The Lions were so close to winning their first division title since 1993 before the Packers rode in and stopped the show en route to an NFC Championship appearance last season. Green Bay needed a six-game wining streak to take the division crown, but an improved roster could put them in front from the get-go in 2017.

Detroit also improved its squad in its second year under general manager Bob Quinn, but last season’s success stemmed from a clutch streak of wins that will be hard to replicate.

The Vikings had a hot start last season, but cooled off quickly as the weather chilled, while the lowly Bears succumbed to a franchise-worst campaign.

Will the Packers be back representing the north in the playoffs or will a new favorite take top place? Here are the contenders for the crown in the NFC North:

Green Bay Packers

It’s Aaron Rodgers’ division and everyone else is just living in it.

The Packers lost one key player on both sides of the ball this offseason, but made enough valuable additions to make up for both. The signing of Martellus Bennett will give Rodgers and his offense a new dimension they’ve been craving for years. Drafting Kevin King and bringing back Davon House gives the secondary some much needed depth.

Giving Ty Montgomery a full offseason at running back and drafting a trio of rushers could rejuvenate Green Bay’s running game, and open up space for the likes of Bennett, Jordy Nelson, and an emerging Davante Adams.

Coming within a game of Super Bowl LI has lit a fire under the Packers this offseason. It’s been seven years since they beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, and Green Bay will be right in that hunt again in 2017.

Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford worked his magic to get the Lions into the playoffs last year and was rewarded with some solid help for the future.

An overhauled offensive line will make a big difference for Stafford and Detroit’s offense, even without left tackle Taylor Decker. Signing T.J. Lang from the Packers could give the Lions an edge in their rivalry, and a healthy backfield will take some pressure off Stafford.

Darius Slay isn’t the only productive player in Detroit’s secondary anymore, which is key against the likes of Green Bay and Minnesota’s expanding pass attack.

There were lots of positives to take away from the 2016 season before GM Bob Quinn executed another Patriot-esque offseason. The Lions may not be able to topple the almighty Rodgers-led Packers, but they’re getting close.

Minnesota Vikings

There are still many questions to be answered about the Vikings’ upcoming season.

How healthy is Teddy Bridgewater? What’s the long-term plan for Sam Bradford? Did the offensive line actually get better? How good is Dalvin Cook? Will the defense be able to hold up over a full season? Do Mike Zimmer’s eyes work?

What we do know is that they have moved on from the Adrian Peterson era. They’re still set up to be a run-first and solid-defense type of team, though the offensive line is very much a question mark and we don’t know how much work the rookie Cook will get.

Expect the Vikings to compete most games, but point-scoring could be their Achilles’ heel, and it’s hard to win games if you don’t score points.

Chicago Bears

After the worst 16-game season in franchise history, the Bears have nowhere to go but up. However, they have some tough customers to get past in the NFC North.

Many additions were made during the offseason – particularly at receiver and defensive back – but the biggest shift will be transitioning from the Jay Cutler era to the Mike Glennon-Mitch Trubisky period. Whoever starts out of the gate (probably Glennon) is in for a rough ride while the offense gets to know one another as the Falcons, Buccaneers, Steelers, and Packers will be their opening tests.

Perhaps a Cinderella story will present itself, but things don’t look immediately optimistic in Chicago for 2017.

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