Joy Divisions – NFC North

Before the season starts, myself and good friend of the podcast Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90) will give a summary of each division, how we see it playing out over the season along with some players to target in fantasy in each.

NFC North:

This division could be a sneaky bet for being the best in the NFL, especially if the Bears live up to the hype and expectation considering the changes. Should be still the same 2 teams fighting for the division though…but which one will it be this year?

TIM

Minnesota Vikings

Controversial I put Minnesota in first over the Vikings? No, if you get offended that the first team out of the NFC North hat isn’t Green Bay, you need to get out more.

Let’s be honest here, Minnesota were more than lucky to get to the championship game last year. The performance vs Philadelphia probably said as much.

Maybe they didn’t feel like they deserved to be there? Or maybe they felt things were getting a bit too hot for them.

This year is a statement year from the Vikings. Kirk Cousins comes over from Washington to seemingly be the Captain of the ship hurtling towards either the Superbowl or an iceberg. We will never know what would’ve happened had Cousins been in the game vs Philly rather than Keenum, but maybe we’ll find out this year. What Cousins brings over a highly efficient Case Keenum (and a week 1 Sam Bradford) I am not so sure it can be considered too much of an upgrade. Dalvin Cook returns too partner Latavius Murray in the backfield and Vikings fans will hope the Cook ACL is in good shape because Jerick McKinnon has packed his bags for the Bay Area.

Stefon Diggs has signed a new deal and is the guy people want in fantasy this year. In the 3rd round, you are probably paying just enough draft capital for his services. That said, I’d take him over last years golden boy Adam Thielen. I like Kyle Rudolph’s projections this year; Kirk Cousins loves a Tight End and Kyle Rudolph is as durable and reliable as they come. He is a decent value in drafts.

The defence is the same but with an addition of Sheldon Richardson on the line so that can only help. All in all it will come down to their games with the Packers which will decide the division and I must say, I cannot wait for week 2.

They’ll have to do it with without mastermind Pat Shurmur, who has gone to the Big Apple.

Key Storyline: Is Kirk Cousins the missing piece of the jigsaw?

Green Bay Packers

The immediate concern for me is how durable Aarron Rodgers will be not only for this season, but for the rest of his career. Broken Collarbone (or clavicle for you doctors out there) breaks are now beating his Super Bowl wins 2 to 1 and it’s not farfetched to say that you cant see the Super Bowl wins levelling the score up.

Jordy Nelson is gone, the backfield is just as much a mess as it was last year (remember when everyone was over-drafting TY Montgomery this time last year) and it’s debateable whether the Jimmy Graham acquisition was worth it. On the plus side, Davantae Adams looks to be assured of a WR1 season in fantasy, possibly accumulating the most yards and most touchdowns in the league (hot take). Their defence will be a lot more improved from their draft haul so you should expect them to take a bit of the burden off of No.12.

Last season’s 7-9 record will definitely be bettered (assuming Rodgers’s health) and you would expect it to go to the wire between themselves and the Vikings. I’m gonna take the Vikings this year but it takes balls to bet against the GOAT.

Key Storyline: Can the Running backs keep Rodgers upright?

Detroit Lions

Fair amount of change here, including at the Head Coach position. Matt Patricia, former defensive co-ordinator of the New England Patriots gets his first crack at a HC job but Jim Bob Cooter is still the OC there and making the calls which is quite significant. In terms of personnel, not too much has changed.

They’ve rolled the dice again at the running back position – drafting Kerryon Johnson, who has 3 down back potential and have signed multiple Super Bowl winning RB Legarrette Blount. Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah are still there and unfortunately we may see a 4 way committee here, something Patricia is accustomed to seeing in Foxboro’.

Wide receiver sees Tate, Jones return and Kenny Golladay in his 2nd year will have plenty of fans. You should get similar numbers from last season for these guys but at Tight End, Luke WIllson replaces the underwhelming Eric Ebron and I’m not sure Willson will offer anything this year in fantasy.

To me, it feels like the Lions are stuck in the middle lane. Almost feels like they have to wipe the whole slate clean and start again to get out of this rut that they are in (even though it’s not exactly a losing rut, but you get my drift).

9-7 record last year but should fully expect to be battling the Bears for 3rd place and probably wont be bothering the wildcard positions come the end of December.

Key Storyline: Can Matt Patericia install the Patriots way at Detroit?

