2020 NFC North Season Preview
The NFL schedule has been released and the draft is over, so now it is time to take a look at how the teams stack up this year. Over the next few days, I will do a preview on each division in the NFC and you can find more divisional previews from our great writers by visiting Winners & Whiners, StatSalt, and PickPapa. Be sure and check all of their content out as the guys put in a lot of hard work on them. Today, I will be taking a look at the NFC North, so let’s get to it.
1) Minnesota Vikings
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 28/1
Odds to Win NFC Championship: 14/1
Odds to Win NFC North: 6/4
Draft Picks: WR Justin Jefferson (No. 22), CB Jeff Gladney (No. 31), OT Ezra Cleveland (No. 58), CB Cameron Dantzler (No. 89), EDGE D.J. Wonnum (No. 112), DL James Lynch (No. 130), LB Troy Dye (No. 132), CB Harrison Hand (No. 169), WR K.J. Osborn (No. 176), OL Blake Brandel (No. 203), S Josh Metellus (No. 205), DL Kenny Willekes (No. 225), QB Nate Stanley (No. 244), S Brian Cole II (No. 249), OL Kyle Hinton (No. 253)
The Minnesota Vikings had a solid season at 10-6 overall, They did finish three games out of first in the NFC North but made the postseason. The Vikings beat the Saints on the road in the wildcard round by a score of 26-20 in OT but lost at San Francisco in the divisional round by a score of 27-10. The Vikings will now look to get back to the postseason and also they will be looking to win their first division title since 2017. Minnesota had a strong draft while the Packers had the worst draft in the league and that should give the Vikings a good shot at taking the division this year.
2019 Regular Season Offensive Stats: 16th in total offense (355.3 ypg), 23rd in passing (220.2 ypg), 6th in rushing (133.3 ypg), and 8th in scoring at 25.4 ppg.
A couple of years ago, the Vikings signed QB Kirk Cousins to a big contract in hope of having him take them to the Super Bowl. It hasn’t happened as planned as the Vikings have gone 18-12-1 in the games he has played and they finished 13th and 23rd in passing the last two years. That is a bit shocking, considering the strong receiving corps that the Vikings have had of late. Cousins did have a solid season last year as he threw for 3603 yards with 26 TDs and just six INTs but he threw for just 172 yards with a TD and an INT in the playoff loss to the 49ers. The 31-year-old QB will look for another solid season but he will have to do it without Stefon Diggs, who has moved on to the Buffalo Bills. Taking his place will likely be Justin Jefferson, who the Vikings took in the first round of the draft. He has speed and had an amazing 2019 at LSU, with 1540 yards receiving at 18 TDs. Adam Thielen will look to have a bounceback year after posting just 418 yards receiving in 10 games. He was not healthy last year ad it showed in his numbers. In the previous two years, he had a combined 2649 yards receiving and 13 TDs.
The passing game should be just fine this year, especially if the running game has as much success as it did a year ago. The Vikings finished 6th in the league in rushing, thanks to Dalvin Cook who rushed for 1135 yards and 13 TDs. It was a bounce-back year for him as the year before, he rushed for just 615 yards and two TDs. He played in just 11 games that year and was banged for most of it. The Vikings have good depth at RB as Alexander Mattison rushed for 462 yards in his rookie season. The offensive line was solid for Minnesota and it will be again.
2019 Regular Season Defensive Stats: 14th in yards allowed (341.6 ypg), 15th against the pass (233.6 ypg), 13th against the run (108.0 ypg) and 6th in points allowed, giving up 18.9 ppg.
The defense for the Vikings was rather average last year, but I see this group being one of the best in the league this year. Minnesota is known for its defense and this group will show up this year. The weak link on the defense was their secondary and the Vikings hope they have shored up that area by taking CB Jeff Gladney with the 31st overall pick and CB Cameron Dantzler with the 89th overall pick. Minnesota also added some depth along the DL with the addition of EDGE Rusher D.J. Wonnum in the 4th round. The Vikings have one of the best defensive ends in the league in Danielle Hunter, who was 3rd in the league in sacks last year with 17. The Vikings were 7th in sacks per game last year at 2.9 but they were just 19th in yards per rush allowed at 4.3. Still, this will be a much better defense overall.
