NFL Preview: NFC North

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Image result for chicago bears logoChicago Bears

2018 Season: 12-4; Lost to Philadelphia Eagles in playoffs

Image result for khalil mack bears
Photo by: Stacy Revere

 

The Bears broke out in 2018 with the arrival of both, first-year coach Matt Nagy and former defensive MVP, Khalil Mack. Nagy played an important role with the offense and simplified things for quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky. After going 4-8 as the starter in 2018, Trubisky turned it around and finished 11-3, beating teams like the Rams and Vikings. Trubisky’s completion percentage rose from 59.4 to 66.6, his yards jumped over 1,000 from 2018, and his touchdown rate increased from 2.1% to 5.5%. Khalil Mack’s impact was found in week 1 where he had a strip sack against Aaron Rodgers, picked the ball up, and ran it back for a score. That was just one of his 12.5 sacks in 2018, while the Oakland Raiders, his former team only had 13 sacks total all season. Despite winning ten of their last eleven games, the Bears bowed out in their first playoff game against the Nick Foles led Eagles due to a missed/partially blocked 43 yard field goal.

Offensively, the Bears return their entire starting offensive line and weapons: Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, Trey Burton, and Anthony Miller.  The Bears let running back, Jordan Howard walk, and drafted David Montgomery with their third round pick. According to Pro Football Focus, Montgomery ran with lots of power and had some of the best broken tackle numbers in the entire country in both 2017 and 2018. There’s immense talent that surrounds Trubisky, he must continue to take the next step. Even though those numbers above look pretty, he still isn’t close to being in the top tier of QB’s. It’s also a bit worrisome that according to reports, Trubisky has been struggling a bit in camp, so that’s something to keep a watchful eye on.

Chicago brings back almost every defensive starter from 2018 with the lone losses of Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan being replaced by former Packers and Redskins safety, HaHa Clinton-Dix and slot corner Buster Skrine. The biggest loss however came from the sidelines as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio took a head coaching gig in Denver. Chicago’s defense had improved year after year under Fangio, and was rated the best defense in football in DVOA by a wide margin. A top defense can be hard to maintain year after year (Jacksonville for instance), and without Fangio, I expect there to be some regression.

Break-Out Candidate: David Montgomery- The rookie back is most likely going to be the starting running back in this offense. With all the weapons and Trubisky’s legs, he rush for near 1,000 yards even with Cohen and Mike Davis.

Best Case Scenario: Super Bowl FinalistThe Bears have the best defense in the NFL and have plenty of talent around Trubisky, but it’s difficult to win a Super Bowl with an average QB.

Prediction: Wildcard- I expect some regression for this defense, but it’ll still be a top 3 unit regardless. Hopefully Trubisky can improve but I think Rodgers and the Packers will overtake them this season.

Image result for vikings logoMinnesota Vikings

2018 Season: 8-7-1; No playoffs

Image result for adam thielen stefon diggs
Roster street journal

 

The Minnesota Vikings made a splash signing, adding Washington Redskins QB, Kirk Cousins to replace Case Keenum. Minnesota was coming off a NFC Championship beating to the eventual Super Bowl champions, Philadelphia Eagles. With Cousins and new offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, I was really looking forward to this offense. However Vikings head coach, Mike Zimmer was always a run first coach, and DeFilippo was one of the most pass heavy OC’s in the NFL. DeFilippo and the Vikings offense looked potent and started out 4-2-1 with the only losses against the Bills and Rams. At the conclusion of Week 7, Zimmer made comments about slowing down the tempo and incorporating the run game more. After Week 7, the Vikings would lose four of their next six games and DeFilippo was canned. The differences in offensive philosophies planned a key part in the firing, and also in the failure of the 2018 season for the Vikings.

Offensively, it seems the Vikings are staying committed to the run-first mentality. Kevin Stefanski is the offensive coordinator now and they even hired one of the most renowned run specialists, Gary Kubiak to help out. Besides the coaching, Minnesota invested heavily in the offensive line by adding guard Josh Kline and rookie center Garrett Bradbury. Bradbury was the highest rated college center in 2018, and is a clear fit for the Vikings new zone blocking scheme. The Vikings still boast the same skill players around Kirk Cousins, including top receiver duo Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. They did lose back up running back Latavius Murray, but drafted Alexander Mattison out of Boise State to replace him.

Defensively, Minnesota returns every defensive starter except safety Andrew Sendejo who is replaced by Anthony Harris. This unit should continue to be a top 10 unit in football. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter on the ends with Linval Joseph in the middle is a scary front. Also we can’t forget Anthony Barr returning after spurning the Jets offer last minute. Barr has shown he can be a top tier linebacker, but needs to be more consistent week to week.

Break-Out Candidate: Garrett Bradbury- This is an unusual choice as he’s a rookie center, but he’ll fit into the zone blocking scheme perfectly and open up plenty of holes for Dalvin Cook.

Best Case Scenario: Playoff Team- The Vikings have a solid defense and the best receiving duo in the league, but they also have Kirk Cousins. Even if Dalvin Cook and the run game does explode, I just can’t see Cousins making the necessary plays to win a SB.

Prediction: No Playoffs- I don’t agree that run heavy offense is the way to go. I do expect them to be better running the football than last year, but not using Thielen and Diggs constantly is just dumb.

