The Green Bay Packers have placed first in the NFC North for all but one of the past six years, and are looking in good form to do the same in 2017. Competition in this division is not exactly lacking, and the Bears, Lions, and the Vikings all make for strong competitors. With the 2017 regular season fast approaching, it’s time to take a look at what the head coaches have to say about the year ahead. Coaches are notoriously vague, completely quiet, or even humble at this time of the year, but there are still some insights that can be taken from recent interviews and conferences.

Chicago Bears Head Coach John Fox

The bears were hoping to make a comeback on their previous season at the start of 2016, but actually ended up worst of the division with a 3 – 13 record. John Fox is still on duty as head coach this year, and he’ll be looking to turn around a losing record and get the first winning record since he’s been with the team.Fox is definitely in the hot seat, and there is even talk that he will be fired before his contract expires at the end of next year. That would make 2017 a proving season (and a third chance at doing so). Even with a lot of negative press, Fox is optimistic about what he has seen in training this year. Fox wants the team to be able to reach peak performance before the season even begins, and he thinks that healthy competition between players in the training camps will help to do that. Speaking in June he said that “As a staff, the personnel department, the building here at Halas, we feel it. We’ve got way more competition. Guys who were ‘starters’ before, it’s going to be challenging. And that’s what you want to build and create. I think we’re the furthest along that we’ve been, at least in our tenure here.”Of course, he needs to remain positive to motivate the team, and maybe to deflect some of the criticism that he’s been getting. However, without an improvement this season, we could see the Bears letting go of yet another coach after a long period of decline.

Detroit Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell

Last season the Lions ended with a winning record of 9 – 7, but lost out in the Wildcard Playoffs against the Seahawks, with a crushing 26 – 6 defeat. It’s the fourth year for coach Jim Caldwell, a man who commands plenty of respect within his own team and throughout the NFL.Caldwell hasn’t spoken much this season, but when he has, he’s had nothing but praise for his players. Just last month he went on the record to say that quarterback Matthew Stafford was on the rise. Caldwell told The Talk of Fame Network that “His [Stafford’s] toughness, his intelligence, his desire. And all of those things, I think, without question rub off on his teammates. He’s also unflappable in very, very tight situations, and he’s improving. That’s the other thing I think you find with guys at that position in this league: When they get to around their fifth, sixth, seventh year, there’s still a climb; there’s still an ascension. You can see the direction in which they’re going. Stats don’t always tell the story, but I think when you couple that with wins it does. And Matthew certainly is on the rise.”Caldwell might have a 0 – 2 Playoff record, but he actually holds the highest winning percentage of any Lions’ coach in history, and should not be dismissed as a strong figure leading a rising team this season.

Green Bay Packers NFC North Head Coach Mike McCarthy

The Packers lost out to the Falcons at the NFC Championship Playoff last year, but their 10 – 6 record was a positive one, and the team can do good things this year under the leadership of longtime coach Mike McCarthy.Speaking after last season, McCarthy was realistic about the team’s failure to reach the Super Bowl, saying “That’s the goal [The Super Bowl]. We don’t shy away from it. I’m never going to be one up here to try and hedge my bets or the old saying of under-promise, over-deliver. I think that’s a weak mindset, personally. That’s the ultimate goal; we fell short.” Could this mean that they’re again going to aim for the Playoffs and a potential Super Bowl challenge this year?The coach has been positive about his team in the offseason, and even singles out one player as being particularly impressive. In June he told media “If there’s one that really jumps out to me, it’s Damarious Randall. He’s had an outstanding offseason. You can see his play at the nickel, the star position, as we call it.”Randall had an inconsistent season last year. With the backing of McCarthy, he could be set to turn it around in 2017.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings missed the Playoffs last year, finished third in the division, and ended with a mediocre record of 8 – 8. Mike Zimmer will be in his fourth year as head coach this season, and the team are aspiring to be at the Super Bowl at their home stadium in Minneapolis later this year.He missed the OTAs this year after having eye surgery for a detached retina. He told KFAN radio that “The doctors all got together, and we had a long meeting about what’s the best recuperation of this eye, and they said that I need to try to spend the next couple of weeks just working on my recovery.Zimmer, who is known as a defensive expert, has had strong and positive words for the offense ahead of the season. He singled out Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, saying that the two are “better in the run game, but these two guys have really impressed me this spring in the passing game, as well”. He said that the whole offensive line is currently doing a better job and that they are all “working on the same page”. He elaborated regarding Reiff, saying that “Riley is playing left tackle, and he has done a nice job. He’s going to go to work every day, make you compete, he’s going to make you work. I really like his mentality. Mike Remmers, who is playing the right tackle, is really doing the same thing.”Could a strong offensive line be exactly what the Vikings need to start the season strong and carry it through to the Playoffs? We’ll have to wait for the real games to get started before we find out.

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