Training camp primer: NFC North
(listed in predicted order of finish)
Projected 2020 record: 10-6
2019 record: 10-6
2019 summary: With Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak running the offense, Mike Zimmer got the efficient, ball-control attack he wanted, and Kirk Cousins won his first playoff game. But the offense was shut down in San Francisco, as the Vikings were knocked out in the divisional playoffs.
Key additions: WR Justin Jefferson, CB Jeff Gladney, G Dakota Dozier, WR Tajae Sharpe, DE Anthony Zettel, OT Ezra Cleveland, CB Cameron Dantzler,
Noteworthy losses: WR Stefon Diggs, DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Trae Waynes, G Josh Kline, DE Stephen Weatherly, S Andrew Sendejo
Cause for concern: A ton of talent left, and one of the key additions (NT Michael Pierce) opted out due to COVID-19. Zimmer rarely leans heavily on youngsters, but he’ll have to this year, both on offense and defense. Gladney must start immediately, and 2017 seventh-rounder Ifeadi Odenigbo must produce as a starting edge rusher.
Position battle worth watching: Kline must be replaced at right guard, and left guard Pat Elflein’s spot shouldn’t be safe. Dozier and 2019 fourth-rounder Dru Samia should compete to replace Kline. If Cleveland adapts quickly, perhaps the Vikings would bump left tackle Riley Reiff inside to left guard.
Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 9
Even after trading Diggs and losing several veterans, the Vikings have a great base of talent. They also haven’t had a losing season since 2014, Zimmer’s first year. We have faith that they’ll at least earn a push, with a good chance of cashing the over.
2020 forecast: If Adam Thielen is healthy, the offense should be just fine without Diggs, especially if Irv Smith takes a second-year leap. The question is whether the defense can overcome a lack of depth at defensive end and cornerback. In perhaps the league’s tightest division top-to-bottom, Minnesota’s experience and coaching could be the difference.
Projected 2020 record: 9-7
2019 record: 3-12-1
2019 summary: Matt Patricia’s leaky defense undermined a quietly terrific start from Matthew Stafford and the offense, as the Lions were unlucky to start 3-4-1. Then Stafford went down with a back injury, and Detroit didn’t win again.
Key additions: CB Jeff Okudah, LB Jamie Collins, CB Desmond Trufant, OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, RB D’Andre Swift, DT Danny Shelton, QB Chase Daniel, DT Nick Williams, G Jonah Jackson, G Logan Stenberg
Noteworthy losses: CB Darius Slay, G Graham Glasgow, OT Rick Wagner, DE Devon Kennard, DT Mike Daniels, DT Damon Harrison, DT A’Shawn Robinson, CB Rashaan Melvin, S Tavon Wilson, P Sam Martin
Cause for concern: Patricia has leaned on deep rotations of run-pluggers dating to his time in New England, but the Lions lost major talent up front and didn’t add much. Shelton is the only defensive tackle on the roster who has ever played more than half of his team’s snaps in a season, and he hasn’t done so since 2017.
Position battle worth watching: With Glasgow gone, things are wide open at right guard. Kenny Wiggins rotated there at times last season, and Oday Aboushi offers another veteran presence, but two rookies — Jackson and Stenberg — might be the top contenders to claim the job.
Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 6.5
The over is one of our favorite bets league-wide. Not only will the Lions have Stafford back and healthy, but their defense can’t be much worse, and they should be much better in one-possession games (3-8-1 last season).
2020 forecast: Stafford was stellar when healthy in new coordinator Darrell Bevell’s system last year, and Swift’s addition gives him a deep skill-position group. The offense has few glaring holes, which puts the pressure on Patricia’s D. If Trufant is healthy and Okudah transitions quickly, the Lions could surprise by contending for the division title.
Green Bay Packers
Projected 2020 record: 9-7
2019 record: 13-3
2019 summary: The marriage between new head coach Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers wasn’t perfect, but the Packers excelled in close games en route to a first-round bye and a playoff win. Their run defense, however, was blown apart by San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, ending their season.
Key additions: QB Jordan Love, OT Rick Wagner, LB Christian Kirksey, RB A.J. Dillon, TE/FB Josiah Deguara
Noteworthy losses: RT Bryan Bulaga, TE Jimmy Graham, LB Blake Martinez, OLB Kyler Fackrell, LB B.J. Goodson, WR Geronimo Allison
Cause for concern: Green Bay’s two biggest weaknesses — a leaky run defense and a lack of targets for Rodgers — were barely addressed in the offseason. The injury-prone Kirksey won’t fix the former by himself, and the only wide receiver signed (Devin Funchess) opted out due to COVID-19. The Packers are relying heavily on development from within.
Position battle worth watching: Both should have roles, but second-year tight end Jace Sternberger and Deguara may have to fight over targets. Sternberger, a shifty receiver who played sparingly as a rookie, has drawn praise this offseason, while Deguara could fill the Kyle Juszczyk role in LaFleur’s Shanahan-style offense.
Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 9
The over would normally be a no-brainer for a team coming off 13 wins, but signs point to regression after Green Bay was an unsustainable 9-1 in one-possession games (including playoffs) in 2020. We would still lean toward the over, but tread carefully.
2020 forecast: Many have cooled on the Packers after a curious offseason in which the team acted more like a rebuilding team than one on the verge of the Super Bowl. Perhaps Rodgers goes nuclear and proves the Packers wrong for drafting Love, but it’s been awhile since he’s played at an MVP level. In a competitive division, there are enough holes here to be concerned.
Projected 2020 record: 7-9
2019 record: 8-8
2019 summary: Mitchell Trubisky’s make-or-break season shattered, and the Bears offense topped 30 points just twice. With regression and injuries on defense, Chicago’s 3-1 start devolved into a 4-6 record and ultimately a .500 finish outside the playoffs.
Key additions: OLB Robert Quinn, QB Nick Foles, TE Cole Kmet, WR Ted Ginn, TE Jimmy Graham, CB Jaylon Johnson, S Tashaun Gipson, OL Germain Ifedi, CB Artie Burns, TE Demetrius Harris, LB Barkevious Mingo
Noteworthy losses: OLB Leonard Floyd, CB Prince Amukamara, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, WR Taylor Gabriel, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, TE Trey Burton, DT Nick Williams, QB Chase Daniel, OT Cornelius Lucas
Cause for concern: Even with Foles on board, the quarterback situation is worrisome. Trubisky is a lost cause, and Foles is an expensive, injury-prone option who has done little outside Philadelphia. Even given his familiarity with Matt Nagy, the Foles acquisition looks especially misguided after Cam Newton signed so cheaply in New England.
Position battle worth watching: Burns was signed to replace Amukamara, but the former Steelers’ first-rounder has been unreliable throughout his four-year career. Second-round rookie Jaylon Johnson should win the starting job, but he must be healthy coming off shoulder surgery. Similarly, second-round rookie Cole Kmet should earn more reps than free agent signee Jimmy Graham.
Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 8.5
There’s an argument for the over: Foles should be better than Trubisky was in 2019, and the defense could bounce back with Quinn on board and Akiem Hicks healthy. But the Bears also have comfortably the worst QB in a competitive division. We’d lean toward the under.
2020 forecast: Nagy will hope his offense clicks with Foles on board, but the offensive line doesn’t look any better after a down 2019 campaign. On defense, Khalil Mack, Hicks and Quinn make for a fearsome pass rush, but Eddie Goldman opted out, and there are holes in the secondary. The Bears have a few questions to answer before they can threaten for the division title.
–Field Level Media