In Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins’ fourth season, the Vikings have yet to win the NFC North. Unless the Packers’ team buses make a detour to Idaho every game day, that streak is unlikely to end. Still, the Vikings have a slew of elite players—Dalvin Cook, receiver Justin Jefferson and defending side Danielle Hunter—and their off-season additions enhanced a defense that coach Mike Zimmer called the “worst I’ve ever had” last season. .”
At least, Minnesota figures to be average. At best, it could win games in double digits, good enough to land a wildcard berth.
— Ben Shpigel
Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Main additions: WR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Kyle Pitts, RB Mike Davis, S Duron Harmon
Main starting points: C Alex Mack, WR Julio Jones, S Ricardo Allen, S Keanu Neal, DE Charles Harris, CB Darqueze Dennard.
No team imploded as spectacularly – or as often – as the Falcons, who lost nine (!) games they led last season. In theory, that won’t happen again. Any expectations beyond that? ¯_(ツ)_/¯
The Falcons, under new leadership from coach (Arthur Smith) and general manager (Terry Fontenot), are in transition. After swapping Jones and bypassing a potential successor to Matt Ryan to draft Pitts at No. 4 overall, Atlanta appears to be walking down an escalator. The responsibility lies with the Defensive Coordinator, Dean Pees, who was lured out of retirement, to generate a lot of pressure – and on Ryan to generate a lot of points. With Ryan working in a heavyweight game-action attack similar to his 2016 MVP season, it could be possible. In theory.
Carolina Panthers (5-11)
Main additions: QB Sam Darnold, LB Haason Reddick, OT Cameron Erving, CB Jaycee Horn
Main starting points: WR Curtis Samuel, RB Mike Davis, QB Teddy Bridgewater, LG Chris Reed
The Panthers took over Darnold from the Jets this spring in hopes that freeing him from the juju of the Jets — and surrounding him with, you know, better players — might unlock his promise. Bold strategy. In Season 2 under Coach Matt Rhule, Carolina’s prospect of competing is rooted in too many hypotheses (if Darnold can recover, if Christian McCaffrey can run back, stay healthy, if his young defense can coalesce) to be taken seriously.