Plenty of drama will surround the NFC North this fall, as all four teams face a plethora of unknowns heading into the 2020 season.
The Green Bay Packers are co-favorites to repeat as division champs, sharing this title with a resurgent Minnesota Vikings team. They are both currently +160 to finish atop the NFC North, while the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions sit at +450 and +550, respectively.
Although they are the frontrunners, both Green Bay and Minnesota have a series of question marks on both sides of the ball, so by no means is either a shoo-in to reach the postseason.
The Bears will remain an elite defensive unit in 2020, and the return of quarterback Matthew Stafford will help resurrect a Lions offense that underperformed a season ago.
The NFC North is one of the most storied divisions in football, so expect an extremely tight race between the Packers and Vikings, while the Bears and Lions aim to contend for a Wild Card spot in what figures to be an incredibly crowded NFC playoff picture.
Go Pack Go
The Packers weren’t nearly as good as their record suggested last season, as a slew of one-possession victories overshadowed their many deficiencies.
Aaron Rodgers had very little help last season, as he depended heavily on his run game all year long. Running back Aaron Jones had a breakout campaign in 2019, and his emergence as a Pro Bowl back helped stabilize a rather weak passing game.
When wide receiver Davante Adams went down with an injury, the Packers offense struggled mightily to sustain drives. Lack of depth at receiver stifled this unit from being able to compete with the league’s elite defenses, as the 49ers exploited them in both their matchups last season, including the NFC Championship Game.
Unfortunately for Rodgers, Green Bay did very little to fortify this Packers receiver room over the offseason. Outside of signing Devin Funchess — who missed all of last season due to injury — the Packers did next to nothing to surround Rodgers with the playmakers he deserves.
Instead, the front office decided to spite Rodgers by trading up in the first round to draft his likely heir apparent — Utah State quarterback Jordan Love.
In what has been a strange offseason, Green Bay still appears to be on track to return to the postseason in 2020, as its defense made great strides last season. Any team with Rodgers at the helm is bound to compete for a Super Bowl year in and year out, so anticipate another division title for the cheeseheads this winter.
Vikings Look For Next Step
The Vikings shocked the entire NFL world last January with an overtime playoff win over the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome that highlighted another solid season for Minnesota. Despite being bounced in the divisional round to the eventual NFC champs, Minnesota remains one of the league’s most solid teams from top to bottom.
Head coach Mike Zimmer is one of the best defensive coaches in football, as this unit has been the backbone of several Vikings playoff teams.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins finally won a big game last postseason — outdueling Drew Brees in an epic overtime victory capped off by touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Cousins will no longer have the same pressure he’s been accustomed to, and this will allow him to play a much looser brand of football in 2020.
Nevertheless, the Vikings lost a lot of talent this offseason, as wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ departure will leave a gaping hole in Gary Kubiak’s offense. However, the drafting of rookie receiver Justin Jefferson will help nullify this loss in production, as Jefferson was highly regarded throughout the draft process.
Moreover, Zimmer’s defense lost eight players to free agency, as Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes, Andrew Sendejo, Jayron Kearse, and Stephen Weatherly all signed elsewhere this offseason.
Defense is typically the foundation of any Zimmer-coached team, but it will be extremely difficult to mask the rather significant losses. They did a decent job in the draft to address some of these areas of concern, but it remains to be seen whether this unit will remain an elite defensive group in 2020.
Because of this, I expect significant regression from Minnesota this season and wouldn’t be shocked to see them miss the playoffs altogether. A .500 season looms in Minneapolis, as Cousins will be asked to carry the Vikings to the promised land for the first time in his professional career.
Monsters of the Midway
Quarterback controversy remains center stage in Chicago, as the arrival of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles will further muddle Mitchell Trubisky’s confidence in 2020. Head coach Matt Nagy has made it clear that this is an open competition, yet, he has continued to reiterate his staunch belief and trust in the 25-year-old Trubisky. It remains to be seen who will be the Week 1 starter, but my money is on Trubisky to at least begin the season under center until he firmly loses that privilege.
The defense is still among the league’s elite, so it will be up to the offense to win this team some football games in 2020. This roster is very similar to last year, so I don’t foresee any major developments in Chicago this season.
I anticipate another underwhelming effort from Nagy’s Bears this fall, as 8-8 seems to be on the horizon once again for the Monsters of the Midway.
Last Chance for Patricia
Lions head coach Matt Patricia may be under the most pressure in 2020, as he will be on one of the hottest seats in football this season. With a 9-22-1 overall record and two straight losing seasons, Patricia will likely need to reach the playoffs if he has any chance of retaining his job in 2021.
Luckily for Patricia, Stafford appears to be healthy and ready to go. After missing most of last year to a back injury, Stafford will re-energize an offense that struggled to move the ball under young quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and David Blough.
Rookie running back D’Andre Swift will form a nice 1-2 punch with emerging star Kerryon Johnson, while Kenny Golladay will look to solidify himself as one of the best receivers in football.
There truly is a lot to like about this Lions offense, but it will be up to Stafford to get the most out of this group in 2020. Meanwhile, Patricia’s defense will simply have to be better than it was a year ago, as this group ranked near the bottom of the league in both yards and points allowed.
Rookie first-round corner Jeff Okudah will look to fill the shoes of Darius Slay, who was traded to Philadelphia this offseason for a couple of draft picks. Patricia prides himself on the defensive side of the football, so there will be absolutely no excuses in Detroit this season. They should certainly be much improved from a year ago, but time will tell as to whether or not this franchise can take the next proverbial step in 2020.
- Green Bay Packers: 10-6
- Minnesota Vikings: 8-8
- Chicago Bears: 8-8
- Detroit Lions: 6-10
The Packers will have every opportunity to win the NFC North, as the three teams behind them will have plenty of question marks to begin the season.