How Tough Will NFC North Be in 2024?

When Ryan Poles was hired as the Bears’ general manager, he said he intended to “take the NFC North and never give it back.” Since then, Chicago has gone 3-14 and 7-10 and owns the top pick in the NFL Draft for the second consecutive year. Yes, the Bears are an improving team, but the division is a lot tougher than it was two years ago.

The best way to win the division is to beat your opponents. Unfortunately for the Bears, they’re 2-10 in interdivisional games since Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus took over. They’ve been outscored 313-212 in those games, though the contests were much tighter in 2023. Still, that’s not going to win you any NFC North titles.

Last year, the Packers and the Lions both made the playoffs. Green Bay entered the postseason as a Wild Card team and beat the Cowboys before losing to the 49ers. Detroit won the division and beat the Rams and Buccaneers before losing 34-31 to San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. Both teams are co-favorites to win the division this year. Seven of 11 analysts have either team going to next year’s Super Bowl, including three who pick either as the NFL champion.

  • Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Packers over Bengals. A healthy quarterback Joe Burrow will put the Bengals back in the mix as one of the top teams in the AFC. It’s the Packers, however, who win the Super Bowl because of quarterback Jordan Love‘s difference-making ability and a change in defensive philosophy under new coordinator Jeff Hafley.
  • Mike Clay, fantasy football writer: Lions over Texans. Why not have some fun with two rising teams for this pick? Detroit was one late-game collapse from a Super Bowl appearance and will return nearly its entire core (especially on offense) in 2024, though an improving NFC North will make things tough. Quarterback C.J. Stroud appears to be the real deal, so a strong offseason from the Houston front office could quickly get the Texans to contender status in the AFC.
  • Mike Tannenbaum, NFL front office insider: Lions over Chargers. The Lions will benefit from both coordinators returning to Detroit after Ben Johnson and Aaron Glenn each attracted head-coaching interest, and this time I expect the team to win the NFC Championship Game and win the Super Bowl. I see them holding off QB Justin Herbert, Jim Harbaugh, and the Chargers in a close game.

Granted, those predictions were made a week after the Super Bowl and before the start of free agency. The Bears haven’t done much this offseason, at least compared to their NFC North opponents. The Sporting News ranked every team by its newest additions, and Chicago was last among its divisional brethren with the draft still ahead.

Lions (ranked 3rd overall)

Packers (7th)

Vikings (8th)

Bears (25th)

The Bears stole Allen from the Chargers but probably overpaid for Swift. The team has a new offensive coordinator in Shane Waldron, but a still-inexperienced head coach who has yet to have a winning season. You can’t fault Eberflus for his rookie season because the Bears tanked. He does, however, deserve a lot of credit for last season, especially the turnaround on defense. If you’re looking for a little sunshine, Bleacher Report gave the Bears an A+. I guess Shelton is the difference-maker. That’s a joke, by the way.

The Bears are an improving team, but they haven’t improved enough. They need help on both lines, especially on the interior, and they lack depth at several key positions. They’re also going to start the season with a rookie quarterback, most likely Caleb Williams.

Poles only has, four draft picks this year, too. Chicago has two selections in the top 10, however, and could trade down from No. 9 for additional assets. The Packers, meanwhile, have 11 picks, including five in the top 100. The Lions have three top-100 picks and seven overall, while the Vikings have nine picks, two in the first round.

What is the reason for optimism in Chicago? The Texans had three wins and a tie in 2022 and made the playoffs with a rookie QB in ’23. Houston also plays in a much weaker division and had a relatively easy schedule last year. Nobody should assume that Williams can repeat Stroud’s season. Put another way, would the Bears have been better than 7-10 with Stroud instead of Fields at quarterback? That seems doubtful.

Chicago is an improving team but is a few key injuries away from another top-10 draft pick next year. If I was handicapping the division, and again, it’s early, I’d say the Bears are a third-place team at best with a very small chance of making the playoffs. Is Williams worth the two additional wins Chicago needs to contend for the final Wild Card spot? Time will tell.

The Bears will be fun to watch this season. They have an improving defense and a potentially explosive offense. Williams will have every opportunity to end Chicago’s quarterback curse. They’re just not there yet. Here are my predictions going into next week’s draft.

  1. Packers 12-5
  2. Lions 11-6
  3. Bears 10-7
  4. Vikings 3-14

I do see the Bears improving in division play, but not by much. Give them one win against Green Bay and Detroit, and two vs. Minnesota. You can also lightly pencil in home wins against the Jaguars, Panthers, Seahawks, and Patriots, with road wins against the Colts and Commanders.

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