Chicago Bears

Where do we begin? Matt Nagy comes in replacing the dinosaur John Fox so the offence has already been upgraded. The most recent protégé under the Andy Reid coaching tree has a crack at the Head Coach position and should employ a spread offence with plenty of excitement and creativity.

Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton are signings in free agency that add to the draft selection of Anthony Miller in an exciting pass catching group.

Tarik Cohen is seemingly being latched on to as a fantasy breakout and you are paying a premium for him. Jordan Howard could be argued as a value in drafts after his fall in ADP compared to this time last season. You can still expect 1100 yards and 8TDs from Chicagos #1 running back.

Mitchell Trubisky will have no excuses this year if the offence falls flat as he now has the weapons around him to succeed. Even the defence is looking decent with the draft pick of Roquan Smith at the back end to go with all the other pieces that re-signed in free agency. Trubisky could be a sneaky dynasty play and even in redraft and is currently going undrafted.

The big questions is can all the new cogs fit together, gel and produce results. For the NFLs sake, let’s hope so because if they do, this division will be fascinating.

Did I mention Kevin White?

Key Storyline: How far can the overhaul take the Bears?

Summary:

Whoever wins this division would have earned it. It’s a coin flip between Green Bay and Minnesota according to the bookies and it’s not surprising. Can Rodgers stay away from a 3rd broken collarbone? Can Kirk Cousins get Minnesota to the promised land of a Super Bowl appearance? Can the lions surprise? And don’t sleep on the Bears….

Minnesota take it for me as long as they stay healthy. The offensive line isn’t the best but the talent on the roster is probably the best in the division. Aaron Rodgers has over the years papered over the cracks in Green Bay and this year they have a fairly decent defence if the rookies hit the ground running. I worry about their run game and who the lead back could be. They all are not the best at pass protection, which will be vital for No.12.

Detroit will offer what Detroit always offer, an average standard. Usually around the 8-8 mark, Detroit will need to get lucky to make the post season in my opinion and I am intrigued to see how the backfield pans out. My money is on Kerryon Johnson. If you dont play well against the Lions, you wont win but perform well and they are usually there for the taking.

Chicago are a trendy team heading in to 2018 and there should be a lot of excitement in this team, not something you would’ve expected to say this time last season. Mitch Trubisky should be better for the run from last years experiences and you should see why the Bears traded up for him in the 2016 draft. Plenty of options and a playcaller that will get the most out of them. Pick up Anthony Miller in dynasty leagues. The Bears fans should be excited, but 2019 could be the real breakout from Chicago.

Predictions:

  1. Minnesota Vikings,
  2. Green Bay Packers,
  3. Detroit Lionss,
  4. Chicago Bears

LEE

So this week we’re kicking off the previews with that is, to me at least, the best division in the whole of football, the NFC North.

To me this division has so many great ingredients this season; the best QB in the league, one of the best and most complete teams in the league and a couple of new and interesting head coaching hires to spruce up the two teams that fell short a little bit last season… and that’s only just scratching the surface! So let’s get into it.

So A-Rod is back! Apologies to anyone who disagrees but he is the best quarterback in this league at the moment and that’s exciting enough on it’s own if you’re a cheesehead. Aaron Rodgers makes Green Bay a better team and more of a threat to anyone they play. Another thing that has made the Packers better is that they got rid of Ted Thompson and they went out and made a free agency splash and signed Muhammad Wilkerson! They also went out and got Jimmy Graham. Albeit it’s not Jimmy G who played in New Orleans, it’s still a version of Graham who will be a huge red zone weapon and target over the middle for the aforementioned superstar QB.

The Packers also had a good draft. I liked what they did with Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson early on and I like what they did late on in the selection of three wide receivers.

Obviously on the face of things it looks a little imbalanced but aside from running back and being short of a pass rusher, this is looking like a pretty good team. The secondary needed a refresh and the cornerback room now has three starters (the draftees, plus Kevin King) for years to come. The receivers all have a chance to make the roster and battle it out behind Devante Adams, who is the clear WR1 in Green Bay and will be a great fantasy pick up if you miss out on all the truly elite receivers.

Another fantasy tidbit would be to avoid Packers running backs. It’s pretty muddy back there but if you must then I’d bet on Aaron Jones but it’s not a clear shot at all.

It’ll be interesting to see how these guys pan out but the bottom line is; as long as Rodgers’ collarbones remain intact, these guys are going to the playoffs.

