2021 NFC North Preview

Trying to predict the future is sort of what my blog is all about. I have spent more time this year keeping up with the NFL action than any time before, whether it’s watching The Pat Mcafee Show, listening to the PFF Podcast, or just scanning Twitter for the day-to-day minutia.

I did this exercise last season — the one where I gave a few paragraphs to every team and tried to guess whether they would go over or under their projected win total. I enjoyed it, so I’m doing it again. Being a typical American and working five days a week makes me appreciate the time I have to myself, and I can’t help but spend the overwhelming majority of that time following the sports I love. Everything that follows is the culmination of how I have spent my February (since the Super Bowl) through June (a couple weeks before training camp starts), at least as it relates to my free time.

With that being said, I imagine it will be pretty easy to tell which teams I paid more attention to and which teams I didn’t have much to say about. I also imagine I’ll have a few instant regrets once I get done posting all the divisions, since that’s the nature of betting over/under props — theoretical coin flips — and since the NFL is so unpredictable. For purposes of this, two-plus months before the actual season starts, I consider it to be more of a snapshot of what I feel right this second. So take it all with a grain of salt.

Disclaimer: All over/under win totals are provided courtesy of Bovada.

Part I: NFC East

Part II: NFC North

Common opponents: NFC West (49ers, Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks), AFC North (Bengals, Browns, Ravens, Steelers)

My NFC North record last year: 0 wins, 4 losses 

1. Chicago Bears

2020 record: 8-8
2021 over (-115)/under (-115): 7.5 wins

I can’t deny that I have a positive bias towards the Bears, and that works against me because usually they let me down. For starters their head coach, Matt Nagy, used to be the offensive coordinator for Andy Reid in Kansas City. And secondly, despite how much of a punchline (and punching bag) Mitch Trubisky was during his time in Chicago, I always kind of thought he was underrated. I figured if every dipshit sports fan thought he sucked, then maybe I could simply go against the grain and profit each year.

As it turns out, sometimes those dipshit fans are right. Yes, the former second overall pick was a bust. And Matt Nagy probably should have lost his job already. The fact that he essentially gets to start over — for one more season, anyway — with 11th overall pick Justin Fields is kind of baffling. Like every other year Chicago’s defense is going to be fine. The offense is the only thing holding this team back.

One big thing: How soon is Justin Fields going to see the field? The Bears invested something like $11 million into free agent QB Andy Dalton, and to this point Matt Nagy has insinuated it’s going to be an open competition for who the Week 1 starter will be. All my money is on Fields, but there’s a tinfoil hat theory that perhaps Nagy (and GM Ryan Pace) are going to opt for Dalton to start the first handful of games (or more), that the Bears will stink up the joint, and then Fields will come in and show enough promise to save both of their jobs.

I think that’s sort of a chicken shit way of operating, but it is interesting. I just think at this point — whether it’s Fields or Dalton — the Bears are in need of a new coach and new GM. If the locker room is more solid than it seems to be from the outside, this is a team capable of winning 10 games. If it isn’t, Chicago could be a sneaky pick to totally collapse in 2021. I lean under 7.5 wins, though you could probably talk me into just about anything.

2. Detroit Lions

2020 record: 5-11
2021 over (-105)/under (-125): 5 wins

Like a few other teams, Detroit is clearly rebuilding. Their hiring of Dan Campbell screamed of prioritizing a shift in culture (and hashtag leadership) over some kind of brilliant fucking tactician who is going to X’s and O’s the shit out of everybody. The first draft pick of the new regime was an offensive tackle named Penei Sewell who’s a grade-A road grader up front. I imagine most of their training camp practices are going to be less to do about football and just throwing 90 guys into a battle royale to see who will be the last man standing.

I don’t know, that’s just what I glean from a head coach who was talking about “biting kneecaps” during his opening presser. If truth be told I actually really like Dan Campbell. I also like that they have former GM and current senior executive of personnel John Dorsey — the architect of both the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns rosters — in their front office. Detroit is an organization playing the long game, as they seemingly have for the last 20 years because the Lions have stunk so badly, but I’m buying stock because they seem to know where they’re at. And that’s the first step to getting where they want to be.

One big thing: How do the Lions negotiate an obvious tank season while simultaneously building a tough, winning culture? I assume by trading for former Rams QB Jared Goff, and acquiring a couple first round picks to boot, the Lions have already answered that question. I’m going under 5 wins, only because I think this organization has aspirations of getting the top pick in the 2022 draft.

3. Green Bay Packers

2020 record: 13-3
2021 over/under: Off the board

Any conversation about the Packers starts and ends with the playing status of Aaron Rodgers. If he decides to give it another go, then Green Bay is going to be a huge favorite to win the NFC North and one a small collection of teams who can represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. If he doesn’t (or gets traded), then the NFC North has the potential of being the worst division in the NFL.

The difference between Rodgers and his likely successor, Jordan Love, is easily worth 7 points per game. Possibly more. If you multiply that 7-point gap by the total number of games, 17, then we are talking about the difference of 119 points in the 2021 season. Sharp sports bettors say that 35 points is equal to one Win, so 119 points over the course of a season is about a 3.5-win difference. With Rodgers in the fold, I estimate the Packers over/under win total to be right at 11 wins (though this is not verified by betting markets because of all the Aaron Rodgers uncertainty). Without him, an over/under of 7.5 wins seems fair.

The rest of the roster is primed to win right now, just as they have been for the last two seasons. The defensive front is still pretty soft, and is going to continue getting beat up by some of the more physical teams in the league. Towards the end of the first round they drafted a cornerback out of Georgia who I don’t know anything about, but what I do know is that none of the roster matters a whole lot if Rodgers isn’t on the field. The math is pretty simple: He plays, or he doesn’t. The Packers will be good, or they won’t.

One big thing: Well, you’ve pretty much already heard all about it. The Packers over/under is off the board, but if the two scenarios held true I would lean under 11 wins if Rodgers is in the fold, and lean over 7.5 wins if Jordan Love is the starter. I don’t have any solid reasoning; it’s just the way I feel at this exact moment.

4. Minnesota Vikings

2020 record: 7-9
2021 over (-110)/under (-120): 9 wins

The Vikings are another team I perpetually overrate every year, so this is more content you can take with a gigantic goddamn grain of salt. No spoilers, but I really like Minnesota again in 2021.

They have a top-10 head coach; their offense has Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Kirk Cousins distributing the ball. They even took a big ass left tackle out of Virginia Tech with their first round pick in the draft. I guess you can say that this team has it all, if “it all” means they have what it takes to reach the coveted 9-win mark to guarantee at least a push on your “over” bet.

One big thing: They drafted a bunch of defensive players in the 2020 draft, but since last year was a COVID year and not a regular offseason, those defensive players performed like utter dog shit. I’m guessing with a full offseason those guys are going to be better than they were, and I don’t think it’s going to take that huge of a leap to see this team go from 7-9 (in the last 16-game season) to 9-8 or 10-7 (in the first 17-game season). I lean over 9 wins, and if Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing they should definitely be the favorites in the North.

NFC North Prediction:

  1. Packers: 10-7
  2. Vikings: 10-7
  3. Bears: 7-10
  4. Lions: 2-15

6 thoughts on “2021 NFC North Preview

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