NFC North Preview

Predictions are one of the most exciting parts of the NFL offseason. Fans of all 32 teams are filled with hope and extreme bias for an outstanding season for their team (except Browns fans in 2017 maybe).In this series, I will be breaking down each division in football, so expect 7 more articles just like this one being released every few days. In these breakdowns, I will talk about last season for each team, how they’ve changed since, and my expectations for them this year.

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Minnesota Vikings: 2017 Record (13-3), 2018 Predicted Record (12-4)

The 2017 Minnesota Vikings bounced back from mediocrity in 2016 to become one of the most feared teams in the league in 2017. Despite the crushing blow they were dealt by the Eagles in the NFC Championship game; the Vikings are still very much a team to be feared and respected in the league. When Bradford was inactive for Week 2 and Keenum failed to do anything is an offensive struggle fueled loss to Pittsburgh, some people might’ve written the Vikings off for 8-8 at best once again. Some QB controversies snuck up at multiple points in the season, but Keenum’s surprisingly good play following a Week 4 loss kept him as QB1 for the whole season. The Detroit game must’ve gotten all of the lackluster offensive production out of their system as they went on to win 11 out of their next 12 games. We all know what happened in the NFC Divisional Round against the Saints. The Minneapolis Miracle will go down in infamy, but the Vikings couldn’t ride that wave of momentum to the Super Bowl and failed to best the future SB Champion Eagles.

The Vikings offseason has been relatively quiet. The only draft pick I really liked was Mike Hughes who could make that secondary even better (scary, I know). Other than typical in-house promotions, extensions, and depth signings; the Vikings didn’t really make any offseason splashes. Oh. Except for the Kirk Cousins signing. They did do that. Giving Kirk Cousins a fully guaranteed contract of $84 million for 3 years was an unprecedented move. Especially when the Vikings had 3 QB1 capable players already on the roster. The team clearly saw something they love in Cousins and they fully expect him to take them one step further than Keenum did last season. Since taking over the starting role in Washington in 2015, Cousins has posted 3 consecutive 4k+ yardage seasons (83 away from 5k in 2016) and thrown 2.25 TDs for every 1 INT. Despite these impressive numbers, Cousins has struggled in some important areas. The former Washington QB has consistently struggled in the red zone in the last two seasons and ranks bottom 20th in almost every category there. Cousins has also taken a lot of flak for “not being clutch”. Regardless of all of these little (or very big, depending on how you want to look at it) things, Cousins is arguably an upgrade over Keenum. The biggest question is: Is he enough of an upgrade to take Minnesota all the way to a Superbowl parade?

I know this has been a beefy read so far, especially considering this is the first team out of four for this article. But I fully expect most fans to skip to the teams they’re trying to read about (Hello Vikings fans!). It’s time for all of the nonsense before this paragraph to finally come full circle and explain that 12-4 record prediction. One thing you’ll immediately notice about that 12-4 is that it’s less than 13-3. That’s true. But it’s also usually a record good enough for a 1st Rd Bye. The Vikings didn’t really lose any key contributors from last season at all. Godlike FS Harrison Smith is coming off of one of the highest graded PFF seasons of all time (97.0), the scary front seven of Linval Joseph, newly acquired Sheldon Richardson, Rodgers killer Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, and Eric Kendricks will bring the pressure and stuff the run. The secondary filled with talents named Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, and Trae Waynes will continue to strike fear into the hearts of opposing Quarterbacks. I fully expect this defense to pick up right where it left off (in the regular season to be safe) and be a Top 5 unit in the league in 2018. Offensively, the Vikings got a taste for what could be a very fun chess piece to play with in Dalvin Cook before the ACL injury in 2017. Combine that with a sure 4k yard passer in Kirk Cousin, a slightly below average (but suitable) offensive line, and one of the best WR tandems in the league and the Vikings could find themselves Top 5 on that side of the ball as well.

