With no sports and nothing but time, due to the global pandemic we’ve been living through, I have tried to figure out how to approach the 2020 NFL season. A part of me thought about ranking every team from 1-32, another wanted to rank each team per conference, but since we’re here I might as well just do every division in the league.
Part II: NFC North
1. Chicago Bears
2019 record: 8-8
2020 over/under win total: 8.5
The Bears are an obscure team. In 2018 they went 12-4 and lost those four games by a combined 14 points; last year they went 8-8 and and mustered just two wins against teams that finished with a record above .500. The first was a 16-6 win over the Vikings in Week 3 (with their backup quarterback), and the second was a 21-19 win over the Vikings in Week 17 when Minnesota had nothing to play for.
Part of the issue was in 2018 they benefitted from good luck (+12 differential) in the turnover department. We’re talking about defensive touchdowns and field position-flipping plays that gave Trubisky a short field. In 2019 that advantage was wiped away — they were dead even — and as a result the defense was on the field longer, and the offensive had to put together longer drives. That culminated in one of the worst offensive units in the league, ranking 25th and 27th in passing and rushing yards per game, and 29th in points scored. That’s out of 32.
They opened the offseason by acquiring former Super Bowl-winning QB Nick Foles from the Jaguars, and they opted to decline the 5th-year option on Trubisky. The writing on the wall seems to suggest that Foles will take over the QB spot, restoring some sense of competence to the Bears offense whose only real goal is not to fuck things up too badly. Their defense should continue to be among the league’s best.
Head coach Matt Nagy is a former Andy Reid disciple, and his strength is on the offensive side of the ball. A lot of people are down on the Bears chances, whether it be for having such an underwhelming 2019 campaign, not doing anything particularly sexy during the draft, and lacking many offensive weapons to compete in a division that also features the Packers and Vikings. I am going to zig where others are zagging, however, because I’m just not that high on the rest of this division. I like the Bears to go over 8.5 wins, and somehow sneak into the playoffs.
2. Detroit Lions
2019 record: 3-12-1
2020 over/under: 6.5
I’m conflicted on the Lions for no other reason than I really like their quarterback, Matt Stafford, and I really don’t like their coach, Matt Patricia. It’s kind of silly, but the Lions actually came out of the gates strong in 2019. They should have won their first game outright (in what finished in a tie against the Cardinals), then they defeated both the Chargers (at home) and Eagles (on the road!) before losing their first game 34-30 in the final minute against the Chiefs.
They finished the season by losing 12 of their final 13 games, though Matt Stafford broke a bone in his lower back and whoever their backup was isn’t even worth looking up. They didn’t have a chance.
I don’t know a lot about the draft, but people seem pretty high on their first choice, CB Jeff Okudah, and many “experts” considered the running back they took in the second round (D’Andre Swift) to be the best at his position. I think you factor in the return of Stafford with a couple new toys on the offensive side of the ball and you could be looking at a team challenging to reach the .500 mark in 2020.
3. Green Bay Packers
2019 record: 13-3
2020 over/under: 9
It’s clear that the Packers overachieved in 2019; they had no business winning 13 games, and the fact that they made the NFC Championship Game (only to get destroyed by the 49ers) doesn’t mean very much to me. This was probably a 9 or 10 win team that took advantage of a weak schedule (playing the NFC East and AFC West, which included a win over a Patrick Mahomes-less Chiefs team).
Their offseason was highlighted by trading up to take a quarterback, Jordan Love, at the end of the first round, which ignored the obvious flaws they have at wide receiver, defensive line and linebacker. I think most people expected them to give Aaron Rogers another weapon to throw to, or to beef up the defense to ensure what the 49ers did to them in the NFC Championship wouldn’t happen again. Instead, they chose to make the one move that would piss off their best player.
As a result, I don’t know if their over/under win total is too low or significantly too high. I could picture a scenario where Rogers orchestrates a mutiny, as the team he quarterbacks moved up to draft his future replacement, or if he will use it as fuel to prove to the world that he is, in fact, one of the best quarterbacks of all-time with gas left in the tank. I don’t know.
I am leaning under, however, partly because I don’t think this roster is particularly special in the first place, and partly because I believe there’s a better chance Rogers gives a little less than 100% (a la the end of the Mike McCarthy era) than him using this as motivation.
4. Minnesota Vikings
2019 record: 10-6
2020 over/under: 9
I know Kirk Cousins is the brunt of a lot of jokes. He’s kind of a dork and I would lay heavy money that he will never win a Super Bowl. In 2020, he is the ideal game manager — the new version of Alex Smith — and he’ll probably never get the respect he deserves until after he’s gone and replaced by a QB who can’t consistently win 9 or 10 games.
Somehow, though, the Vikings remain a legitimate contender in the NFC. They probably have a top-5 coach in the NFL, Mike Zimmer, and one way or another they are going to fare pretty well on both sides of the ball. Last season they ranked in the upper-third on offense (5.7 yards per play) and around league average on defense (5.2 yards per play), and all things being equal I think they had the best (or most talented) team in the NFC North.
Unfortunately for them, they got swept in the season series against both the Packers (who went 13-3) and the Bears (who I already mentioned), and somehow lost a game to the Chiefs while Patrick Mahomes wasn’t playing. Aside from their division, they managed a remarkable 10-2 record and ended up winning on the road against the Saints (as 8-point underdogs) in the NFC Wild Card Round. Not too bad for a Kirk Cousins-led team.
Minnesota had like a million draft picks, but most people seem to agree that they did pretty well with them. They added WR Justin Jefferson as a replacement for Stephon Diggs (whom they traded to the Bills), and brought on cornerbacks Jeff Gladney (31st overall) and Cameron Dantzler (in the 3rd round), who could each be immediate contributors.
Their over/under is just 9 wins in 2020, and their odds to win the division are basically a coin flip with the Packers. I happen to be bullish on the Vikings. I like them to win in the double digits and win what should be a fairly grueling NFC North.
- Vikings: 11-5
- Bears: 9-7
- Packers: 7-9
- Lions: 7-9