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2020 NFL Preview: NFC North

Photo Credit to Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports

Written by Stephen Brown III

Rounding out our NFL divisional preview, we have saved the best for last: the NFC North. Now, as a Bears fan, the NFC North is always my favorite division to follow. This division has notoriously been dominated by the Packers but the Bears, Vikings, and Lions have all had their moments. Will the Packers continue their dominance? Or will another king begin their reign?

Green Bay Packers, Last year record: 13-3, 1st place

After a terrible season that got Mike McCarthy fired, Matt LaFleur led the Packers to a 13-3 record and a first-round bye his first year as head coach. However, this team just never felt like a 13-3 team, and in fact, according to advanced metrics by Pro Football Focus, the 2019 Packers were the second-worst 13-3 team of all time. After getting absolutely steamrolled in the NFC Championship Game, the Packers will be looking to take advantage of what little window they have left with Aaron Rodgers.

Unsurprisingly, this offense really didn’t improve at all. Since 2005 (when Aaron Rodgers was drafted), the Packers have taken 0 skill position players in the first round of the draft. They continued that streak this year by taking QB Jordan Love with their first-round pick in 2020. This move clearly signals the beginning of the end of the Rodgers era in Green Bay. If things don’t go well this year, he might be out sooner rather than later. There really isn’t much to say about this offense. The only player this team really added was RB AJ Dillon. Dillon is a big, strong back who could end up taking goal-line carries from Jamaal Williams. But other than this, this Packers’ offense should pretty much be the same as last year (maybe a little better if they get more comfortable in this system).

Since the Packers have never really been known to make big moves in free agency, they didn’t really make any changes to their defense. The only addition is LB Christian Kirksey. Other than that, the Packers return a lot of the same players, including Preston and Zadarius Smith, Jaire Alexander, and Adrian Amos, among others.

This team pretty much returns everyone this year. The biggest crime of this franchise is not getting Aaron Rodgers some help, despite the fact that he’s one of the greatest QBs of all time. In fact, having only two Super Bowls despite nearly three decades of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers is an absolute travesty. I expect this team to still be a playoff team this year, although 13-3 seems a little too high of a ceiling for them.

Final Record: 11-5

Minnesota Vikings, Last year record: 10-6, 2nd Place

The record-setting contract this team offered Kirk Cousins paid off in year two. The team went 10-6, made the playoffs via the wild card, and defeated the heavily favored Saints at home before being knocked out by the Niners in the divisional round. Unfortunately for this team, their subtractions may outweigh their additions for this coming season.

On offense, this team returns a lot of its stars, including Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook (who just received a contract extension). Unfortunately, this team traded away one of their premier weapons: Stefon Diggs. However, this team did add LSU standout receiver Justin Jefferson to their offense. While Jefferson is a solid prospect, he has a very different skill set than Diggs, and it’s hard to believe that his presence is enough to make up for what this team loses with Stefon Diggs. Much like the Packers, this team really didn’t add anything to its offense. But with Stefon Diggs and OC Kevin Stefanski finding new homes, don’t be surprised if this offense takes a step back this year.

This defense lost a LOT of key pieces this offseason, including Everson Griffin, Linval Joseph, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes, and Andrew Sendejo. Even if some of those guys aren’t superstars anymore, they were still productive starters that played together for years that needed to be replaced. Their big addition was trading for star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. However, while Yannick is dynamic, he hardly makes up for the loss of so many key defensive players. Despite this team being fourth in DVOA last year according to Football Outsiders, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team drop outside the top 10 for the 2020 season.

This team lost a LOT of key pieces this offseason. Even if you believe that the pieces they added are as good as the pieces they lost, something they can’t instantly replace is the chemistry. This team had a core on offense and defense that had a few years of playing together. That amount of replacement makes me think that this team will take a step back this year.

Final Record: 7-9

Chicago Bears, Last year record: 8-8 3rd Place

The Bears were 12-4 in their first season with Matt Nagy. Trubisky looked good, the offense looked good, and the defense was elite. However, a year later, the defense was still excellent, but the offense (and specifically Trubisky) took a HUGE step backwards. Now, Nagy will be hoping to bring back some magic to that offense and get the Bears back to a division title.

