NFC North preview; Green Bay to continue their dominance?

SoSWin TotalDiv. oddsConf. oddsSuperbowl Odds
20Minnesota Vikings8.52.81634
18Green Bay Packers8.52.871734
28Chicago Bears7.55.22346
28Detroit Lions6.59.54181

Minnesota Vikings

Last year; 10-6, Second

You may have noticed if you’ve read any of the other previews that I tend to preview them in the order I think they’ll finish, so, yes, I fancy the Vikings to win the NFC North this year, but I really wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the 4 teams finish top, and arguably the most sensible thing to do is just take the biggest odds in the Lions. But, I’ve always liked Mike Zimmer at the helm in Minnesota, so I’ll plump for them this year.

Coach Zimmer is one of the most successful coaches against the spread. His teams usually challenge when dogs, typified by the fact that 8 of their 10 wins last season came by 9 points or more, while 4 of their 6 losses came by 8 or fewer points. Hammer teams when you win, keep it close in losses, although a dismal 2-4 in division isn’t a good sign.

There’s been a fair bit of change in Minnesota, with most of their cornerbacks leaving, 15 draft picks and OC Kevin Stefanski leaving to take charge of the Browns.

They still have Kirk Cousins at QB, as they will for years to come, and I still think he’s a top half QB but due to his contract, which was a result of circumstance, he gets criticised more than I feel he should. He finished last year 16th in yards (3,603), 8th in TDs (26), 8th best in INTs (6) and the best passer rating of his career showing that he clearly enjoyed the more run heavy, play-action gameplan last year which despite Stefanski leaving the play-action should continue this year with Gary Kubiak becoming OC. – Side note on Cousins. His record in prime-time and anything other than 6pm kick offs is not good at all, he’s a man of routine and other game times seem to mess him up, always worth noting when you’re looking at Vikings games.

The loss of Stefon Diggs obviously won’t help Cousins this year; he bitched and moaned that he wasn’t getting the ball enough but the talent was there as he finished with about a third of the Vikings rec. yards last year. It will be up to Adam Thielen to step up to the plate after an injury hit 2019 kept him to 8 games for 418 and 6 TDs, all of which came early in the season before his injury. He’s got the talent as shown by 8 consecutive 100 yard games to start 2018 but he’s going to have a lot of attention from opposing teams last year. They haven’t really filled the spot of Diggs. They brought in Justin Jefferson in the draft who played a lot in the slot for LSU last year and racked up 1,540 yards from 111 receptions in their college title winning year, I thought he’d be starting from the off but reports seems to suggest he’ll be third or fourth choice to start the season, so it seems like it’s between Olabisi Johnson who played a few games last year and Tajae Sharpe who they brought in from the Titans over the summer for the#2 spot in the WR corps. Neither inspire confidence in all honesty.

It seems likely that they’ll run more 2 TE formations as they did for a lot of games last year with Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jnr. racking up receptions. Rudolph led the 2 in TDs finishing with 6, Smith had a good rookie year though with similar yardage. I’ve got to expect Rudolph to still have the better statistical season of the two, but Smith will be involved more this year.

Dalvin Cook wants to get paid. He couldn’t ignore camp due to the new CBA and talks have halted for now, which isn’t great. However it does now mean he’s in a contract year and will have to impress to get the money he feels he deserves. He’s got all the talent needed but his health is a bit of a worry still. He officially played 14 games, racking up 1,135 yards and 13 TDs on the ground and a further 519 yds. through the air. If he stays fit he’s a top 5 RB for me. Alexander Mattison is the “handcuff” in Minnesota and worth grabbing later in fantasy drafts, they like him and he averaged pretty much the same per carry as Cook when used last year although finished his 100 carries with just 1 rushing TD. They both went down last year and Mike Boone had to step up which he did with 3 scores.