Conclusion: Before the draft, I had the Packers winning the NFC North, but now I will be selecting the Vikings to take the division crown. The offense lost one of the best receivers in the league in Stefon Diggs but I feel that Adam Thielen will have a very good season and so will rookie Justin Jefferson. The running game will make life easier for the passing game with Dalvin Cook running all over opposing defenses. The big improvement for Minnesota this year will be on the defensive side of the ball, especially the secondary with the addition of two solid players from the draft. The defense line was one of the better last year and it will be solid again with Danielle Hunter, who has 17 sacks a year ago. The Vikings had one of the best drafts in the league this year while the Packers had the worst and that is a big reason why I see Minnesota stealing the division away from Green Bay this year.
2) Green Bay Packers
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 18/1
Odds to Win NFC Championship: 9/1
Odds to Win NFC North: 7/5
Draft Picks: QB Jordan Love (No. 26), RB A.J. Dillon (No. 62), TE Josiah Deguara (No. 94 overall), LB Kamal Martin (No. 175), OL Jon Runyan (192), C Jake Hanson (No. 208), G Simon Stepniak (No. 209), DB Vernon Scott (No. 236), EDGE Jonathan Garvin (No. 242)
The Green Bay Packers hired Matt LaFleur at the beginning of last year to take over a team that went just 6-9-1 the previous year and had missed the postseason two years in a row. All he did was guide the Packers to a 13-3 record and all the way to the NFC Title game before bowing out to the 49ers by a score of 37-20. What will Lafleur and the Packers do for an encore? Can they get past the NFC Title game and into the Super Bowl? Could Aaron Rodgers’ time in Green bay be coming to an end after they drafted Jordan Love in the first round? Can the Packers overcome a bad draft overall? That is a lot of questions, so let’s take a look at the Green Bay Packers and see if we can answer some.
2019 Regular Season Offensive Stats: 18th in total offense (345.5 ypg), 17th in passing (233.3 ypg), 15th in rushing (112.2 ypg), and 15th in scoring at 23.5 ppg.
The Green Bay offense was not great last year and they were middle of the pack in points scored. This year’s offense may not fare much better and it could even be a bit worse. Aaron Rodgers is still the leader of this offense and he is still one of the best in the league but Green Bay was below average in passing last year. That is not what you would expect from an Aaron Rodgers-led offense. He did throw for 4002 yards with 26 TDs and just four INTs, which are solid numbers but it did not feel like the dominant Green Bay passing game that we have been accustomed to. A big reason was a lack of a solid WR corps. Davante Adams is their big and pretty much only weapon. He had 997 yards receiving last year to lead the team while Allen Lazard was 2nd with 477 yards and RB Aaron Jones was 3rd with 474 yards. The Packers desperately needed to draft a wide receiver for this year and that is one position that they failed to address at all. Instead, the Packers used a first-round pick on QB Jordan Love, which had to make Rodgers very upset. Could his time with the team be on life support? The Packers also lost TE Jimmy Graham to the Bears. Green Bay did not get Rodgers any new toys to play with this year and they drafted someone who could take over for him in a year or two. It is hard to think that Rodgers will be totally focused this year.
The Packers may have to rely on their run game to move the ball this year, especially if teams double up on covering Adams. It’s a good thing that the running game is in good hands with Aaron Jones toting the rock. Last year, he had 1084 yards with 16 TDs. He is also a nice weapon out of the backfield, catching 49 passes for 474 yards with three Tds a season ago. The Packers did not draft a wide receiver this year but they did draft a running back in AJ Dillon, who rushed for 4382 yards with 38 TDs in three years at Boston College. He will push for some time this year. Both backs will set up behind a solid offensive line, which allowed Jones to average 4.6 yards per rush last year.
2019 Regular Season Defensive Stats: 18th in yards allowed (352.6 ypg), 14th against the pass (232.6 ypg), 23rd against the run (120.1 ypg) and 9th in points allowed, giving up 19.6 ppg.
The Green Bay defense did give up some yards but they were 9th in points allowed, giving up just 19.6 ppg. The Packers didn’t do a ton in the draft to help their defense. Their first defensive selection came in the 5th round and their other two on that side of the ball both came in the 7th and final round. LB Kamal Martin (5th round) could make the team and help add some depth to a decent linebacking corp. The Packers could have used some help up from after ranking 23rd against the run last year. The secondary has a chance to be solid but it may not be enough to improve the defense overall from last year.
