Pro Football Focus is a site that folks either seem to love or hate. Their rating systems are the first of its kind in trying to statistically rank traditionally hard positions to compare, like offensive line. They were one of the first advanced or sabermetric sites for the NFL, and with that come the slings and arrows of the more traditional stat detractors.
I understand that no metric is perfect, and they have had their share of head scratchers, but I like a lot of what PFF does. Just a little while ago, they did a piece predicting the NFC North, and they’re bullish on the Minnesota Vikings to repeat as division champions.
Of the four teams in the North, they predict that the Vikings have the best chance to win the division, at 38%. Green Bay and Detroit both have a 23% chance to win it, and Chicago comes in last, at 16%.
I agree that the Vikings will win the division, I just think the percentages for them to do so are even higher than what PFF predicts.
Look, I’m a homer, I admit it. But in my defense, Minnesota is—without question—the team with the fewest holes on the roster in the division. They only lost one starter on last year’s top ranked defense in Tom Johnson, and they replaced him with Sheldon Freakin’ Richardson. On offense, they upgraded from Case Keenum to Granitejaw McDreamy at QB, have a top three WR tandem in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook is coming back, 100% healthy and ready to roll. The ONLY question mark I have is the offensive line. I think it will be as good as last year, and if it is, the Vikes are going to pile up a lot of wins.
In Green Bay, for as poorly constructed a roster their 2017 team was, they’ve made strides to get better. They had a solid draft and addressed serious secondary needs, but lost WR Jordy Nelson, who was the favorite target of Aaron Rodgers. Even with the upgrades in the secondary, their defense still has question marks outside of Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, and their linebackers were exploitable last year.
Speaking of Rodgers, he’s the big question mark for the Packers. He propped up an otherwise average team for several seasons with his Hall of Fame play, and how he fares determines how well Green Bay does in 2018, period dot. If he regains his MVP form they’re going to be tough to beat, but his supporting cast seems a little less formidable than in years before. Their running game will again be a committee approach, but Aaron Jones will miss two games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Jones forms a nice duo with Ty Montgomery, but Montgomery has had trouble staying healthy since he moved to running back. Jamal Williams rounds out their running back group, and I think there are still more questions here than answers.
Even with Nelson gone to Oakland, they have two good wide receivers in Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Adams signed a big contract last year, and was their leading receiver, but he’s also suffered two really, really bad concussions, and it feels like he’s one hit away from missing a substantial chunk of time. Oh yeah, they also signed TE Jimmy Graham, who is the 2018 version of ‘the Packers finally have a tight end that is gonna TEAR IT UP’ guy.
Only...you know...they never do.
I say this every year about Detroit, and I stand by it again this year: Detroit could go 11-5 or 5-11, and you can make persuasive arguments for both. Matthew Stafford is the best QB in the division not named Aaron Rodgers, and has two 1,000 yard wide receivers in Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. The Lions big issue is a running game, because they’ve been looking for one since Barry Sanders retired. They drafted Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson, who finally might be a guy that can establish a balanced offense in Detroit. If that happens, they’re going to be in play for the division all season long. Assuming the offensive line doesn’t get Stafford killed, but they’ve gone a long way to address that in drafting Frank Ragnow in the first round.
On defense, they have to get better. They were bottom third in most passing categories, just middle of the road as a run defense, and improving the defense is one of the main reasons Matt Patricia was hired. I don’t know that he has the personnel on defense to improve it substantially this year, but he has some pieces to work with.
Finally, Chicago. Of all the teams in the NFC North, I think you can make a solid argument the Bears have had the best off season of any team. I really like the Matt Nagy hire, and they killed free agency and the draft, as they brought in weapons for Mitchell Trubisky. They have a solid running game in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and brought in Allen Robinson to bolster the WR corps. Roquan Smith seems like the perfect fit at LB for the Bears, and he adds to a defense that’s already one of the better units in the game.
But for Chicago, it all comes down to Trubisky. The Bears made a bold move in the 2017 draft to get him, and they’ve done all the right things to make sure he develops—Nagy is a very well respected offensive mind and is miles better than John Fox, they have given him weapons to throw to, there’s a good running game in place, and they’ve bolstered the offensive line to protect him.
The Bears are going to be a force in the division...but in 2019 or 2020, assuming Trubisky develops. If he takes a big step forward, that timeline will be pushed up, but I still think the Bears are a year or two away.