In the fifth installment of my 2020 NFL Record Prediction series, which will span 9 parts, I’ll be beginning the NFC by examining the talent-laden NFC North.
Note: These predictions are meant to reflect not just which team is better in a duel of two coteries, but who I feel the likely winner will be based on circumstances and situations.
Feel free to bookmark these articles as the year unfolds; as always, you are welcome to comment your own predictions as I go along, or even ask for justification for specific game outcomes!
Week 1: at Minnesota Vikings (L, 0-1)
Week 2: Detroit Lions (W, 1-1)
Week 3: at New Orleans Saints (L, 1-2)
Week 4: Atlanta Falcons (W, 2-2)
Week 5: Bye
Week 6: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L, 2-3)
Week 7: at Houston Texans (W, 3-3)
Week 8: Minnesota Vikings (W, 4-3)
Week 9: at San Francisco 49ers (L, 4-4)
Week 10: Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 5-4)
Week 11: at Indianapolis Colts (L, 5-5)
Week 12: Chicago Bears (W, 6-5)
Week 13: Philadelphia Eagles (W, 7-5)
Week 14: at Detroit Lions (W, 8-5)
Week 15: Carolina Panthers (W, 9-5)
Week 16: Tennessee Titans (L, 9-6)
Week 17: at Chicago Bears (W, 10-6)
The Packers appeared to have had a rejuvenated 2019 in head coach’s Matt LaFleur’s inaugural season, but much of the euphoria from a year ago seems to have dissipated.
In 2018, the world came crashing down in Green Bay. The Packers finished a dismal 6-9-1; change was necessary, so LaFleur replaced veteran leader Mike McCarthy. Consequently, the team increased its win total by a whopping 7 games en route to an NFC Championship appearance against the 49ers.
However, the Packers’ success seemed largely fortuitous. The squad went 8-1 in one-score games in 2019. LaFleur’s contingent often played down to lesser teams, including beating the Panthers, who ended 5-11, by just 8 points as well as the eventual 3-13 Redskins by only 5.
The Packers continue to boast one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers, though Rodgers hasn’t tossed more than 30 touchdowns in a season since 2016. His interception numbers, though, have been astonishingly low, thus enabling Green Bay to boast a +12 turnover differential in 2019, which tied for 3rd.
However, it seems that GM Brian Gutekunst has no interest whatsoever in making Rodgers content. He adamantly refused to draft a wide receiver in spite of one of the deepest wideout classes in recent memory. After the recent opt out of veteran Devin Funchess, Rodgers’ receiving corps consists of superstar Davante Adams and few other proven wide receivers.
On the other side of the ball, 2019 newcomers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith combined for a whopping 25.5 sacks, good for 3rd among edge rushing duos. The Packers’ secondary is young and promising with standouts Jaire Alexander, Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. However, their linebacking room looks thin after the departure of Blake Martinez, who led the team in tackling from 2017-19.
Green Bay seems to lose a few perplexing games every year, and I have them doing so at Lucas Oil Field as well as at home vs. the Titans.
All in all, Rodgers’ team played as if it were 9-7 or 10-6 throughout 2019 despite finishing 3-4 games better. I expect them to conclude with a 10-6 record that better matches the team’s overall skill and tenor, though such mark would still earn them the #3 seed in the NFC.
Week 1: Green Bay Packers (W, 1-0)
Week 2: at Indianapolis Colts (L, 1-1)
Week 3: Tennessee Titans (W, 2-1)
Week 4: at Houston Texans (L, 2-2)
Week 5: at Seattle Seahawks (L, 2-3)
Week 6: Atlanta Falcons (W, 3-3)
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: at Green Bay Packers (L, 3-4)
Week 9: Detroit Lions (W, 4-4)
Week 10: at Chicago Bears (L, 4-5)
Week 11: Dallas Cowboys (W, 5-5)
Week 12: Carolina Panthers (W, 6-5)
Week 13: Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 7-5)
Week 14: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L, 7-6)
Week 15: Chicago Bears (L, 7-7)
Week 16: at New Orleans Saints (L, 7-8)
Week 17: at Detroit Lions (W, 8-8)
Although the Vikings were able to knock off the Saints in a New Orleans Wild Card classic, I don’t envisage them reaching similar levels of success in 2020. In fact, I don’t even see them returning to the playoffs.
