Every team in the NFC North has the opportunity to bring down the hammer in 2019. Even the dilapidated Lions have the chance to have a positive season. The Bears are poised to have another great season, but with a new look Green Bay defense, and an improved Minnesota offensive line, they will have their hands full trying to win the title for the second year in a row. The Lions will not be a threat for the title, however they will be a scary team to face towards the end of the season for the rest of the division as they will try to ruin playoff hopes for somebody. Without further delay, let’s jump right into it.
Can Titletown Bounce Back?
The Green Bay Packers went from winning the NFC North almost every season, to having back to back mediocre performances in regular season play resulting in missing the playoffs, credited to the lack of talent on offense and defense. With the inability to provide an exciting offensive playbook from Mike McCarthy, fans witnessed the termination of his contract this past spring. When the interviews began for the new head coaching job in one of the most recognizable, and historic franchises in the NFL, intriguing considerations, such as Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. Many Green Bay fans began to fantasize about the potential offensive powerhouse that would be the Packers, would McDaniels become the head coach of the Packers. However, GM Brian Gutekunst, went off the grid and inked one of the lesser known, offensive focused candidates: Matt LeFleur, the former offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans in 2018, that showcased the 27th ranked scoring offense, averaging an abysmal 19.4 PTS/G. Now the first time head coach, 39 year old Matt LeFleur, is primed with the task of leading a 36 year old Aaron Rodgers, whose latter years of his prime are now upon us. LeFleur is responsible for how successful Aaron Rodgers will be by the time he decides and or is forced to retire. With that being said, the Cheeseheads moves in free agency, as well as the 2019 NFL Draft, would bring in a whole new look to the defense. Among those new faces are the Bears, SS Adrian Amos, Ravens EDGE Za’Darius Smith, Redskins EDGE Preston Smith, and Broncos G Billy Turner in free agency alone. The Packers also used both of their 2019 first round picks on the 12th overall EDGE Rashan Gary, and traded up to the 21st pick to draft FS Darnell Savage Jr. Savage is an immediate upgrade to what was, for lack of a better word, terrible position in 2018. Gary on the other hand, is an unfinished product and still has a long way to go before we see how his impact will affect the opposing team’s quarterback. With huge improvements on the defense, it will be interesting to see if the Packers will be able to elevate their game to the height we have once seen in the past.
Monsters of the Midway Part II
The Chicago Bears now have the championship defense that they have been lacking in recent years. As dominant as a defense led by Khalil Mack can be, Their offense is not up to par with other Super Bowl candidates. The Bears have a solid RB rotation with speedy and elusive Tarek Cohen and rookie David Montgomery, as well as having playmakers In their pass-catching core such as Allen Robinson and Trey Burton, and are expected to have an elite 2019 season, having a full offseason with the team. However, the area of concern is to be found at quarterback: Mitch Trubisky. Yes, he has a Pro Bowl under his belt, but he does not have the NFC Championship under it. While a slot in the Pro Bowl is impressive in its own respect, those who play in it were elected by the fans, rather than the league. He shows moments of elite talent in his game, such as the lead he took firmly against division rival, the Green Bay Packers in week 1 of the 2018 season. Though as many can recall, the Bears blew a 17 point lead at halftime to lose to the Pack 23-24, as an injured Aaron Rodgers returned back into the game to score 21 points in the fourth quarter, and he would have one of, if not the greatest comebacks of his career. Trubisky on the other hand, was unable to hold back and suppress the white hot Packers resolve. This would be one of several instances in which Trubisky would be able to lead an offense to a lead, but he does not have the ability to lead a comeback or to hold on and Bear down for the win. It can be argued that Trubisky is not the QB that the Bears need if they want to win the Super Bowl. The Bears should have been the team to pick up Nick Foles, to obtain a veteran QB with a high IQ, consistent accuracy, and a Super Bowl MVP under his belt. In the end, the Bears are expected to repeat the season they had a year ago, but there is still the question of being able to surpass their kicking woes.
Save Your Skol Claps for a Rainy Day
The Minnesota Vikings have been NFC North favorites since the sudden downfall of the Green Bay Packers. They showcase a premier defense that was ranked 4th in YDS/G, but have a below average offense that produced 22.5 PTS/G (19th), 4,036 Passing Yards (13th), and 1,493 Rushing Yards (30th) in their 2018 NFL season, that did not show a playoff appearance for the Vikings. While the Vikings have one of the best receiving duos in Adam Thielen and Stefan Diggs, both putting up 1,373 and 1,021 receiving yards respectfully, they lack the dual threat offense of an intimidating run game, or even a decent one at that. Without their offense being able to establish the run game, it prevents HC Mike Zimmer and QB Kirk Cousins from keeping the opposing defense on their toes. On the topic of Kirk Cousins, he is all bark and no bite. While he can throw for 241 yards and 2 TDs in 25 of 40 attempts in an afternoon game against the New York Jets, his knees buckle when playing in a game that matters. In a tilt against the New England Patriots in Week 13, at 6-5-1, a victory would help the Vikings shift their momentum and put them in a fighting position for a wild card spot. However, Cousins was in progress of leading a comeback in what was a one score game going into the fourth quarter, when the defense let up a score by the New England FB James Develin for his second touchdown of the game on a two yard dive. On a drive to the New England end zone, Cousins failed to convert a 4th down with a pass to Treadwell. Cousins was given redemption as Tom Brady threw an interception after being pressured and hit as he was throwing a poorly aimed pass. Cousins returned the favor by throwing an interception of his own to a player deep down field under double coverage. After a New England punt the next drive, Cousins would throw yet another interception landing right into Jonathan Jones’s lap. This breakdown was one of many examples of how Kirk Cousins is not a championship QB. He is simply not worth the guaranteed money that is given to him. You pay a quarterback for what he can do in the playoffs, not for regular season play. So long as he is remaining as the starter, you should not have to worry about the Vikings dealing any real damage in the winter.
The Detroit Lions have been a disappointment of a franchise ever since Megatron had left the NFL after a sudden retirement not long after a record season. The only team that circles their calendars when playing the Lions is the NFC North in December. The team has a history of ruining playoff hopes for the Bears, the Vikings, and especially the Packers in seasons where the Lions are nothing more than lazy house cats. The signing of Dan Patricia, former DC of Super Bowl winning New England Patriots, did not live up to the hype, as he was not able to revamp the Lions into solid regular season performers, let alone a playoff contender. That may partially change, as Detroit has their hands on some new products to get the engine going again. Some of those new pieces include former Packer, 2017 Pro Bowl selection as well as 2017 First-Team All-Pro Mike Daniels, and Iowa Hawkeye T.J. Hockenson. Other note worthy names are former Super Bowl champions of the New England Patriots DE Trey Flowers and WR Danny Amendola. While these are not names that will finally provide a positive record for the losing franchise, it gives them hope and allows them to do more damage to teams that are going to the playoffs. It is a long road ahead for Detroit fans, so it’s best to just sit back, relax, and hope no team from the NFC North wins the Super Bowl.