The NFL's best division with four teams that could make a run at the playoffs makes it the hardest to predict.
Should the reigning NFC North champion Chicago Bears be considered the favorite despite many insiders around the league predicting the team to fall from their impressive 12-4 from a year ago? Or are the Green Bay Packers, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and new head coach Matt LaFleur, poised for a Super Bowl run?
Maybe even the painstakingly average Minnesota Vikings can maneuver themselves past their superior division foes, or it could quite possibly be the year Matthew Stafford leads the Detroit Lions to their first playoff victory in 19 years.
Green Bay Packers: Last Season 6-9-1
The Mike McCarthy led Green Bay Packers are no more as Matt LaFleur accepted the head coaching position this offseason. The decision by Green Bay left confusion as to the direction of the team considering LaFleur had very little success as an offensive coordinator in Tennessee.
Now with Rodgers under the center, limitations are off for LaFleur. Rodgers is an all-time great talent that can run any offense, at least that's what we are led to believe. For the first time in his 14-year career, Rodgers will have a new playbook to toy with, which may be for the best considering how things ended during the McCarthy-era.
Bleacher Report's Tyler Dunn details the breakdown of a should have been empire with his article, "What Happened in Green Bay." Dunne, through interviews of former Packer teammates Greg Jennings and others, reveals Rodgers would change McCarthy's play calls in the huddle and take minuscule actions, like Jennings departing Green Bay for Minnesota personally.
Rodgers responded directly to the article on an ESPN Milwaukee radio show calling it a "smear attack.
With the drama of Green Bay's offseason out of the way, the roster acquisitions made to bolster the defense has the Packers on the rise in NFL Power Rankings. CBS sports currently has Green Bay ranked at 14th (eight behind Chicago and two behind Minnesota) but expect the team to move into the top ten by week 5.
Former Bear Adrian Amos joins a secondary that ranked 27th according to Pro Football Focus. With his eighth-best safety ranking, according to CBS Sports, Amos' impact in a division that boasts All-Pro receivers such as Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and even up-and-coming star Kenny Golladay will be felt right away.
Linebackers Za'darius Smith and Preston Smith add a veteran presence to the front seven where the departing Clay Matthews, although under-performing his final year in Green Bay, left. A total of 171 tackles, 13.5 sacks, and three interceptions are being added to the Green Bay defense this year making them the most improved in the NFC North by far.
Expect big things from Rodgers and the rest of Packers this season. Especially receiver Davante Adams, who ranks as the fifth-best wideout in the NFL on the BushLeagueSports Podcast.
Verdict: 9-7, NFC North Champions
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Chicago Bears: Last Season 12-4
No one expected the Chicago Bears to run away with the division last year, but thanks to a trade for former Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack, the Bears eased their way to an NFC North title.
While Chicago's regular-season success was much talked about, their kicking woes cost them a playoff game against the Eagles and still haunt the special teams unit.
Five different kickers hit the upright for Chicago in 2017, with a handful more in 2018. Chicago settled on Cody Parkey but the missed field goal versus Philadelphia spelled the end for his tenure in the Windy City. In 2019 the Bears have gifted Eddy Pineiro the kicking job that is more unstable than a belt buckle on Thanksgiving.
If Chicago, and more importantly Pineiro, can fix their kicking woes it will be hard to exclude the Bears from the playoffs.
Naysayers will include the play of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in conversations of a Bear decline, and they may be right. Trubisky does not blow anyone away and in games against opponents over .500, he averaged 194 passing yards, one touchdown, and almost two interceptions.
Trubisky will need to play better against the league's best if Chicago does indeed have Super Bowl hopes this season.
Luckily for Chicago, their defense will keep them in most games. Just like the Ravens, the Bears have a subpar to average passers, a solid enough running game, and a star-studded defense. Unfortunately, Khalil Mack's 12.5 sacks and the Bears 45 takeaways cannot prevent an eventual drop off from last season's 12-4 record.
Verdict: 8-8, In the Playoff Hunt
Detroit Lions: Last Season 6-10
The Detroit Lions can never catch a break. Whether it is an 0-16 season, Calvin Johnson's early retirement, the inability to land big-name free agents or the lack of a true run game since Barry Sanders.
The Lions have simply been a hot pile of meh. In 2019, the Detroit Lions can change the stigma haunting the franchise for three decades.
Matthew Stafford and second-year standout Kenny Golladay can become one of the best tandems in the NFL by building off of Golladay's 70 receptions, 1,063 yards, and five touchdowns 2018 campaign.
Veteran Marvin Jones and rookie tight end TJ Hockenson are expected to play a pivotal role in the offense, giving Stafford viable options on the outside and over the middle.
In the ground game, Kerryon Johnson has a firm hold on the starting halfback job after a 641-yard season that was cut short due to injury. If Johnson would have played the remaining six games, one would assume he would have been inches away from a 1,000-yard season, not to mention at least 3 more touchdowns getting his total to six.
With the offense in order, the defense saw massive upgrades in the front seven. Trey Flowers was brought over from New England to be the premier pass rusher in Matt Patricia's system while Damon "Snacks" Harrison and Mike Daniels fill up the middle. The three together bring 13 sacks to a team that totaled just outside of the top ten.
Darius Slay leads the secondary as the most underrated cornerback in the NFL and is Detroit's only hope against the elite receivers of the NFC North.
Verdict: 8-8, Misses the Playoffs
Minnesota Vikings: Last Season 8-7-1
The Minnesota Vikings are one of the more frustrating teams in the NFL to watch and predict their season outcome.
Minnesota has the offensive weapons in the NFC North by far, and the return of running back Dalvin Cook gives the Vikings another leg up. With two receivers, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, totaling over 2,000 yards and racking up a combined 18 touchdowns, and a running back capable of rushing for over any defender, what could more could Minnesota need?
A quarterback. Minnesota desperately needs a quarterback that is not named $84 million, I mean Kirk Cousins.
Kirk Cousins leads Minnesota. but he takes them to a place no team was to be-painstakingly average. Good just not good enough.
In primetime games Cousins is beyond subpar, it is downright awful. Even his play against winning opponents, Cousins never seems to play up to their level.
The Vikings should be a 10-win team. It is not the receivers fault nor the running backs. While partially their 29th ranked defenses fault, the main reason for Minnesota's under-performing play is Kirk Cousins.
The Vikings were one game away from a Super Bowl appearance during the 2017-2018 season with Case Keenum handling the offense. Shouldn't bringing in Cousins, who has statistically been better throughout his career, improve Minnesota's chances of winning a Super Bowl?
Well, not this year as the Viking's won't be hearing the "Skol" chant in January, let alone February, as they miss the playoff and add another lackluster outcome to the Kirk Cousin's tenure.
Verdict: 7-9, Misses the Playoffs
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