safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Jaylon Johnson are keys at taking it away, further enhancing the offense's ball-control style.

The Bears would need to beat the Lions twice, the Texans, Falcons, Giants, Jets, Dolphins and the Vikings once. Sure those teams look at them as easy touches, too, but this is the best-case Bears scenario and it's not going to include wins over teams like Green Bay or Dallas.

-Gene Chamberlain, BearDigest

Best-Case Scenarios

DETROIT LIONS

The Detroit Lions are entering the 2022 season hoping to remain a healthy football team. While every team hopes to avoid the injury bug, Detroit lacks depth in several key areas. Any rash of injuries that sweeps through the team could easily derail the upcoming campaign.

Last season, the team was besieged by injuries, including to center Frank Ragnow and cornerback Jeff Okudah. Running back D'Andre Swift battled a groin injury in training camp and an AC joint sprain near the end of the season. Tight end T.J. Hockenson was also unable to finish the season after injuring his thumb against the Vikings.

The best case scenario for head coach Dan Campbell is for the team to remain relatively healthy in order to be able to properly evaluate the talent on the roster.

Players like Jared Goff, Jeff Okudah and D'Andre Swift must be able to stay on the field in order for the team to have a chance at drastically improving their win total.

The offensive line is being heralded as a unit on the rise. If all five starers can remain healthy and gel as a unit, Detroit's offense has a chance to lead the way. Taylor Decker and Ragnow must be able to anchor a unit that should excel at both pass and run blocking.

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It is likely this team has a ceiling of 6-8 victories this upcoming campaign. They will come nowhere near that total if they do not stay healthy.

-Jon Maakaron, All Lions

GREEN BAY PACKERS

The best-case scenario is the same as it’s been every other year for the past three decades. With a great quarterback, a Super Bowl championship is always the expectation. The Packers are built to win now, with management pushing tens of millions of salary-cap dollars into the future to assemble a roster capable of winning a championship today.

The Packers have a great quarterback with four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers. But it’s so much more than that. Great players win games, and the Packers have a great player at almost every position group. They’ve got a great tandem of running backs (Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon), outside linebackers (Rashan Gary and Preston Smith) and safeties (Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage), and perhaps the league’s best trio of cornerbacks (Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas, Eric Stokes). If David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins bounce back from torn ACLs, they’ve got two great offensive linemen. Kenny Clark is a Pro Bowl defensive tackle.

That’s a lot of talent. Even with the uncertainty at receiver, they should have a chance to win every game.

Of course, it can be argued that if the Packers couldn’t get to a Super Bowl following an unprecedented three consecutive seasons of 13 wins and back-to-back MVPs by Rodgers that they'll never win another championship with Rodgers. And, to be sure, trading Davante Adams was a major blow. He had more catches and receiving yards last season than the projected starting trio of Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb had combined.

But the return of Alexander from a shoulder injury, the re-signings of Campbell and Douglas in free agency and the addition of linebacker Quay Walker and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt in the first round could make the defense a bad-ass unit. Rodgers, an elite defense and an improved special teams under esteemed coordinator Rich Bisaccia could finally be the Super Bowl-winning recipe.

-Bill Huber, PackerCentral

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Minnesota wins 12 or 13 games, the NFC North title and makes a run in the playoffs.

It takes a fair amount of optimistic projection to get there, but the Vikings have the pieces in place—at least on paper—to have their best season since 2017. The offense is led by a solid veteran quarterback in Kirk Cousins, who is overpaid but can make every throw when he's given time in the pocket. The skill positions are loaded; the Vikings have arguably the game's best wide receiver in Justin Jefferson, an elite running back in Dalvin Cook, a strong No. 2 receiver and red zone weapon in Adam Thielen, and a breakout candidate at tight end in Irv Smith Jr., who is returning from injury. The skill positions have some depth, too.

If young offensive linemen Christian Darrisaw and Ezra Cleveland take the next step and the Vikings get solid play at center and right guard to go with Pro Bowl right tackle Brian O'Neill, this could be Minnesota's best O-line in a while. That's key for Cousins' success.

Defensively, there are playmakers at all three levels in Danielle Hunter, Za'Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, rookie Lewis Cine, and Cameron Dantzler, to name a few. If Hunter and Smith stay healthy all year and the Vikings' young defensive backs step up, this could be a great defense (I warned you that there would be plenty of "ifs" here). Mike Zimmer was an elite defensive mind, but Ed Donatell was a strong defensive coordinator hire who will run the Vic Fangio scheme that's spreading across the league.

This best-case scenario hinges on health, breakout performances, and new head coach Kevin O'Connell being a top-notch offensive play caller and game manager right away. The Vikings think they hit a home run by hiring O'Connell—time to find out if they're right.

-Will Ragatz, Inside the Vikings