Conclusion: Green Bay went 13-3 last year but they will take a step back this year. Aaron Rodgers may have a bit of trouble getting his head in the game and even if he did, LaFleur did not provide him with enough weapons to get the job done. The defense could be an issue as well, especially if they can’t stop the run. The Packers did not do much to upgrade that side of the ball at all. I feel that Green Bay will go from the NFC Title game to missing the postseason altogether. There are too many question marks on this team right now for them to come close to the 13 wins they had a year ago. Green Bay could very well go just 8-8 this season.
3) Chicago Bears
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 40/1
Odds to Win NFC Championship: 20/1
Odds to Win NFC North: 9/2
Draft Picks: TE Cole Kmet (No. 43), CB Jaylon Johnson (No. 50), EDGE Trevis Gipson (No. 155), CB Kindle Vildor (No. 163), WR Darnell Mooney (No. 173), OL Arlington Hambright (No. 226), OL Lachavious Simmons (No. 227)
The Chicago Bears had a very mediocre 8-8 season a year ago after going 12-4 the year before. We do note that the Bears were just 4-12 ATS last year. The draft was not great for the Bears this year, especially since they did not have a first-round pick. The Bears struggled on offense last year and they will need much better production on that side of the ball. Chicago did sign QB Nick Foles in hopes of lighting a fire under Mitchell Trubisky. Will it work? We shall see. The Bears have some questions on their roster and it could mean that they will miss the postseason for the 2nd year in a row.
2019 Regular Season Offensive Stats: 29th in total offense (296.8 ypg), 25th in passing (205.7 ypg), 27th in rushing (91.1 ypg), and 29th in scoring at 17.5 ppg.
The offense for the Bears was a mess last year and it starts with Mitchell Trubisky, who regressed from a solid 2018 season. In that season, he threw for 3223 yards with 24 TDs and 12 INTs while posting a 95.4 passer rating. Last year, he threw for 3138 yards with just 17 TDs and 10 INTs while posting a passer rating of 83. During the offseason, the Bears got Nick Foles from the Jaguars and they hope that he will light a fire under Trubisky. No matter what happens this year, the Bears did not pick up the option for Trubisky’s 5th year. Unless he has an outstanding season, this could be his last year with the Bears. The wide receiver corps is led by Allen Robinson, who had 1147 yards receiving and seven TDs a season ago. Second was Anthony Miller, who had 646 yards and two TDs. The one position the bears did not need to fill was the tight end as they had nine of them on the roster before the draft. Well, Chicago used their first pick in the draft on TE Cole Kmet from Notre Dame. He’s just another player that Trubisky can overthrow in the endzone. Chicago did add WR Ted Ginn Jr from New Orleans but this is his 14th year in the league and he may not have a tone left in the tank.
Chicago will need Trubisky to have a bounce-back season as the running game may not be of much help. It was 27th in the league in yards per game a season ago. Leading the team was rookie David Montgomery, who rushed for 889 yards and six TDs. There wasn’t a whole lot behind him as the player with the 2nd most rushing yards was Tarik Cohen, who had just 213 yards while Trubisky was 3rd with 193. One problem for the bears is an offensive line that ranked 21st in the league in sacks allowed and 27th in yards per rush at 3.7. The offensive line is still a weak spot on this offense and that could mean this offense will struggle again.
2019 Regular Season Defensive Stats: 8th in yards allowed (324.1 ypg), 9th against the pass (222.1 ypg), 9th against the run (102.0 ypg) and 4th in points allowed, giving up 18.6 ppg.
The Bears were 8-8 last year, despite having one of the worst offenses in the league. That is because of a defense that was one of the best. This year’s defense could be a bit better. After the Bears used their first pick on a TE, their next three picks were on the defensive side of the ball. Second-rounder Jzylon Johnson (CB) will help strengthen a pass defense that was 9th in the league a year ago. Their other two defensive picks came in the 5th round as they took EDGE Rusher Trevis Gipson and CB Kindle Vildor. Chicago also signed LBs Robert Quinn and Barkevious Mingo, plus CB Artie Burns. The defensive line was solid as the Bears ranked 6th in yards per attempt at 3.9. They do need their pass rush to improve after ranking 25th in sacks per game at 2.0. Overall, this defense will be one of the best in the league this year.
