The NFC North was something of a roller coaster last season. The Minnesota Vikings were the biggest surprise of the beginning of the year. They won several games despite being without both starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson.
But they were riding some unsustainable percentages, and eventually began to slow down. The Detroit Lions, led by a Matthew Stafford that has never looked better, picked up the slack and took control of the division. They too faded nearer the end of the season.
The previously-slacking Green Bay Packers said they had a good chance of shaking off their early struggled and could run the table in the back half of the season. They did just that, and were more than happy to win the division.
Below, we’re going to take a look at the four teams in the division and their biggest needs going into the free agency period. Figuring out the needs of every other team is crucial in figuring out the landscape of the entire NFL and what it means for the 49ers. We’ll cover the rest of the divisions over the next two weeks
Green Bay Packers
Needs: Cornerback, Edge Rusher, Inside Linebacker
It seems like the Packers have needed cornerback help for several years. They had several injuries at the position last season and Sam Shields sustained a very serious concussion. They need one cornerback, maybe two of them depending on what happens with Micah Hyde.
They also have a big needs at edge rusher. Julius Peppers and Nick Perry are both set to become free agents and while Pepper has been solid in his old age, he’s considering retirement and getting both back is unlikely. Finally, their never-ending quest for an inside linebacker continues.
Realistically, they’re competing with the 49ers in the cornerback market.
Needs: Defensive Tackles, Outside Linebacker, Cornerback, Running Back
The biggest need for the Lions comes at the defensive tackle position. They never replaced Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley, and they need to do it soon. But it’s likely they’ll look at spending a high pick on the position as opposed to free agency. Where they’ll wind up competing with the 49ers on the open market is at linebacker and cornerback, two spots of notable need for the Lions.
They also need some help at running back, though they could go for a rookie, and they could use some veteran help on the offensive line after starting two rookies in 2016.
Needs: Several Offensive Linemen, Outside Linebacker, Running Back
Former 49er Alex Boone is one of two players on Minnesota’s offensive line that is worth keeping around. The other one is center Joe Berger, who is a pending free agent. The Vikings desperately need a better line and could use some more help at running back with Adrian Peterson declining. Replacing Chad Greenway at outside linebacker is also a priority, another area where they could compete with the 49ers in free agency.
Needs: Quarterback, Edge Rusher, Cornerback, Offensive Tackles, Wide Receiver
The Bears were a bad team last season, and they were the only ones to play the 49ers. Of course, they beat the 49ers, and going into free agency they share a massive need with the 49ers: quarterback. Whether the Bears will be in the free agent, trade or NFL Draft market for a quarterback is unknown, but the same goes for the 49ers.
Chicago could also use two offensive tackles, an edge rusher, a cornerback and of course, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is a pending free agent.