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NFC North preview: Will Aaron Rodgers and Packers be Super Bowl contenders?

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers watches during NFL football training camp Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers watches during a team practice session in August.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)
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A team-by-team look at the NFC North along with the predicted order of finish for the division.

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1. Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers running backs Aaron Jones, left, and Tyler Ervin jog during practice in August.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)

2019 | 13-3, 1st in North

Last year in playoffs | 2019

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WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

In their first year under coach Matt LaFleur, not only did the Packers rebound from back-to-back losing seasons, but also they won the NFC North and finished 13-3. All that, and Aaron Rodgers was nowhere close to as accurate and efficient as he can be.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

Aaron Jones. The other Aaron takes the snaps, but Jones, the No. 1 running back, has become increasingly important in this scheme. He was eighth in the league with 1,558 total yards last season and tied for first with 19 touchdowns. He’s a dangerous receiver out of the backfield, and that should really help his quarterback.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Jordan Love. In a surprise move, the Packers traded their fourth-round pick to move up four spots and take Love, the Utah State quarterback, with the 26th pick. He has some Patrick Mahomes-like qualities and can learn at the elbow of Rodgers.

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2. Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford throws during practice in August.
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

2019 | 3-12-1, 4th in North

Last year in playoffs | 2016

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

After a 2-0-1 start, the Lions lost 12 of their last 13 games and felt that familiar feeling — eliminated from the playoff picture by Thanksgiving. Quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered broken bones in his back in Week 9, and the team limped the rest of the way with journeymen Jeff Driskel and David Blough.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

Stafford. Quietly, he was among the best in the league last season before his injury.Everything hinges on him. He has a rising superstar in receiver Kenny Golladay, who led the league in receiving touchdowns last season. And don’t forget about second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Jeff Okudah. The No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, Okudah, a standout at Ohio State, widely was considered the best cornerback in the class. The Lions are desperate for that, having traded Pro Bowl corner Darius Slay to Philadelphia. With Desmond Trufant, Detroit is set at corners.

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3. Minnesota Vikings

Eric Kendricks of the Minnesota Vikings lines up against teammate Hardy Nickerson.
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, top, lines up against teammate Hardy Nickerson during a team practice session in August.
(Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)

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2019 | 10-6, 2nd in North

Last year in playoffs | 2019

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

The Vikings finished 10-6, but back-to-back losses to end the season knocked them out of division-title contention. They upset the Saints in overtime of a wild-cardplayoff game, then lost at San Francisco in the divisional round.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

Eric Kendricks. A former UCLA standout, middle linebacker Kendricks has led the Vikings in tackles each of the last five seasons. He’ll need to continue that pace this year, especially with the way the defensive line has been parted out for financial reasons. Much like Bobby Wagner in Seattle, Kendricks is the glue in a defense now co-coordinated by Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Justin Jefferson. The 22nd pick in the draft, Jefferson figures to pick up some of the slack left by Stefon Diggs, who’s now in Buffalo. Quarterback Kirk Cousins isn’t overflowing with receiving targets but has good tight ends in Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr.

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4. Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack runs a drill during practice in August.
(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

2019| 8-8, 3rd in North

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Last year in playoffs | 2018

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

The Bears went 3-1 in the first quarter of the season, then plummeted back to earth with a four-game losing streak. They finished 8-8, and among the teams they beat, only Minnesota ended the season with a winning record.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

Nick Foles. The Bears, perpetually looking for an answer at quarterback, made a trade with Jacksonville for Foles, who’s likely to do a better job of running Matt Nagy’s offense than Mitch Trubisky. Then again, Trubisky was named the Week 1 starter and Foles has flamed out in places too. Foles needs to prove he can get the job done somewhere other than in Philadelphia.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Khalil Mack. He was such a force two years ago, among the NFL’s most dominant defensive players. He drew constant double teams last season, however, and his production dropped off accordingly. He had 81/2 sacks, four fewer than in 2018.