This team didn’t really make any crazy moves for their offense this offseason. They traded for Nick Foles (which as a fan, I loved), but they are starting Trubisky anyways, so that move isn’t high impact. Other than that, the only other moves are signing Jimmy Graham (who’s past his prime) and drafting TE Cole Kmet, who has the potential to be a dynamic threat. With the Bears not picking up Trubisky’s fifth-year option, this is a make or break for Mitch. Early reports are that he looks very sharp and confident in camp, but as always, reports from camps should be taken with a grain of salt. Considering how strong this defense is, this offense simply needs to be average for this team to be good.

A year ago, many were worried about this defense taking a step back due to Vic Fangio, their DC, leaving. Considering their defense went from first to tenth in DVOA (according to Football Outsiders), many felt validated in their concern. However, I think their defense was just as good as 2018. One thing to consider is that in 2018, the Bears were third in time of possession while in 2019, they were 13th. So, what this means is, their offense was on the field less, meaning their defense was on the field more. No matter how good a defense is, if they are on the field too much, they are going to get tired and become less effective. Personnel wise, I believe this team improved. They lost Leonard Floyd, who honestly, underperformed during his time in Chicago. However, they added Robert Quinn, who had double-digit sacks a year ago for Dallas. They also added Tashaun Gipson and Jaylon Johnson to help solidify the secondary. Chuck Pagano did a good job with this defense this year, and I expect the same again this year.

While I appreciate Nagy giving Trubisky a chance, I would’ve preferred the Bears had gone with Foles. All the Bears need is average to above-average play from their offense. Nick Foles, at worst, can provide that steadiness. And, we’ve seen on multiple occasions that when he gets hot, he’s a force to reckon with. As long as this offense is competent, the defense should be able to carry this team to the playoffs. With the window on this team’s success slowly closing, Trubisky better has a short leash. Otherwise, it’ll be another long year for Bears’ fans.

Final Record: 10-6

Detroit Lions, Last year record: 3-12-1, 4th Place

Remember when this team had back to back 9-7 seasons and then fired their coach? Well in Matt Patricia’s two seasons as HC, he has 9 total wins (and one tie). With their QB getting older, if this team doesn’t start performing soon, we could see a rebuild in Detroit.

This offense was actually clicking last year before Matt Stafford got injured. In 8 games last year, Stafford had 19 TDs, 5 ints, 2500 yards, and a 64.3% completion percentage. Had it not been for some poor coaching, this team’s 3-4-1 record could’ve been a lot better. Much like the rest of the division, this offense didn’t make any major changes. Matt Stafford, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, and Kerryon Johnson all return for Detroit. Second-year TE TJ Hockenson will look to have a breakout season, considering how he was touted as the next Gronk. The only real additions to this offense is the signing of free-agent running back Adrian Peterson and drafting RB Deandre Swift out of Georgia. As long as Stafford returns strong from his injury, this offense should be solid again this year.

In Patricia’s two seasons as HC, his defenses have ranked 21st and 23rd in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Not great for someone who’s supposed to be known as a defensive guru. Looking at this defensive depth chart, you see a lot of nobodies. The only additions this unit made were drafting Jeff Okudah with their top 5 pick and signing former Patriots, Browns, and Patriots (again) LB Jamie Collins. With not too many changes on the defensive side, I can’t see a lot of room for improvement for this unit.

I just don’t see any path for this team being competitive this year. Even if their offense is great, I don’t see how their defense can stop any above-average offenses. Unfortunately for Patricia, this is likely a make or break year for him. Another sub .500 record will likely result in his termination, especially considering the success of his predecessor. And for his sake, he better hope my prediction for their record is wrong.

Final Record: 4-12

From top to bottom, this division is one of the more complete ones from top to bottom. Even the Lions, who I don’t have much hope for, have a strong enough offense to keep up with most teams. The top three teams in this division should all be at least average on both sides of the ball. However, despite the Packers last year record of 13-3 and my dedication to the Bears’ fandom, I don’t really see a Super Bowl contender in this division.

Final Standings

Packers: 11-5

Bears: 10-6

Vikings: 7-9

Lions: 4-12

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