Conclusion: The Bears were a very average team last year and I will look for them to be the same this year. The offense did not improve all that much this year and the only way it will improve on last year’s numbers is if Trubisky plays as he did in 2018. Getting some help from the running game and the offensive line would be a huge plus. The defense will need to carry this team again and Chicago does have a good one on its hands. Unfortunately, the defense will not be able to carry the Bears to the postseason. The schedule is tough and that means just seven or eight wins for Chicago this year.
4) Detroit Lions
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 100/1
Odds to Win NFC Championship: 50/1
Odds to Win NFC North: 17/2
Draft Picks: CB Jeff Okudah (No. 3), RB D'Andre Swift (No. 35), LB Julian Okwara (No. 67) G Jonah Jackson (No. 75), G Logan Stenberg (No. 121), WR Quintez Cephus (No. 166), RB Jason Huntley (No. 172), DT John Penisini (No. 197), DT Jashon Cornell (No. 235)
It was a rough season for the Detroit Lions last year as they finished at 3-12-1 on the season. Matt Patricia has now gone 9-22-1 in his first two years with the team and the Lions have missed the playoffs the last three years in a row. Detroit was 3-3-1 to start the year but then they went on to lose their final nine games. Matthew Stafford missed the final eight games of the season. Detroit will now look to have a much more respectable season as the rebuild of the team continues.
2019 Regular Season Offensive Stats: 17th in total offense (346.8 ypg), 10th in passing (243.8 ypg), 21st in rushing (103.1 ypg), and 19th in scoring at 21.3 ppg.
As I stated above, Matthew Stafford missed the final eight games of the season and the Lions lost all eight of those games. They were 3-4-1 before his injury. That may not sound great but Detroit was still in the hunt for a playoff spot at the mid-point of the season and it all went away when Stafford went down. He was on his way to having a strong season, as the 11-year veteran threw for 2499 yards with 19 TDs and just five INTs through his eight games played. He was on pace for 4998 yards with 38 TDs and 10 INTs when he went down. David Blough and Jeff Driskel just were not ready to take over the team once Stafford went down. Blough threw for 964 yards with four TDs and six INts while Driskel threw for 685 yards with four TDs and four INTs. Stafford needs to stay healthy to give the Lions a chance.
The wide receiver corps is very solid and is led by Kenny Golladay, who had 1190 yards receiving and 11 TDs a season ago. He had 640 yards with Stafford at QB and just 550 yards the rest of the way. Marvin Jones Jr had a solid season with 779 yards receiving and nine TDs despite missing three games. Danny Amendola rounds out their solid receiving trio after posting 678 yards and a TD. If Stafford stays healthy, those three could all have a big year. The running game struggled last year and it was Kerryon Johnson that led the team with just 403 yards on the ground. Bo Scarbrough was 2nd with 365 yards but he played in just six games. The Lions needed to get a running back in the draft and they did that by selecting D’Andre Swift, who rushed for 2267 yards with 17 TDs in his last two years at Georgia. He also had 513 yards and four TDs receiving in those two seasons. He should be able to help the running game immensely. The offensive line does need some work but Detroit’s offense should be better overall, thanks to solid players at the skill positions.
2019 Regular Season Defensive Stats: 31st in yards allowed (400.4 ypg), 32nd against the pass (284.4 ypg), 21st against the run (115.9 ypg) and 26th in points allowed, giving up 26.4 ppg.
The defense was one of the worst in the league last year overall and the pass defense was the worst so Detroit used their first pick and the 3rd pick in the draft overall on CB Jeff Okudah. He had three INTs last year for Ohio State and 17 passes defended the last two years. Detroit needed some big help in their secondary and they got it. Detroit also used their 3rd pick of the draft and the 67th pick overall on defense by selecting DE Julian Okwara from Notre Dame. He has 17.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in his last two years at South Bend. He could be a big addition for a Detroit team that was 30th in sacks per game last year at 1.8. The linebacking corps is average at best and will be the weak link on this defense.
Conclusion: The Detroit Lions are off of a very bad season last year as they lost their final nine games on their way to a 3-12-1 season. The Lions desperately need Matthew Stafford to stay healthy and if he does, then the offense will have a huge year. Getting help in the running game with Swift is also a big plus. The defense has a lot of work to do after last year’s horrible showing but it should be improved with the additions of Okudah and Okwara. Overall, the Lions are an improved team but they are not improved enough to move out of he basement of the NFC North. I see no more than six wins from the lions this year.