Wins: (Week 1 – 49ers, Week 2 – Packers, Week 3 – Bills, Week 4 – Rams, Week 6 – Cardinals, Week 7 – Jets, Week 9 – Lions, Week 13 – Patriots, Week 14 – Seahawks, Week 15 – Dolphins, Week 16 – Lions, Week 17 – Bears)Losses: (Week 5 – Eagles, Week 8 – Saints, Week 11 – Bears, Week 12 – Packers)

Predicted Offensive Leaders: Kirk Cousins, QB: 4,130 Yards, 66% Completions, 27 TDs, 9 INTs, 102 Rushing Yards, 3 TDsDalvin Cook, RB: 265 Rushes, 1,139 yards, 10 TDs, 32 Receptions, 358 Yards, 2 TDsAdam Thielen, WR: 94 Receptions, 1,363 Yards, 7 TDs

Predicted Defensive Leaders: Xavier Rhodes, CB: 49 Tackles, 12 PDefs, 4 INTsEverson Griffen, DE: 45 Tackles, 11.5 Sacks, 2 FFs, 2 PDefsHarrison Smith, FS: 88 Tackles, 2 Sacks, 14 PDefs, 4 INTs

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Green Bay Packers: 2017 Record (7-9), 2018 Predicted Record (11-5)The man you see before you is someone the Packers dearly missed in 2017 (and I’m also convinced he’s secretly Superman, but I digress). With Rodgers in the lineup in 2017, the Packers averaged 26.8 PPG (Would have placed 5th at the end of the season). Without him, the Packers averaged a mere 15.9 PPG (30th in NFL) including two games in which they were shut out (Packers have never been shut out with Rodgers starting as QB). It’s safe to say the absence of a man who holds records for highest QBR and TD/INT ratio in NFL history negatively impacted Green Bay. For years, the team has relied on Rodgers to carry them deep into the playoffs, but rarely can he bear the weight and bring them any further than that. The Packers finished in very average territory offensively for Rushing YPG and defensively for Rushing YPG. A shock to some: The Packers finished 10th in the NFL in pass defense and PPG allowed.

We can’t talk about the Packers offseason without mentioning the loss of Jordy Nelson. I wish I could gloss over it, but Nelson recorded 3 straight 1,200+ yard seasons with Green Bay prior to last season and had 35 TD grabs in that time. That type of production, even if it was mostly due to chemistry (which I argue makes the loss a bigger blow) can’t be ignored and could easily create some troubles for the Packers this season. Aside from the loss of some depth guys, the Packers seemed to have gotten better on paper rather than worse. For every depth player they lost, they signed about two more. They also managed to go out and grab some bigger FA names in Tramon Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Jimmy Graham. The draft was also a success for Green Bay. Knowing that they’re rather set offensively even without a ground game (Rodgers, Cobb, Adams, and Graham. Enough said.), the Packers went and addressed the side of the ball that has been instrumental in some disappointing losses over the last few seasons. With their first two selections, the Packers selected two CBs (Jaire Alexanders, 18th overall, Josh Jackson, 45th overall). No team has taken more DBs in the first two rounds of the draft in the last 5 years than Green Bay. As mentioned before with that 10th rated pass defense, it hasn’t necessarily been a wasted effort. They added some other guys in the draft that could be groomed as replacements for recent/future losses in J’Mon Moore (Nelson) and Oren Burks (Matthews) and overall had one of the better drafts in the league. Their additions seem to outweigh their losses, at least on paper.

Now time for the juicy part of this. Where did that 11-5 record come from? Well, his name is Aaron Rodgers. Don’t get me wrong, the Packers should be noticeably better on defense this year overall, but it ultimately comes down to the fact that Aaron Rodgers + any slightly above average defense = $$$. The Packers have enjoyed relevance thanks almost solely to Rodgers at times since he took over the starting role in 2008. Defensively, the Packers could sneak into the Top 15 throughout every category in 2018, provided all the pieces fall into the right place. Clay Matthews may be digressing a bit with his age, but he is still a capable starting linebacker in this league. Giving star DE Mike Daniels some help with the addition of Muhammad Wilkerson (provided he plays more towards his ceiling than his floor) should take some burden off of Daniels and Matthews alike. The Packers will certainly miss Morgan Burnett and have a hole to fill at safety opposite Ha-Ha Clinton Dix (who has a cool name and happens to be a consistently good starter). Aside from that, the secondary looks like it could be very poignant. King, Williams, Alexander, Jackson. This team shouldn’t have any trouble playing nickel formations.  The possibility of the defense falling into place and Rodgers coming back is enough for me to look at the Packers as one of the best teams in the NFC this year.

