In our third and final look over this weekend at changes the Bears' NFC North rivals have made since the 2015 season ended, we look at the other big obstacle (besides Green Bay) in the Fox/Pace regime's bid to become a legitimate playoff participant.
Minnesota's strong overall drafts over the past five years, combined with the coaching of Mike Zimmer, helped them make the jump most people expected in 2015: a four-win increase to 11-5, and the division title, earning it in a Week 17 win at Lambeau Field.
Despite the heart-wrenching home playoff loss to Seattle, the Vikes move into their new home with Adrian Peterson predicting a Super Bowl win - a year before the Twin Cities will host the event.
Off-season acquisitions of note (*draft pick): G Alex Boone, OT Andre Smith, S Michael Grifffin, *WR Laquon Treadwell, *CB Mackensie Alexander, *OT Willie Beavers, *ILB Kentrell Brothers
Off-season departures of note: WR Mike Wallace, CB Josh Robinson, S Robert Blanton
Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner had two things on his wish list for the league's 29th-ranked unit (31st passing): a stud wideout, and offensive line help. Enter former T.F. South All-Stater Laquon Treadwell, and Boone and Smith in free agency. The latter takes over on the right edge, just as he anchored in Cincinnati, and Boone figures to set up right next to him to open holes for Peterson and protect Teddy Bridgewater as he enters year three. He was sacked 44 times while only being able to match his rookie total of 14 touchdown passes, albeit protecting the ball better. Struggling former first-round left tackle Matt Kalil rebounded last year.
Treadwell's not a burner, but his size, route-running and hands make up for that. Besides, the speed comes from Stefon Diggs, who produced in the nick of time (team-high 52 receptions) after Cordarrelle Patterson just couldn't figure out the receiver thing. Tight end Kyle Rudolph's numbers (49 catches, five TD's) could improve, courtesy of the added ingredients.
Zimmer's total defense was only able to climb one spot last season, to 13th, and he'll no doubt seek a jump to the league's elite. It was a bit curious that after using first-round picks on cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes two of the previous three years, they selected Clemson's Mackensie Alexander in the second round. And they still have solid veterans Terence Newman and Captain Munnerlyn in tow.
Harrison Smith (currently unsigned beyond this season) is among the best free safeties in the league when healthy, but has had to deal with a revolving door at strong safety. Not anymore. Michael Grifffin was signed away from Tennesee to potentially give Minni one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
They're even better behind an outstanding front seven, despite a step back from left end Brian Robison. Last year's third-rounder, Danielle Hunter (six sacks), will be there to push him while Everson Griffen (10.5 sacks) makes life difficult for enemy left tackles. Sharrif Floyd, run-stuffer Linval Joseph, and Tom Johnson will continue to form a stout rotation on the inside.
And we haven't even gotten to former UCLA stud linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Chad Greenway is back for an 11th season on the weak side, but was going to be pushed by Audie Cole before he was injured last fall. Fifth-rounder Brothers might be an answer down the road.