NFC North betting preview: Green Bay is in win-now mode
The 2020 NFL season is fast approaching. To get you primed for pro football, let’s break down what to expect from each team in the NFC North.
Green Bay Packers
2019 record: 13-3
Key additions: QB Jordan Love, RT Ricky Wagner
Key departures: LB Blake Martinez, WR Devin Funchess (2020 opt-out), TE Jimmy Graham
The Packers’ decision to take quarterback Jordan Love with their first-round pick became one of the hottest storylines of the 2020 draft. No one expected Green Bay, a team that ranked 17th in passing last season, to chase after Aaron Rodgers’ replacement so early in the draft, especially with so many talented receivers still available.
The move was especially puzzling because Rodgers, 36, is under contract until 2023.
Last season, the Packers reached the NFC Championship Game and head into 2020 in win-now mode. Unfortunately for Green Bay, this year’s team won’t look all that much different from last season, which doesn’t bode well for improvement.
Tight end Jimmy Graham (447 yards, three touchdowns) went to Chicago, and receiver Geronimo Allison (287 yards, two scores) signed with Detroit. Their absence shouldn’t hit the offense too hard, but Green Bay didn’t exactly work to replace what production they did generate.
Receiver Davante Adams (997 yards, five TDs) and running back Aaron Jones (1,084 yards, 16 rushing TDs) will need to step up in a greater capacity this season.
The offensive line should look a lot like last year’s, with the exception of right tackle Bryan Bulaga missing from the lineup. Bulaga signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Chargers, and Ricky Wagner will slot in as his replacement in Green Bay.
The defense made strides last year, ranking ninth in points surrendered (19.6) and sixth in opponent passer rating (81.1). Against the run, however, Green Bay struggled mightily.
The Packers ranked 23rd in rushing yards allowed (120.1 YPG) and gave up 4.7 yards per carry. It doesn’t help that leading tackler Blake Martinez (155 tackles, three sacks, one interception) inked a three-year deal with the Giants in the offseason.
With the current roster, Green Bay should still compete for the top of the NFC North in 2020, but don’t bank on them matching last year’s 13-3 mark.
2019 record: 10-6
Key additions: WR Justin Jefferson, CB Jeff Gladney, LT Ezra Cleveland
Key departures: WR Stefon Diggs, DE Everson Griffen, CB Trae Waynes, CB Xavier Rhodes, OC Kevin Stefankski
Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak reworked a sputtering Vikings offense ahead of 2019. The payoff was a breakout season for running back Dalvin Cook and a promotion to head coach of the Cleveland Browns for Stefanski.
Cook achieved his first 1,000-yard season, despite missing two games and playing injured in the second half of the season.
That success has the fourth-year RB seeking a "reasonable" contract extension, which nearly prompted a holdout by Cook this offseason.
The Vikings need to appease their running back, because they already lost another crucial piece of the offense. The Buffalo Bills acquired receiver Stefon Diggs (1,130 yards, six TDs) via trade, which leaves Adam Thielen (418 yards, six scores through 10 games) as quarterback Kirk Cousins’ No. 1 target.
Cousins will also get a new receiving option in rookie Justin Jefferson of LSU. Jefferson ranked second in receiving yards (1,540) and scored 18 touchdowns for the national champion Tigers in 2019.
As for the defense, cornerback Trae Waynes signed with Cincinnati, and Xavier Rhodes left for Indianapolis. A key part of the pass rush, Everson Griffen, also departed for the Cowboys.
The Vikings ranked fifth in points allowed (18.9), tied for the fifth-most sacks (48) and ranked fourth in takeaways (31) last season. The defense will take a step back in 2020.
Minnesota drafted well, taking cornerback Jeff Gladney in the first round, along with Jefferson, plus they grabbed offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland and a slew of late-round defensive players.
There's talent to develop, but too many major roster losses. This is a team that will falter early on, but might sneak into the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
2019 record: 8-8
Key additions: QB Nick Foles, LB Robert Quinn, TE Jimmy Graham
Key departures: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, CB Prince Amukamara, LB Nick Kwiatkoski
The Bears defense did a lot right last season. It held opposing rushers to 3.9 yards per carry (tied for fourth in the league), ranked ninth in passing yards allowed and surrendered the fourth-fewest points (18.6).
This season, the defense could be scarier. While Chicago lost linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (76 tackles, three sacks, four passes defended), Nick Williams (six sacks), cornerback Prince Amukamara, and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, it gained linebacker Robert Quinn and will see Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan back at full strength.
The offense is the main issue. Last year, the team finished 27th in rushing (91.1 YPG), and 29th in passing yards (296.8 YPG) and points per game (17.5).
The Bears' offense in 2019:— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) December 30, 2019
17.5 points per game (29th)
296.8 yards per game (29th)
4.7 yards per play (31st)
5.3 net per attempt (32nd)
3.7 yards per rush (30th)
35.6% 3rd-down conv. (25th)
52.2% red-zone TDs (24th)
Mitch Trubisky doesn’t seem like the long-term answer in Chicago and may take a back seat to Nick Foles, who is searching for a comeback after last year’s debacle in Jacksonville.
Tight end Jimmy Graham didn’t pan out in Green Bay and is hoping to resurrect his career in Chicago, too. He’ll play alongside rookie Cole Kmet, the 43rd overall pick in the 2020 draft.
Allen Robinson led the team with 1,147 receiving yards last season. A healthy Cordarrelle Patterson and new addition Ted Ginn, from New Orleans, will give whoever is named starting quarterback more to work with.
Second-year back David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen need more help from the offensive line, which didn’t change much over the offseason.
Just like 2019, offense will make or break this season, but even the slightest improvement could get Chicago back to the playoffs.
2019 record: 3-12-1
Key additions: RB D'Andre Swift, DT Danny Shelton, LB Jamie Collins, CB Desmond Trufant, CB Jeff Okudah
Key departures: CB Darius Slay, RT Ricky Wagner, RG Graham Glasgow
Had it not been for injuries, and a few bad calls late in some games, the Lions’ 2019 record would look much different.
Matt Stafford (312.3 YPG, 19 TDs, five interceptions) sat eight games with non-displaced fractures in his spine, and lead running back Kerryon Johnson hit the injured reserve in October.
On the plus side, Kenny Golladay notched his second straight 1,000-yard season, and Marvin Jones posted 779 yards and nine scores through 13 games.
All of Stafford’s best weapons return in 2020, and he’ll gain top-rated running back prospect D’Andre Swift, out of Georgia.
The defense could see a huge upgrade, with former Patriots Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins jumping to Detroit. The Lions also used the No. 3 overall pick on Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah and signed Desmond Trufant, who will replace new Eagles addition Darius Slay.
Against the pass, Detroit ranked second to last in yards allowed (400.4 YPG) in 2019 and tied for the second fewest sacks (28).
This season, the Lions should see an uptick in their production, all around, so long as the roster can stay healthy.