Wins: (Week 1 – Bears, Week 3 – Redskins, Week 4 – Bills, Week 6 – 49ers, Week 9 – Patriots, Week 10 – Dolphins, Week 12 – Vikings, Week 13 – Cardinals, Week 14 – Falcons, Week 15 – Bears, Week 16 – Jets)Losses: (Week 2 – Vikings, Week 5 – Lions, Week 8 – Rams, Week 11 – Seahawks, Week 17 – Lions) 

Predicted Offensive Leaders: Aaron Rodgers, QB: 4,081 Yards, 63% Completions, 34 TDs, 8 INTs, 197 Rushing Yards, 2 TDsDavante Adams, WR: 89 Receptions, 1,139 Yards, 12 TDsJimmy Graham, TD: 47 Receptions, 470 Yards, 7 TDs

Predicted Defensive Leaders: Jaire Alexander, CB: 39 Tackles, 7 PDefs, 2 INTsMike Daniels, DE: 42 Tackles, 6.5 SacksBlake Martinez, LB: 132 Tackles, 1.5 Sacks, 6 PDefs

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Detroit Lions: 2017 Record (9-7), 2018 Predicted Record (9-7)

Ah, Detroit. Always bathing in mediocrity. The Lions finished as one of the most average teams in football last season once again. I don’t find that changing here this year. Hey, at least they have another winning record. All I’m saying is, it’s hard to win many games in this league when you don’t have one single guy rushing for over 100 by himself in 68 consecutive games. If nothing else, the Lions will get to break an NFL record this season by keeping that streak alive for at least 5 more games. C’mon, Detroit! You owe your fans that. Okay, enough poking fun at the Lions. They’re a good team. They really are. They’re one of those teams that always have a legitimate shot to take down any other team no matter how good that team may be. They have one of the better QBs in the NFL and one of the most severely underrated WRs in Golden Tate. Apart from those guys and maybe Darius Slay, I’m not really sure what else these guys have. Perhaps that’s why they only went 9-7 in 2017 and finished average to below average in every offensive and defensive stat (other than passing yards, Lions fans. You seriously need to start worshiping Stafford a little more).

I’ve ripped way too much into the Lions here so far. I’m not even a fan of a rival team, nor do I have any reason to hate them (and I don’t hate them). There’s just not too much to say about last year. Sure, that Falcons game which you could argue they won took away all of their momenta; but a truly good team could shake that off. The Lions mostly added depth this offseason. Tavon Williams was a great bargain deal and was quietly having a decent season prior to his injury. His familiarity with new HC Matt Patricia’s defensive should also help him. Blount was also added by the Lions, but I’m not so sure I see him making too much of an impact considering the Lions like rotating RBs (Although Patricia could change that this year). I would argue that DeShawn Shead was the biggest addition made by the Lions. He helps a weak defense by being able to play CB or S. They addressed O-Line with the first overall pick but that is more of a long-term investment than anything, and Kerryon Johnson doesn’t seem like he’ll thrive for the same reasons as Blount.

All this unnecessary negativity I keep putting out and mentioning has finally brought us to the Lions 2018-19 season. The record: 9-7. I just didn’t see enough from the players they already had and the new guys to warrant anything more. I also didn’t see anything saying they would have less wins. The Lions have a potent offense. Even without any type of capable RB, Stafford can still carry this squad. On the bright side, I have them going 4-2 in the division (tied for NFC North best). I have the Lions doing what they have been known to do. They’ll keep some games close against tough competition, and even pull a couple wins out of those. On top of that, they’ll have almost no problems against obviously lesser teams, but they will lose some games they just had no right in losing.

Wins: (Week 1 – Jets, Week 5 – Packers, Week 7 – Dolphins, Week 8 – Seahawks, Week 10 – Bears, Week 12 – Bears, Week 13 – Rams, Week 14 – Cardinals, Week 17 – Packers)Losses: (Week 2 – 49ers, Week 3 – Patriots, Week 4 – Cowboys, Week 9 – Vikings, Week 11 – Panthers, Week 15 – Bills, Week 16 – Vikings)

Predicted Offensive Leaders: Matthew Stafford, QB: 4,284 Yards, 65% Completions, 27 TDs, 9 INTs, 113 Rushing Yards, 1 TDKerryon Johnson, RB: 158 Rushes, 568 Yards, 2 TDs, 33 Receptions, 281 Yards, 3 TDsGolden Tate, WR: 95 Receptions, 1,149 Yards, 5 TDs

