June 29, 2017; Ashwabenon, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) talks with head coach Mike McCarthy during Green Bay Packers Training Camp. Jim Matthews-USA TODAY NETWORK

Over the next few weeks as part of our NFL preview series, we’ll be taking a good look at each division in the league. Having tackled the AFC East, North, South and West, it’s on to the NFC. We’ve already tackled the East, so now we’re moving to the North.

Predictability has reigned supreme recently in the NFC North. The Packers have won the division title in five of the past six seasons. And, they look poised to do so once again. History says the division winner will need to be dominant—a team with fewer than 10 wins has won the division only once since 1983.

1. Green Bay Packers

As long as Aaron Rodgers is still suiting up in yellow and green, the Packers offense will remain elite. Green Bay has finished top-five in points per game in 2012, 2014 and 2016. The ability to replicate those years is certainly present. Jordy Nelson hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down while Davante Adams and Randall Cobb round out an impressive receiving core. Add tight end Martellus Bennett to the mix and we could see an even better version of Rodgers with a greater set of weapons.

Losing second-team All-Pro veteran guard T.J. Lang is by far the most notable concern for the Green Bay offense. However, that was mitigated by signing another All-Pro in Jahri Evans, whose presence should alleviate the loss of versatile interior linemen J.C. Tretter. This may have an effect on Ty Montgomery’s ceiling during his first full season as a pure running back, however. Even if the line isn’t elite and the Packers have a below-average running game, Rodgers can use Montgomery’s receiving skills for short yardage And, still take plenty of shots downfield.

Whether or not Green Bay can dominate in the regular season depends a lot on the defense. Julius Peppers has moved on, so even more pressure is on Clay Matthews to channel his younger self and have a dominant year. Rodgers nearly led this team, with flaws, to the Super Bowl last season. But the defense fell apart against a potent Falcons team. During the 2010 regular season before the Packers won their last Super Bowl, they had the No. 1 ranked scoring defense in football.

The potential is always sky-high in Green Bay. Expect the Packers to make a playoff appearance for the ninth year in a row.

2. Minnesota Vikings

There are some big questions in Minnesota on the offensive side of the ball. The biggest is Teddy Bridgewater’s looming return from injury. And, whether or not he will replace Sam Bradford at quarterback. The Vikings chose not to pick up his fifth-year option on his rookie contract, a move that seems to be a safety precaution just to make sure he was 100 percent healthy. After seeing Buffalo trade away Sammy Watkins in a similar situation, it’s unknown what Minnesota plans to do in the future.

No matter who the quarterback is, the Vikings have enough defensive prowess to remain competitive. The unit has been better than league-average each year since Mike Zimmer became head coach. They really came together in 2016, holding opponents to the third-fewest points per game in the regular season. Veterans like Everson Griffin, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes are all in their primes. Young players like Anthony Barr and Trae Waynes are rapidly improving. There’s no reason Minnesota can’t have the best defense in football this year.

If Stefon Diggs and rookie running back Dalvin Cook can have breakout seasons, the Vikings could make a lot of noise in the NFC. However, those are two big “what ifs” with a shaky offensive line and a quarterback that rarely takes chances downfield. Performing well against division opponents will be a big factor if Minnesota hopes to snag a wild card berth.

3. Detroit Lions

The identity of the 2017 Lions is yet to be determined. After OC Jim Bob Cooter led a pass-heavy, high-scoring offense during the second half of 2015, the Lions switched gears and became a ball-control unit at the end of last year. Detroit averaged the fourth-fewest plays per game of any team in the league on the way to a 9-7 record, good for the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.

Some of the offseason moves the Lions made suggest a commitment to this style of play going forward. They spent money in free agency to bring in two quality offensive linemen, T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner. Still, a big hole remains at left tackle—Taylor Lewan will miss at least the first half of the season due to injury, leaving former No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson with a chance to revitalize his career. If the line is a steady unit, playmakers like Ameer Abdullah have a good chance to produce at a high level.

It’s already starting to look like luck won’t be on Detroit’s side this season, though. Defensive star Ziggy Ansah is already on the PUP list to begin the year while another player on the defensive front has been placed on injured reserve. The Lions also might have trouble replicating the close game victories last year. Stafford set the NFL record with eight individual fourth-quarter comebacks.

It’s hard to see Detroit winning more than eight games this season.

4. Chicago Bears

Chicago’s front office made a bold move on draft day that shocked people around the NFL, trading valuable assets to move from third to second overall to take quarterback Mitch Trubisky. This came right after signing free agent Mike Glennon to a hefty one-year deal, presumably to be the starter right away. It’s a confusing situation, to say the least.

What we are sure of is that the Chicago offense will run through Jordan Howard. Howard proved he should have been drafted a lot earlier last April, finishing with the third-most rushing yards in the league. He should be able to replicate his performance with a strong interior lone in front of him, including guards Josh Sitton and Kyle Long. The departure of Alshon Jeffery should be enough to convince Chicago to fully commit to the running game as well.

Before anyone dismisses the Bears as a bottom-feeder for the fourth year in a row, consider their potential on defense. The front seven features high-upside pass rushers Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston, who could do some big damage if healthy. Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan have the potential to be one of the best middle line-backing duos in football, while Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper are welcomed new additions at cornerback. This unit could surprise some people and make the Bears a sneaky competitive team.

Even with reasons for optimism, the Bears still lack depth. So once again, they are on their way to a top 10 pick next April.

This article first appeared on The Sports Post and was syndicated with permission.

Most important player on every NFL team in 2017
QUIZ: Name every head coach in the history of the Minnesota Vikings

Dating back to their founding as an expansion team in 1961, the Minnesota Vikings have had only 9 coaches in NFL franchise history. This list includes one Hall of Fame coach who returned for a second stint, and one Hall of Fame player. Unfortunately, no coach has lead the team to a Super Bowl victory. How many of the leaders of the Vikings can you name?

Clue: Years Active

Norm Van Brocklin
Bud Grant
Les Steckel
Bud Grant
Jerry Burns
Dennis Green
Mike Tice
Brad Childress
Leslie Frazier
Mike Zimmer

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