Welcome to this week’s installment up of Gridiron Roundup: NFC North record predictions! In the way too soon NFL 2018 regular season, let’s have some fun predicting where each team in the NFC North will finish record-wise.
Without further adieu, let’s have some fun!
As I noted in the last article I wrote regarding free agency acquisitions for the Chicago Bears, the Bears are looking to surround Mitchell Trubisky with the offensive personnel to contend with other prolific NFC powerhouses.
Finishing in fourth place within the NFC North at 5-11, many thought that Chicago would actually finish with a worse record than that. They had departed from Jay Cutler, brought in Mike Glennon and drafted his eventual replacement in Trubisky.
Chicago surprised some teams expecting to steamroll over the Bears, they instead beat three eventual playoff teams in Pittsburgh, Carolina and Baltimore — winning two at hone and one on the road. Their two other wins came against the lowly Bengals, and even lower Browns, but nonetheless a win is a win is a win.
On paper, Chicago has a fairly tough schedule awaiting them come September. While we wait for the NFL to officially release the schedule, we do know specifically who they’re playing and where.
Home opponents: Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings. Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets and New England Patriots.
Road opponents: San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Giants.
Only four teams from their schedule were playoff contenders a season ago. However, a new season brings in new possibilities of upsets.
I think if their schedule benefits them early on, Chicago might be able to go on a run and surprise some teams, but it all starts with their pieces settling in well. Not to mention a defense that has struggled to get offenses off the field in key situations.
Chicago plays better this season, but it’s not enough yet.
The Detroit Lions finished second in the NFC North at 9-7, and went 5-1 against divisional opponents. Here’s the thing though, Matthew Stafford turns 30 this season, and has yet to deliver a playoff win for the Lions. In fact, they’ve failed to win the NFC North when given the opportunity, and have only qualified for the playoffs twice during Stafford’s tenure.
The Lions lost their greatest weapon when Calvin Johnson retired, and they’ve yet to replace him. Stafford is as true a gunslinger as any, but management has failed to put any meaningful pieces around him, and its cost them contention.
Though they did sign running back LeGarrette Blount, and whichever team has him on their roster wins the Super Bowl. So, Lions in 2018?
Home opponents: Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets, New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers.
Away Opponents: Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys.
The NFC West is on the rise to be the best division in football, with the 49ers and Rams returning to form. The AFC East has the Patriots, and they’re a tough task for anyone. However, the Lions have played the Cowboys pretty well the last few meetups.
Overall, like with the Bears, it comes down to schedule friendliness. When do they play powerhouses in New England and Los Angeles? The old adage of sports is it’s not who you play them, but when you play them.
Detroit has some winnable games against Buffalo, Miami and Dallas, but the NFC North is where you make your money, and with Aaron Rodgers coming back and Minnesota adding Kirk Cousins, it’s going to be tough to win against the NFC North.
The Lions might make it interesting, but they take a back seat to the Packers and Vikings in 2018.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers get their star quarterback back in Aaron Rodgers, after having their season crumble when he went down with a broken collarbone. Though the Packers had to cut veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson, they did bring in Jimmy Graham to give Rodgers the first legit tight end since the days of Jermichael Finley, and added Muhammad Wilkerson to help the defense put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Newly appointed general manager, Brian Gutekunst, is changing the philosophy in Green Bay, and look to keep their Super Bowl window open as Rodgers enters the back-half of his career.
Home opponents: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.
Road opponents: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets, New England Patriots and Washington Redskins.
For the first time during Rodgers’ career, the Packers finished in last place, and thus will have — on paper — the “easier” schedule in 2018.
It’ll be interesting to see if the NFL schedule makers have the Vikings and Packers face each other in Week One, it makes sense to have a revenge game right off the bat, but we’ll have to wait and see. The Packers have normally done well against their divisional foes, but as with every team in the NFC North, they’ll be playing NFC West teams, and anything can happen.
The Packers face off against five playoff teams from a year ago, with the big one being a premier matchup against the Patriots in New England. Packers-Seahawks is always a rivalry game for both sides — with Rodgers yet to beat Russell Wilson in Seattle. And of course the new QB rivalry between Rodgers and Cousins. Rodgers-Smith and Rodgers-Goff, should both provide to be entertaining games.
The Packers have a really favorable matchup, and benefit from a few teams having QB issues. Not to mention, the division is full of tough matchups, but ultimately, winnable ones. Facing the top two NFC West teams on the road will provide a huge test, and beating Tom Brady at home is almost unheard of.
The Minnesota Vikings got their man in Kirk Cousins, and believe he’s the quarterback of the future. After bowing out of the NFC Championship game, the Vikings organization believes they’re one star quarterback away from being Super Bowl champions. Is it Super Bowl or bust for Cousins in his first year? You decide.
Home opponents: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, San Frncisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints.
Road opponents: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles.
As NFC North Champions, the Vikings will play first-place teams in the Eagles and Saints, and their normal rotation of NFC North opponents. Additionally, like the Packers, they play the same home and road opponents.
Cousins will have to battle some stiff competition in Goff, Wilson, Rodgers, Brady and Brees. It’s hard enough when you come over to a new team and have to learn a new system, but throwing in some tough opponents in your first stint — is too much being expected of Cousins in year one?
Not to mention, he’s 0-1 in his only playoff experience. At least Case Keenum got you one playoff victory before being disposed of.
The Vikings despite a new quarterback, are still really good on both sides of the ball. They’ll contend with the Packers for control of the NFC North all season, but the interconference opponents, in addition, to playing both the Saints and Eagles will be a huge character test for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations.
NFC North Predictions
1. Green Bay Packers 13-3
2. Minnesota Vikings 10-6
3. Detroit Lions 7-9
4. Chicago Bears 5-11
What are your predictions for the NFC North in 2018? Tweet at us and let us know!