The North has shifted. What was once a division dominated by the Packers from Favre to Rodgers, has now become an evenly balanced slugfest each fall. The division has crowned a new winner each of the past three seasons, and there's no clear favorite again this fall. The Packers currently hold the belt, fresh off a rejuvenating 13-3 regular season campaign that saw them sweep the division with a 6-0 mark. But for as impressive as those numbers are, the team had and still does have flaws. The Bears are a year removed from their own resurgence, and are looking to get back on track. The Vikings are hoping to establish some consistency under Kirk Cousins, having made the playoffs two out of the past three years. And the Lions are just trying to keep up. It's truly a wide open division, and should be one of the more competitive divisions in all of football this season.
Green Bay Packers (O/U 9)
Key Additions: LB Christian Kirksey, QB Jordan Love (1st RD Pick), T Rick Wagner
Key Subtractions: T Bryan Bulaga, LB Blake Martinez, TE Jimmy Graham, CB Tramon Wlliams, EDGE Kyler Fackrell, WR Geronimo Allison
The Packers enter 2020 fresh off a turnaround few saw coming under new coach Matt LaFleur. Green Bay went 13-3, good for the second seed in the NFC. But still a lot of questions remain unanswered. The flaws leftover from the old coaching staff and front office remain despite the 2019 success and the Packers did little to address those flaws in the offseason. They instead opted to look with an eye towards the future, drafting the eventual heir to Aaron Rodgers in Jordan Love, rather than a player that could improve the team in the short-term. They did however sign LB Christian Kirksey from the Browns, who will team up with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine again – where he played his best football. The Packers still have holes in the roster, and likely will for some time. But with another year of experience for their young, yet talented defense, and an offense with consistent veteran leadership – Green Bay should be another tough out in the North this year.
My Prediction: 10-6
As sure as the laws of physics, the Packers have to come back to earth this season. Winning 13 games under a first-year head coach was quite a ride, and certainly the breath of fresh air the organization needed. It doesn’t dispel however the problems that existed before the current regime was hired. The Vikings and Bears both have more talented rosters from top to bottom, and although the Packers under LaFleur went 6-0 in the division a year ago – they’re unlikely to repeat that effort. That said, I still think they probably win the division this year. My belief that they can defend their divisional crown admittedly stems from a lack of belief in the other three teams more so than outward confidence in Green Bay. They didn’t necessarily improve in the offseason, but when the team wins an overwhelming majority of its games, that isn’t necessarily the end of the world. The Vikings are talented, but experiencing a lot of turnover. The Bears are talented, but have major question marks with their coach and quarterback. At the very least, the Packers should be a playoff team in the expanded format.
Minnesota Vikings (O/U 9)
Key Additions: EDGE Yannick Ngakoue
Key Subtractions: WR Stefon Diggs, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, EDGE Everson Griffen, DI Linval Joseph, S Jayron Kearse, S Andrew Sendejo
The Vikings saved the best for last when it came to their offseason acquisitions. Just days ago, they pulled the trigger on a trade for ex-Jaguars star pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue to replace Everson Griffen on the defensive line. After a successful 2019 campaign which saw the Vikes rebound from an up-and-down 2018, Minny is entering a period of transition. Griffen, Stefon Diggs, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, and Linval Joseph are all gone – making way for new faces. While Minnesota surely believes in the talent they drafted this spring to replace them, the fact remains there’s a lot of youth and inexperience in the Vikings locker room this fall. They had to rebuild the corner position almost completely from scratch – corners that’ll be tasked with guarding the likes of Davante Adams, Kenny Golladay, and Allen Robinson. Even so, the Vikings are a talented team building momentum in the Kirk Cousins era. And with the addition of Ngakoue, they’ll threaten the north and the larger NFC once more.
My Prediction: 9-7
The dynamic in Minny is shifting. They’ve always been a defensive team, and that overall philosophy that Zimmer has instilled remains. But the roster is built much differently than it was years ago. The Vikes need to be better on offense, because they simply aren’t as talented on defense this year as we’ve grown accustom to seeing. If Dalvin Cook can stay healthy, especially with Justin Jefferson joining the fold to replace Diggs, I think it’s certainly attainable. For all the hate he receives from the media and often-times his own fanbase, Kirk Cousins is coming off his best season yet. The Vikings should once again be a playoff team and vie for a division title.