The defense has had a big overhaul; Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackenzie Alexander have all left from the secondary. Everson Griffen from the defensive line. It means Mike Hughes will have to step up at CB in his second year as will rookie Jeff Gladney. They do have some talented experience at safety which will help gel the unit with Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris one of the better duos in the league and Danielle Hunter is one of the better pass rushers in the league up front.

It won’t be easy for them with the amount of new personnel they’ve had and this fractured off season but the talent is still there and the coaching is up there with the best in the league. Despite it being listed as the 12th easiest schedule it actually looks pretty tough on paper opening with the Packers they’re favoured in 9 games, dogs in 5 and it’s pretty tough through to week 12.

Last yr.LowestHighest
Kirk Cousins pass yds.3603 (15)3800.5
Kirk Cousins TDs2624.5
Dalvin Cook rush+rec yds.1,6541575.5
Dalvin Cook rush yds.1,1351050.5
Adam Thielen rec. yds.4181100.5
Justin Jefferson rec. yds.725.5
Justin Jefferson TDs5.5

Green Bay Packers

Last year; 13-3, division winner

The Packers swept the division last year mainly due to starting fast in games; the scripted plays seemed to work very well getting them out to decent wins before allowing teams to come back to get close, although they won all 9 of the games where they led at the half.

It was mentioned a lot last year how many close games they won, although I’ve got it as 8 of their 13 wins were by 8 points or fewer. I don’t think they should have won 13 games, the eye-test just didn’t show that they deserved the 2 seed in the NFC.

Aaron Rodgers. I’ll admit I’m never quite sure what to make of him, I don’t really get blown away by his games, or frankly much of anything that he does, however despite another not brilliant year he finished with 4,002 yards, 26 Tds and a league low 4 interceptions, mainly due to him throwing the ball away everytime anything didn’t go right and then looking to blame everyone bar himself. I try to be neutral but he’s just seems a bit of a dick. The whole idea of a “fuck you” season because the Packers drafted another QB seems stupid to me as well, but we’ll see. He’s talented enough to do it all.

He’ll have to do it with practically one receiver though which won’t help him; Davante Adams has developed from yearly joke to one of the best WRs in the league and the only guy in the offense who Rodgers trusts enough to throw the ball to. He played a lot of last year banged up finishing with just under 1,000 yards and just 5 TDs from 12 games. Prior to this year he had 3 consecutive seasons with double digit TDs and is one of the most targeted players in the league in the redzone. They had brought in Devin Funchess to help out but he’s opted-out of the season so they’re left with probably Allen Lazard as the WR2. Beyond him you’re looking at Marquez Valdes-scantling who constantly let the team down last year, Equaminious St. Brown who barely played, Jake Kumerow the yearly camp winner, and randoms. Not a good position to be in.

They ran the ball well last year, and it seems that’s the way they want to take the team with Aaron Jones leading the league with 19 total TDs, 16 rushing and 3 receiving, while rushing for 1,084 yards with 474 through the air. He had a true break out year with his rushing TDs doubling every year he’s been in the league from 4 to 8 to 16, so the numbers tell us he’ll have 32 this year. He’ll have rookie AJ Dillon taking some rushing TDs from him this year though, built like a tank, there’s thoughts around that he might be Matt LaFleurs GB version of Derrick Henry after this year. He may take carries, that may mean more receptions for Jones, but I think it’ll mean less work all round for him. The pass caching role was that of Jamaal Williams’ but he was knocked up a lot last year and it seems between he and Dexter Williams to take the RB 3 spot on the roster. There’s reports that RB4 on the depth chart Tyler Ervin may move to receiver this year.

Tight end isn’t great for them either, Jace ‘the ace’ Sternberger hit a 40/1 anytime winner for me in the playoffs last year but barely touched the ball. He will be the #1 TE for them this year while Marcedes Lewis is there for a more blocking role. They also drafted Josiah Deguara in the third round from Cincinnati.