Another team who are going to the playoffs this season are the Minnesota Vikings. I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The Vikings are one of the best teams in the entire league and are a better team now than the one that was one a game away from a home Superbowl.

Kirk Cousins is an improvement of Case Keenum, Dalvin Cook is back and will have a breakout season, they selected another first round defensive back to keep that secondary depth, Stefon Diggs just signed a huge extension and just every position you look at in the whole depth chart is filled with quality players.

The only thing that bothers me a little is the offensive line but even then, it’s not horrible. Mike Zimmer and new OC, John DeFilippo are smart enough to get round that.

I think the Vikings are fantastic, I think they’ll win the division and have another chance at a Superbowl. The divisional games against Green Bay are going to be just watch matchups and that’s probably how the North will be decided. Another factor will be how many wins these four take off each other.

Fantasy wise; load up on guys that wear purple. Cousins, Cook, Diggs, Thielen, Rudolph, the D/ST, all great options.

The next intriguing team in this division is the Lions. I really like the hire of Matt Patricia for starters. One of the best defensive minds in the league and someone who I actually wanted my Chargers to hire a season earlier. Yes, I know the coaches from the Belichick coaching tree haven’t really had a great deal of success but I’m backing Matty P to buck that trend somewhat and have a good career. What success looks like in year 1 in Detroit is another question altogether; can they make the playoffs whilst sharing a division with the best QB and (maybe) the best team in the league? That’s a big ask! But over time he could change the culture and after a draft or two more they could have built on what is already a pretty solid roster and maybe open up a Superbowl window whilst they have a QB as good as the criminally underrated, Matt Stafford.

I like what the Lions have some personnel wise in the off season; a nice draft that included two great offensive linemen in Frank Ragnow and Tyrell Crosby, a potential running back of the future in Kerryon Johnson and a nice rotational pass rusher in DeShawn Hand who can be groomed by Ziggy Ansah and maybe take over from him one day. I also like that the added LeGarrette Blount, who is a different mind of back to Johnson and Theo Riddick and will bring leadership and knowhow to the whole locker room. Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo add a pair of more traditional tight ends after they lost patience with Eric Ebron.

Detroit probably don’t make the playoffs this year but they have some good players and are in a much better position than a lot of teams who won’t either, so there’s almost certainly light at the end of the tunnel.

Fantasy tip; if yours in a PPR league, you want Golden Tate.

Last but by no means least in the North are the Chicago Bears. Another team who I think of hired themselves a really good head coach in Matt Nagy, who is one of the best, young offensive minds in the game and part of the hugely successful Andy Reid coaching tree.

Like the Lions, I think there’s a lot of light at the end of the tunnel for Chicago but due to the strength of the division, it will be a huge task to make the playoffs this year.

I loved the Bears draft and their free agency moves and I love that you can see how both aspects of their recruitment pieced together. They’ve given their promising, second year QB some weapons and a head coach who will give him much more freedom than his previous one and therefore we could see a big leap forward from Mitchell Trubrisky in 2018.

On the draft; Roquan Smith (once he actually signs for the Bears) will be a star for the next decade and James Daniels will be as solid a interior lineman as you will find in the NFL for the next decade, offering versatility to and adding to an already strong unit. However, anyone who has read my Twitter timeline recently will know I’ve been banging the table for Anthony Miller for a long while now and I think the Bears have got themselves a star in the making a wide receiver. Remember the name boys and girls, there are going to be a lot of people on your T.V. screens and on your podcasts who are asking how they missed this guy prior to the draft. If you’re in a dynasty league, draft Anthony Miller, stash him for a few weeks and then watch the points role in… if you’re in a league with me, ignore that part.

Chicago also have some nice players in situ. Adrian Amos and Leonard Floyd are two that immediately spring to mind who are young stars who could become stars. Then there’s the aforementioned offensive line and QB and that’s even before we mention the back field of Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard, who I will be interested to see how Nagy deploys in what will be a clever and quirky scheme.

Wow. What a division. I feel like I was positive about all four teams and really like all four teams. As I said, these divisional games are going to be must see!

Prediction:

  1. Vikings
  2. Packers
  3. Bears
  4. Lions

I’m actually sad to put the Lions fourth here and I apologise to any Detroit fans reading. It’s not a huge negative against the team it’s just down to how much I really like the other three teams.