Minnesota suffered tremendous personnel losses this offseason, namely by trading star receiver Stefon Diggs to the Bills. Additionally, Mike Zimmer is now without 3-time Pro Bowl corner Xavier Rhodes—though he was quite undeserving of such honor in 2019, as his 123.8 quarterback rating allowed and 81.5 completion percentage on targets were both in the bottom 18 of the league—not to mention fellow cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes. It remains to be seen if the Vikings can re-sign star defensive end Everson Griffen, as he and the rival Packers seem to have mutual endearment.
General manager Rick Spielman, though, had a phenomenal draft to offset such departures. He added arguably the 4th best receiver in Justin Jefferson as well as top-flight corner Jeff Gladney while also bolstering the team’s offensive line by selecting tackle Ezra Cleveland.
Minnesota retains a boatload of talent in quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook, wide receiver Adam Thielen, tight end Kyle Rudolph, defensive end Danielle Hunter, linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, and safties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris. However, the recent opt-out of nascent defensive tackle Michael Pierce further strains a defense that will likely struggle in the back end due to cornerback inexperience.
Ultimately, Cousins’ inability to beat the division rival Chicago Bears may be the unit’s kryptonite: The former Washington quarterback has accrued a meager 627 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs in 3 games vs. the Monsters of the Midway since 2018. Likewise, Zimmer has not defeated Chicago in 3 years.
Could the Vikings push for a Wild Card spot, or even division supremacy? Absolutely.
But in a year in which rookies have less time to acclimate to their newfound surroundings, Minnesota is a team that will likely suffer disproportionately.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions (W, 1-0)
Week 2: New York Giants (W, 2-0)
Week 3: at Atlanta Falcons (L, 2-1)
Week 4: Indianapolis Colts (L, 2-2)
Week 5: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L, 2-3)
Week 6: at Carolina Panthers (L, 2-4)
Week 7: at Los Angeles Rams (W, 3-4)
Week 8: New Orleans Saints (L, 3-5)
Week 9: at Tennessee Titans (L, 3-6)
Week 10: Minnesota Vikings (W, 4-6)
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: at Green Bay Packers (L, 4-7)
Week 13: Detroit Lions (W, 5-7)
Week 14: Houston Texans (L, 5-8)
Week 15: at Minnesota Vikings (W, 6-8)
Week 16: at Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 7-8)
Week 17: Green Bay Packers (L, 7-9)
The Bears succeeded a successful 2018 campaign by posting a dismal 8 wins in 2019, largely thanks to porous quarterback play.
Former #2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky continues to regress and overshoot his receivers. He posted just 17 touchdowns to 10 interceptions while also having 18.4% of his passes classify as “bad throws,” per Pro Football Reference, a metric which tied for 9th worst.
General manager Ryan Pace is not only responsible for arguably the worst draft blunder in NFL history—he continued to make questionable decisions while at the helm in the 2020 offseason.
Rather than sign former MVP Cam Newton, Pace traded for subpar Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles. Foles was a shell of his Philadelphia self in Duval County, an example being his benching in Week 13 in favor of rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew.
Moreover, Pace elected to sign declining tight end Jimmy Graham to a 2-year, $16 million contract. Conversely, the Steelers inked talented yet intermittently injured Eric Ebron to a 2-year, $12 million deal.