Chicago Bears (O/U 8.5)
Key Additions: QB Nick Foles, EDGE Robert Quinn, TE Jimmy Graham
Key Subtractions: LB Nick Kwiatkowski, CB Prince Amukamara, WR Taylor Gabriel, EDGE Leonard Floyd, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, G Kyle Long, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Chicago is one of the more intriguing teams entering the fall. They’re a year removed from possessing the best defense in the NFC, a year in which they won 12 games under a first-year head coach. Last year it felt like they couldn’t get out of their own way, and they still went 8-8. The on-field personnel hasn’t changed much, largely because they haven’t had many draft picks. But the Bears are a popular bounce-back candidate among pundits for the 2020 season. The questions this year are the same as what ailed the Bears last year. The quarterback play was atrocious, forcing the front office to bring in Nick Foles to push Mitchell Trubisky in a make or break season for him. Chicago grew tired of Nagy’s progressive offensive style quickly last season, and if Trubisky can’t turn things around, there’s rumors floating around Halas Hall that both coach and GM could be gone. But there’s reason to be optimistic also. Khalil Mack played through nagging injuries last year and wasn’t as productive as he figures to be this year. They’ll also get Akiem Hicks back along the defensive line to help open things up. The defense is still talented as ever, and they have playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. The Bears fate this season will ride on the right arm of Mitchell Trubisky.
My Prediction: 6-10
I just don’t think Trubisky is very good. I don’t see Chicago rebounding to win 10 or 11 games this fall, largely because to do that they’ll need a massive leap in his play. They have signed Nick Foles, but if he wins the job outright I’d be surprised. By the time he gets under center, it’ll likely be too late. And although he’s gone on magical runs as a backup – we’ve seen the Foles experiment before; Thrice. He’s not a starter. The team is so talented in so many areas, and if they fire Nagy this year it’ll be a mistake. But they HAVE to do better at the quarterback position moving forward. It’s the only thing holding them back from a Lombardi.
Detroit Lions (O/U 6.5)
Key Additions: CB Desmond Trufant, CB Jeff Okudah (1st RD Pick), RB Deandre Swift (2nd RD Pick), LB Jamie Collins, DI Danny Shelton, S Jayron Kearse, S Duron Harmon, T Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Key Subtractions: CB Darius Slay, G Graham Glasgow, DI Mike Daniels, DI Damon Harrison, DI A'Shawn Robinson, EDGE Devon Kennard, CB Rashaan Melvin
Lions fans made themselves heard towards the end of last season. They’re sick of losing, and it’s hard to blame them. The Ford’s reaffirmed their commitment to Quinn and Patricia as the Lions’ leadership for 2020, but also made it publicly known that the seat is warm for both. The squad comes barreling into 2020 with largely the same team as last season. There is one key difference however. Matt Stafford is healthy and simply put, they’re a different team when he gets going. Detroit’s problem has been its inability to build around him. They’ve had playmakers over the years in the great Calvin Johnson and now Kenny Golladay, but they’ve never really had a top-notch roster – and they won’t this year either. Detroit is in a tough spot. They’re talented in some areas, and if they could hit on a few draft picks they’d be in contention fast. But they’re also a distant fourth behind the other three teams in the division. This fall appears to be a compass for which direction Detroit will opt to go.
My Prediction: 5-11
Like I said, if the Lions could nail a string of picks or signings, they’d be right there in the thick of it. The have a quarterback capable of winning. Part of the issue is coaching. I don’t think Patricia is a very good head coach and so far I’ve unfortunately been proven right. If they do decide to go in a different direction with their leadership, the successors have to be better. But as it stands for this year, it’s tough to pencil in more than one or two divisional wins. They have weapons on offense, but they traded their best defensive player in the offseason and don’t figure to provide much relief on that side of the ball. They’ll have to rely on their opponents turning the ball over and Matt Stafford winning shootouts to be competitive this season.