They’ll need the defense to be great again especially the “smith brothers” Za’darius (13.5) and Preston (12) had great first years with the team last season racking up 25.5 sacks between them. They’ve got a good young defense all round and it should be decent this year too, Amos, Savage, King and Alexander are a decent secondary to go with the pass rushers up top.

It takes to week 10 for the Packers to have, what I’d consider an easy matchup and Vegas has them the same as the Vikings, favourites in 9, dogs in 5 games this year. They may well win the division again, their win total is around where I feel it should be at 8.5. Again, I wouldn’t be shocked if they won the division with 10. I just don’t think they will.

Last yr.LowestHighest
Aaron Rodgers pass yds.40023850.53899.5
Aaron Rodgers TDs2625.526.5
Aaron Jones rush+rec. yds.1,5581325.5
Aaron Jones rush yds.1,084950.5
Aaron Jones rush TDs1610.5
Devante Adams997 (12)1150.51200.5

Detroit Lions

Last year; 3-12-1, fourth

The Lions season depends almost entirely on Matthew Stafford. They started 2019 on fire with him under center before losing their final 9 games with the likes of Jeff Driskel and David Blough at QB.

So, I say they started on fire, they were 3-4-1 with Stafford at QB with close losses to the Chiefs (should have won), Packers (should have won) and the Raiders (had a chance to tie up at the end of the game) and a loss to the Vikings. Admittedly their 3 wins were by a combined 11 points, and the tie against the Cardinals came by giving up a 24-6 lead in the fourth quarter. The defense was shit all year, Stafford though finished the year halfway through on target for 5,000 yards and 38 TDs. He seems to be good to go and makes the Lions actually mildly interesting.

He’s got weapons in the passing game, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay are both more than capable WRs, Golladay led the league in TD receptions last year despite playing half the season with poor QBs. 7 of his 11 scores came with Stafford though, so who knows how good his season could have been. Marvin Jones has been in the league a while, but has always been above average, he finished with 9 TDs in just 13 games (4 of them in one games vs the Vikings, but he scored in better than 1 of 3 games), on target for more than Golladay and nearly 1,000 yards if you extrapolate out, which is definitely an accurate thing. Outside of those two who will play on the outside you’re looking at the ever reliable Danny Amendola in the slot, he’ll have 700-odd yards and 1 or 2 TDs probably. Rookie Quintez Cephus (real name) has been getting good reviews in camp as well to bulk out the group.

TJ Hockenson is an athletic TE who started the season on fire with 131 yards against the Cardinals in the opener. It turns out that may have been because the Cards were atrocious vs the position last year, it was about a third of his entire season yardage, admittedly from 12 games. He’s got the physical talents and with Stafford and health he may just have a decent season.

It’s common knowledge that the Lions haven’t had a 1,000 yard rusher for around 35 years and I’m not sure that will change this year with Kerryon Johnson being joined by D’Andre Swift in the backfield. Johnson is well rated but doesn’t seem to be able to stay fit so they picked up Swift as the 2nd RB in the draft this year. He’s got the name and the talent to do the job himself but I think it will be a committee for at least the first few games of the season.

With Matt Patricia in charge you’d expect the Lions to be good on defense. They weren’t, finishing 28th in defensive DVOA, 29th against the pass and seemingly they’ve got worse there trading away Darrius Slay who was probably the best CB on the roster. They brought in Jeff Okudah at #3 in the draft to directly replace Slay as well as risking Desmond Trufant. Not the most convincing moves in the world.