On offense, the Bears’ problems lie further than their quarterback woes. Their 2019 draftee David Montgomery underwhelmed behind a poor offensive line, a unit that seemingly declined even further this offseason sans newly retired guard Kyle Long. Receiver Allen Robinson is the lone bright spot in a motley receiving corps, as the Bears have inconsistent speedsters in Ted Ginn, Jr. and Cordarrelle Patterson. They also have 3rd-year Anthony Miller, who had 5 fewer receiving touchdowns a year ago, and unprovens in Riley Ridley and Javon Wims.
Chicago’s strength is undoubtedly its defense, coordinated by former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. The Bears boast dynamic talent in Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson. However, Mack struggled in 2019, as he incurred his first year under double digit sacks since 2014. The signing of veteran edge rusher Robert Quinn should mitigate his number of double teams faced, though.
The Bears’ defense is a premier unit, but I question how well rookie corner Jaylon Johnson will fare early on if he earns the Bears’ second cornerback role over former former Steeler Artie Burns.
Even if Matt Nagy receives otherworldly performances from his defense, I just don’t see the Bears doing well considering their quarterback purgatory. Any time its defense can’t contain an eye-popping offense, this team will likely flounder.
Week 1: Chicago Bears (L, 0-1)
Week 2: at Green Bay Packers (L, 0-2)
Week 3: at Arizona Cardinals (L, 0-3)
Week 4: New Orleans Saints (W, 1-3)
Week 5: at Jacksonville Jaguars (L, 1-4)
Week 6: at Atlanta Falcons (W, 2-4)
Week 7: Indianapolis Colts (W, 3-4)
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: at Minnesota Vikings (L, 3-5)
Week 10: Washington Football Team (W, 4-5)
Week 11: Carolina Panthers (W, 5-5)
Week 12: Houston Texans (L, 5-6)
Week 13: at Chicago Bears (L, 5-7)
Week 14: Green Bay Packers (L, 5-8)
Week 15: at Tennessee Titans (L, 5-9)
Week 16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (W, 6-9)
Week 17: Minnesota Vikings (L, 6-10)
The Lions have a solid nucleus, albeit a core that doesn’t come without question marks.
Thankfully, head coach Matt Patricia has no quandary in quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford has been the Lions’ stalwart and continues to perform near or at a Pro Bowl level. Before a back injury sidelined him from Week 10-onward, Stafford very well may have been en route to an MVP season:
people forget who was #1 into November pic.twitter.com/rs8oPx0Q25— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) July 29, 2020
Stafford has a phenomenal receiver duo in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, Jr. However, the two have not played a full 16 games in earnest together since they were paired in the Motor City.
Patricia has an enormous conundrum at running back. Does he start oft-injured 3rd year back Kerryon Johnson or rookie D’Andre Swift? I think Johnson will get the initial nod, though the Auburn product has only played in 18 of a potential 32 games.
On defense, the Lions are significantly weaker. Detroit is without a tried-and-tested edge rusher alongside Trey Flowers, although general manager Bob Quinn has done a nice job to assuage losses by signing defensive tackle Danny Shelton, linebacker Jamie Collins and cornerback Desmond Trufant. Quinn seemingly found Darius Slay’s long-term replacement in Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, who will likely start alongside Trufant with the soon-to-be 30-year-old coming off of forearm surgery.
Yet this team’s defense pales significantly compared to its NFC North counterparts’. Detroit’s 2019 unit surrendered a whopping 400.4 yards and 26.4 points per game, which ranked 31st and 25th, respectively.
To compound matters, Patricia certainly appears to be on the hot seat. Since he became head coach, he has gone a combined 6-7-1 in games before November, compared to a horrendous 3-15 mark once such month has begun. Simply put, Patricia must enable his team to win games late in the season. If not, his tenure could easily be up by 2021.
If Detroit can put the injury bug to bed, it can certainly pull off upsets and improve upon its putrid 2019 record. However, Patricia’s job (in)security mixed with a potent division and conference doesn’t bode well for the Lions.