Predicted Defensive Leaders: Darius Slay, CB: 58 Tackles, 20 PDefs, 6 INTsEzekiel Ansah, DE: 41 Tackles, 9.5 SacksGlover Quin, DB: 77 Tackles, 7 PDefs, 2 INTs

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Chicago Bears: 2017 Record (5-11), 2018 Predicted Record (5-11)

Back to back teams having same record seasons; ouch. Last season, the Bears offense finished dead last in passing yards and 30th in rushing yards. Because of this, they finished 29th in the league with just 16.5 PPG (better than the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, though). Their defense, however, finished 7th in Pass YPG Allowed and 11th in Rush YPG allowed. They also finished Top 10 in sacks but struggled to get takeaways. Breakout play from 4th year CB Kyle Fuller and 3rd year DB Adrian Amos made for a potent defense at times. Four of their five wins came at home, where the defense performed exceptionally well. The defense allowed just 7.5 PPG in home wins. In all home games, the defense allowed just 16.3 PPG. If the Bears played 16 home games this season, I might be tempted to give them at least a .500 record. The problem last season lied in the offense.

The offseason was pretty good for the Bears. Releasing Demps and McPhee will likely have negative impacts on the team defensively, but the damages won’t be crippling by any means. They didn’t do much to replace the defensive losses other than depth signings. They made it quite clear that they’re content with the defense they have and wanted to spend their money and efforts on bolstering the offense. They already have a severely underrated RB duo with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen behind an exceptionally good zone run offensive line. Mitch could take a big step in year two (Bears fans are crossing their fingers that his jump is even 30% of Wentz’), and they added some nice toys with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton (maybe he can fill in at QB if Trubisky doesn’t make that jump). In the draft, they made up for the lack of defensive attention in FA by drafting stud blue-chip prospect Roquan Smith (LB from Georgia) in the first round who should fit nicely in the Bears 3-4 scheme. They strengthened a strength with the addition of Iowa O Lineman, James Daniels in the second round as well and Kylie Fitts in the 6th could also blossom into a beautiful pick.

In my eyes, the Bears only got better. The 2018-2019 Bears could probably beat the 2017-2018 Bears by multiple possessions. Despite this, I’ve got them going 5-11 again. Part of the reason is elevated competition (T-8th toughest schedule in the league) and the other part is due to some coaching changes. Matt Nagy has made some waves in his short time in the NFL so far, but I wouldn’t give him enough credit as to say he could do more right away than John Fox did. A new offensive coordinator in Mark Helfrich could affect the ability of Trubisky and other younger players that have only ever known one system from being able to drastically jump. At the same time though, that change could lead to a huge shift in production for the Bears offense. The way I see it right now, it’s not the latter.

Wins: (Week 4 – Buccaneers, Week 6 – Dolphins, Week 8 – Jets, Week 10 – Lions, Week 11 – Vikings)Losses: (Week 1 – Packers, Week 2 – Seahawks, Week 3 – Cardinals, Week 7 – Patriots, Week 9 – Bills, Week 12 – Lions, Week 13 – Giants, Week 14 – Rams, Week 15 – Packers, Week 16 – 49ers, Week 17 – Vikings)

Predicted Offensive Leaders: Mitchell Trubisky, QB: 3,154 Yards, 62% Completions, 20 TDs, 9 INTs, 276 Rushing Yards, 3 TDsJordan Howard, RB: 268 Rushes, 1,262 Yards, 10 TDs, 20 Receptions, 162 Yards, 1 TDAllen Robinson, WR: 76 Receptions, 995 Yards, 7 TDs

Predicted Defensive Leaders: Kyle Fuller, CB: 65 Tackles, 18 PDefs, 3 INTs Adrian Amos, DB: 73 Tackles, 6 PDefs, 2 FFsRoquan Smith, ILB: 94 Tackles, 4 PDefs, 2 INTs

A near repeat of the 2015 season. Vikings, Packers, Lions, Bears. Vikings and Packer just one more win, Lions with two more, and one less for the Bears. Don’t be entirely shocked though if the Packers win the division or the Lions come dang near the top with double-digit wins. The Bears might even have the potential to break .500 or better. All of these predictions are solely based on the research I’ve done and these scenarios involve every starter being present and ready to play every single week. This could be a gross looking article by this time next year, but for now, this is roughly the way it looks like things are going to shape out in the NFC North.Image result for nfc north edit