Patricia is under pressure and needs a winning season after getting a bye last year. He’s into his third year as Lions HC with just 9 wins in the first two, and as above, he should have at least got the defense playing well having come in as DC from the Patriots. They open the season against the Bears as 1.5 favourites, one of the 4 games they’re listed as faves this year despite a cushy schedule (4th best)

Last yr.LowestHighest
Matthew Stafford pass yds.2,499 (8)4100.5
Matthew Stafford TDs19 (8)26.5
D’Andre Swift rush+rec. yds.1150.5
D’Andre Swift total TDs6.5
Kenny Golladay rec. yds.1,1901100.5
Marvin Jones rec. yds. 779 (13)875.5

Chicago Bears

Last year; 8-8, third

Somehow despite Mitchell Trubisky the Bears made it to a 0.500 record last year, maybe they really do still have a decent defense after all.

They have given Trubisky time to show he can do it in the league, and while he had a half-decent season in 2018 (24:12) he was pretty damn terrible last year, still unable to throw left. Not even the people who traded up to get him at #2 in the draft 4 years ago were satisfied so they brought in Nick Foles to add some length in the QB room. I don’t exactly class Foles as a good QB either despite him being a Superbowl MVP, and gave up too much for him imo, but he should be an upgrade on Trubs, and has apparently “inched ahead” in the QB competition.

Poor Allen Robinson must be wondering what he’s got to do to have a decent QB throwing him the ball. I’ll admit I’m not that high on him, but I can see why when he’s put up 1,000 yard seasons with Blake Bortles and Trubisky last season. Foles is possibly the best guy he’s had throwing him the ball. Anthony Miller will be in the slot and has shown promise, again it’s hard to judge his talent, but there’s hype on him in fantasy drafts this year. They brought in Ted Ginn who is still a good field stretcher and might be able to do something at least and they’ve got Cordarelle Patterson who explodes once or twice a season and is great at making players miss in the open field.

Patterson may be getting more of the ball on the ground because as of 26th August, David Montgomery who had 242 carries last year was carted off at practise, it seemed like it would be really bad but seems to have been a groin strain. Not critical but something which could hamper him all season. They’ve not really got anyone else at RB, Tarik Cohen is a 3rd down back, and not a terrible one, although his numbers last year were not pretty. C-Patt mentioned above is a RB/WR hybrid, but doesn’t excel at either. Ryan Nall? Artavis Pierce. No idea who they are.

Theyve reduced their TE quota from the 10 who were on the roster at one point this summer to just 6 (listed on ESPN) after drafting Cole Kmet as the first guy at his position this year. For some reason they paid Jimmy Graham a fortune, he was not good for GB last year. Demetrius Harris isn’t ‘terrible’.

The regression came for them, from the huge year in 2018, but the defense was still quite good last year ranking 10th, 8th vs the pass and 13 vs the run according to DVOA. Khalil Mack still did it up front, but they lost Akiem Hicks for a large part of the season and his sizeable hole in the middle of the park hurt them. the defense is still star-studded and should help keep games low scoring from their point of view at least.

I don’t trust the Bears offense at all, I don’t trust the QB no matter who it is, they WR corps is shallow, the RB corps is even more so. They’ll need things to go perfectly to make the playoffs and I don’t think that’ll happen. Favourites in 6, dogs in 8 games. A lot of them look like coin-flip games to me, they were good in those last year, 6 of their 8 wins coming in 1-score games.

Last yr.LowestHighest
Allen Robinson rec. yds.1,147.5999.5
Anthony Miller656675.5

Summary

All of these teams have some big flaws, I think the Vikings finish top, however I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Packers win the division again. The Vikes made a ton of changes in the off-season and haven’t really had the chance to get people bedded in. This year is going to hurt teams who’ve made wholesale changes like that. Both teams will probably be run-heavy… In fact the more I write the more I think it won’t be the Vikings. The Lions have the offense to win the division, and are arguably the best value at near double-digits (9.5 on WillHill), but I don’t trust the defense. I don’t trust the Bears offense at all, and as such I’m most negative on them.

Best Bet(s)

Justin Jefferson UNDER 725.5 receiving yards – 1.83 (Paddypower)

Lions to win the NFC North – 9.5 (WillHill)

Lions o6.5 wins – 1.70 (888)

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