MINNESOTA VIKINGS (14-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 25 (rookies), July 28 (veterans), Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, Eagan, Minnesota
LAST YEAR: Despite losing starting QB Sam Bradford after season opener and rookie RB Dalvin Cook in fourth game, both to knee injuries, Vikings rode backup QB Case Keenum and league-leading defense to second-most wins in franchise history. Beat Saints on last-second 61-yard TD pass from Keenum to WR Stefon Diggs in play dubbed “Minneapolis Miracle,” before being trounced by Eagles in NFC championship game to miss chance of becoming NFL’s first Super Bowl host to play in game.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, QB Kirk Cousins, DT Sheldon Richardson, PK Daniel Carlson, CB/KR Mike Hughes, WR Kendall Wright, OG Tom Compton, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Brian O’Neill.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Keenum, Bradford, RB Jerick McKinnon, RG Joe Berger, WR Jarius Wright, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, QB Teddy Bridgewater, OL Jeremiah Sirles.
CAMP NEEDS: Cousins must continue to build chemistry with Diggs, WR Adam Thielen, TE Kyle Rudolph and rest of receivers, but even more important is establishment of healthy line in front of him. RT Rashod Hill will be in spotlight after taking most of first-team reps in spring practices while Mike Remmers moved to RG, and C Pat Elflein has catching up to do with Cousins on cadence and calls; Elflein was out of team drills all offseason in recovery from shoulder, ankle injuries. Cook looks to step back in as starting tailback 10 months after ACL surgery. First-round draft pick Hughes will have opportunity to earn jobs as primary KR and nickel CB.
EXPECTATIONS: As high as ever, with fully guaranteed contract for Cousins and under-radar signing of Richardson to supplement one of league’s most stacked rosters. With Diggs, DE Danielle Hunter and LB Anthony Barr on expiring contracts and handful of defense’s stars nearing, at, or over 30, time is now for team’s first title. Repeating last year’s record won’t be easy, with questions remaining on offensive line, where Berger’s retirement created opening, and stiffer schedule that includes road trips to face Rams, Eagles, Patriots and Seahawks.
DETROIT LIONS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, Allen Park, Michigan
LAST YEAR: Early and late-season slides knocked team out of playoff contention and cost coach Jim Caldwell job. QB Matthew Stafford led pass-dependent offense with 1,000-yard WRs Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. CB Darius Slay emerged as one of league’s best in coverage.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Matt Patricia, RB LeGarrette Blount, RB Kerryon Johnson, TE Luke Willson, C Frank Ragnow, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Christian Jones, LB Devon Kennard.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Coach Jim Caldwell, TE Eric Ebron, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Tahir Whitehead.
CAMP NEEDS: Developing running game with two new backs and rookie center. Learning new defense with first-year head coach and new coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.
EXPECTATIONS: Making playoffs must be goal after firing coach coming off third winning season in four years. Third-year GM Bob Quinn wants team to become tougher, especially in short yardage and near goal line.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Green Bay, Wisconsin
LAST YEAR: Finished under .500 and out of playoffs for first time since 2008. Offense struggled with QB Aaron Rodgers sidelined for seven games with broken collarbone. Defense plagued by porous secondary and lack of consistent pass rush. Injuries ravaged cornerback position again.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: GM Brian Gutekunst, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, QB DeShone Kizer, TE Jimmy Graham, TE Marcedes Lewis, CB Tramon Williams, rookie CBs Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, DL Muhammad Wilkerson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: retired GM Ted Thompson, defensive coordinator Dom Capers, S Morgan Burnett, WR Jordy Nelson, G Jahri Evans, TE Richard Rodgers.
CAMP NEEDS: Find receiver to replace Nelson. Packers took three wideouts in middle rounds of draft, but returnees Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis could have early edge. With Rodgers sidelined, Nelson’s production tailed off last year, and Packers let him go in offseason and brought in Graham to provide big target over middle. At their best, Rodgers and Nelson were one of top combos in league. Packers need to develop pass-rush depth behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and hope that Alexander and Jackson can learn from Williams to help in coverage.
EXPECTATIONS: Packers are always threat as long as Rodgers is healthy. Last season served as painful lesson of what team needs to shore up defensive deficiencies that could be masked by their gifted quarterback. At worst, expect return to playoffs — assuming Rodgers is healthy — following offseason full of changes in Titletown.
CHICAGO BEARS (5-11)
OPEN CAMP: July 19, Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Illinois
LAST YEAR: Bears finished last in NFC North for fourth straight year, then fired coach John Fox after three losing seasons. GM Ryan Pace got contract extension through 2021 and hired Andy Reid protege Matt Nagy as head coach, hoping he gets most out of QB Mitchell Trubisky. Wide receivers were big weakness, with Cameron Meredith (left knee) out for season and Kevin White (shoulder) missing most of it. Chicago’s leading receiver was Kendall Wright — now with Minnesota — with 59 receptions for 614 yards. Bears had formidable RB tandem with Jordan Howard (1,122 yards) and Tarik Cohen (370 yards rushing, 353 receiving), though Howard struggled to catch passes. Defense ranked 10th overall despite injuries to several key players, including LB Leonard Floyd.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, WR Allen Robinson, TE Trey Burton, WR Taylor Gabriel, K Cody Parkey, rookie LB Roquan Smith, rookie WR Anthony Miller, rookie G/C James Daniels.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Fox, Meredith, LB Pernell McPhee, LB Willie Young.
CAMP NEEDS: Trubisky needs time to develop rapport with new targets, particularly Robinson, coming back from torn left ACL in last year’s opener with Jacksonville. Something else to watch: G Kyle Long’s health. Three-time Pro Bowler is working way back from ankle, neck and shoulder surgeries.
EXPECTATIONS: Bears, coming off fourth straight season with 10 or more losses, haven’t finished above .500 since 2012. Chicago has one playoff appearance since 2006 Super Bowl appearance. Bears are banking on Trubisky after surrounding him with playmakers and coaches they think will help him reach his potential. Chicago also added possible cornerstone at inside linebacker by drafting Smith, who led Georgia to national championship game last season.