Image result for packers logoGreen Bay Packers

2018 Season: 6-9-1; No Playoffs

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SI.com

 

The Packers season was essentially over before it got started. Star QB, Aaron Rodgers was playing injured all season battling a tabial plateu fracture along with an MCL injury. Green Bay’s success rests almost all on the shoulders of Rodgers, especially offensively. The head coach, Mike McCarthy did no favors for Rodgers. The playcalling was bland, and Rodgers never got any offensive structure to work through and it had been that way for years. Then the drama between Rodgers and McCarthy started leaking out in the open and McCarthy was eventually let go. Was all the drama McCarthy’s fault? Probably not. But the tape and data show that he was holding Rodgers and this offense back. Now steps in a Sean McVay disciple, Matt LaFleur. LaFleur was most recently the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans were the offense never really clicked. Hopefully LaFleur and Rodgers can get on the same page and quickly.

LaFleur is really the only impact addition for this offense, unless you count Randall Cobb’s corpse who signed in Dallas. Many people are expecting LaFleur to run a lot of 12-personnel (1RB, 2TE) like he did back in Tennessee. If this is the case, the second receiver spot will be something to keep a watchful eye on. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison will no doubt be the two fighting for the role opposite of Davante Adams. The rumblings out of camp say that MVS is leading Allison for the job. Another question is how LaFleur handles the running back position. Does he use committee or go for the one man bell cow approach? Tape would show that Aaron Jones is clearly the best back on the roster, however LaFleur has said in interviews before that he could go running back by committee.

Defensively, this roster got quite the overhaul within the last couple years. After drafting cornerbacks: Kevin King, Jaire Alexander, and Josh Jackson in past drafts, they finished adding to the secondary by selecting Maryland safety, Darnell Savage in the first round, and signing safety Adrian Amos. Amos not only adds a veteran presence to the secondary with the ability to cover tight ends and backs, the addition also took a star defensive player from a rival. The Packers changed their front 7 as well. They let Clay Matthews and Jake Ryan walk in Free Agency and recently released rushers Mike Daniels and Nick Perry. Green Bay acquired both Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith who will rush the passer next to defensive stud Kenny Clark and the 12th pick of the 2019 draft, Rashan Gary.

Break-Out Candidate: Marquez Valdes-Scantling-  Now that McCarthy is out, the offense will improve and MVS is going to be on the field over 90% of the time assuming he wins the #2 WR role.

Best Case Scenario: Super Bowl run- This team has enough talent to win the Super Bowl. If LaFleur can be relatively close to McVay as a play caller that’ll do wonders for Rodgers and the offense.

Prediction: NFC North Winner; Loss in Playoffs- I think the Packers have a very balanced team that should win the division, it won’t be easy however.

Image result for lions logo Detroit Lions

2018 Season: 6-10; No Playoffs

Image result for kerryon johnson
Photo by: Gregory Shamus

Matt Patricia’s first season as a head coach wasn’t the most successful. Despite being a defensive minded coach, he also wanted to have a say in the philosophy of the offense. Once Patricia arrived, the Lions started becoming a very run heavy team, however this strategy left something to be desired, wins. The offense was worse in almost every facet on offense in 2018 than the year prior. Stafford’s yards per attempt was lower with or without play action, the offense had less yards per play, worse red zone efficiency, less points per game, and fewer yards. The Lions ended up at 6-10 and in last place in the NFC North. Offensive Coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter is no longer part of the organization, and former Seattle Seahawks OC, Darrell Bevell is taking the reigns. Bevell comes from a super run heavy offense so I doubt the issues that plagued the Lions in 2018 will change much in the near future.

The Lions definitely struggled on offense and it won’t get much better. They’ll give most of the workload to second year running back, Kerryon Johnson. Johnson was very impressive last year, however he missed a few games at the end of the season, and questionably, was constantly sharing a work load with LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick. Neither one has returned which was quite frankly overdue. Johnson has the potential to be a very good workhouse back, and he’ll be in charge of moving this offense down the field. With Golden Tate traded mid season, and Eric Ebron’s departure the year before, the Lions attempted to fill those holes with slot receiver, Danny Amendola and rookie tight end, T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson was very impressive at Iowa last season, and is another big target for Stafford besides Marvin Jones III and Kenny Golladay. The Lions are hoping Golladay can also improve into a stud #1 go to receiver. Last year was his first season with over 1,000 receiving yards.

Defensively, the Lions big loss was Ezekiel Ansah. Ansah is a pro bowl caliber pass rusher, however he’s had trouble staying healthy and can be widely inconsistent. To replace Ansah, Detroit signed Trey Flowers. Flowers didn’t put up gaudy numbers on the stat sheet, but he was a wrecking ball on the defensive line and has the skill to play off the edge or more inside on third down type plays. Darius Slay is someone else worth mentioning on this defense as he is consistently a top tier cornerback.

Break-Out Candidate: Kerryon Johnson- He’s got top ten back upside, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets over 1,100 rushing yards this year with 50+ receptions.

Best Case Scenario: No Playoffs– This team looks like the worst in the division by a wide margin. Even if they can pull off eight wins that won’t be enough.

Prediction: No Playoffs- I’d assume around six wins. The philosophy is terrible and I don’t think it’ll get better than it did last year.

Final Standings

1. Green Bay Packers

2. Minnesota Vikings

3. Chicago Bears

4. Detroit Lions

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