Brian Gutekunst has done a lot to improve the Green Bay Packers in this crucial offseason. A brand-new head coach, significant free agents who are young, healthy, and in their prime, and an athletically gifted draft class (including two first round picks) should help the Packers retake the North. But their rivals haven’t been idle. What has the NFL North done to prepare for the 2019 season, and how will the Packers fare against them?
2018 record: 12-4 (1st NFC North)
Key departures: DC Vic Fangio (Broncos HC), S Adrian Amos (Packers), CB Bryce Callahan (Broncos), RB Jordan Howard (Eagles), K Cody Parkey
Key acquisitions: DC Chuck Pagano, S HaHa Clinton-Dix, CB Buster Skrine, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, RB Mike Davis
Top draft picks: RB David Montgomery, WR Riley Ridley
Summary: The Bears lost more than they gained this offseason. The loss of Vic Fangio is huge. Fangio is one of the best DCs in the league and it wasn’t surprising to see him finally get a head coaching opportunity. Pagano is well-respected around the league and had HC interviews (including with the Packers), but he has big shoes to fill. Despite what Bears fans on Twitter say, Amos to Clinton-Dix is a downgrade. In addition, the Bears were the third-healthiest team by adjusted games lost. All factors considered, the Bears are a primary regression candidate, but Chicago will likely still field one of the best defenses in the NFC.
The offense depends on Trubisky. Nothing has suggested he’s the reason the team can win games, but he’s still young and now has two offseasons with Matt Nagy. This year will be crucial in determining whether or not he’s the future of the team. Trubisky being an MVP betting favorite is absolutely baffling.
Kicker is currently an ongoing struggle, and the team won’t let the double-doink die.
Prediction against the Packers: Split. Going into Chicago with a new, untested offense is a tall order, and we don’t know how fast the Packers’ offense can click. Right now I expect each team to win at home.
2018 record: 6-10 (4th NFC North)
Key departures: DE Ezekiel Ansah (Seahawks), CB Nevin Lawson (Raiders)
Key acquisitions: OC Darrell Bevell, DE Trey Flowers, RB C.J. Anderson, WR Danny Amendola, TE Jesse James, CB Justin Coleman
Top draft picks: TE T.J. Hockenson, LB Jahlani Tavai
Summary: Matt Patricia’s first year as head coach was a disappointing one, despite upsetting his old team, the New England Patriots, in Week 3. Fortunately for them, the Lions got important snaps from young players, including finally finding their franchise running back in Kerryon Johnson. Kenny Golladay proved himself a reliable target for the underrated Matt Stafford, making it easier for the team to trade Golden Tate. The Lions revamped their tight end group with T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James. New OC Darrell Bevell has deep playoff experience, including as a Super Bowl Champion, but also called one of the worst plays in Super Bowl history.
Patricia has familiarity with Trey Flowers, who will be a cornerstone as Patricia makes the defense his. Darius Slay is the best CB in the division, but his contract extension is a looming threat. Tavai was a surprising pick in the second round. The Lions did a lot to make themselves relevant and keep up with the rest of the division, but I’m not convinced it’ll be enough to escape the basement of the NFC North.
Prediction against the Packers: Packers 2-0. As bad as the Lions were last year, they embarrassed the Packers and have been an odd thorn in the Packers’ side these last few seasons. Expect that to change with a galvanized offense.
2018 record: 8-7-1 (2nd NFC North)
Key departures: DT Sheldon Richardson (Browns), C Nick Easton (Saints), RB Latavius Murray (Saints), S Andrew Sendejo (Eagles), S George Iloka (Cowboys), CB Marcus Sherels (Saints)
Key acquisitions: Offensive coach Gary Kubiak, QB Sean Mannion, G Josh Kline, DT Shamar Stephen
Top draft picks: OL Garrett Bradbury, TE Irv Smith Jr.
Summary: The Vikings kept more of their free agent players than expected, including Anthony Barr, Kyle Rudolph, and Everson Griffen and were still able to extend Adam Thielen. I have no idea how the salary cap actually works. Speaking of money, paying Kirk Cousins a guaranteed zillion dollars didn’t look great after year one.
Cousins never seemed to click, and the offense struggled between Mike Zimmer and former OC John DeFlippio’s disagreements. The offense should have more cohesion this year between new OC Kevin Stefanski and associate head coach/offensive assistant Gary Kubiak. Minnesota’s offensive line should be much better, though depth is still a question mark. The Vikings kept their dynamic offensive players and added Irv Smith Jr., one of the best tight ends in this draft class. The offense has tons of talent but relies on Kirk Cousin’s wavering arm.
The defense managed to keep most of its core players and remains a force to be reckoned with. Barr’s decision to resign with the team after agreeing to terms with the Jets is a massive boon for the unit. This defense was a dominant force two seasons ago and has the pieces to do so again.
Prediction against the Packers: Split. The Packers defense is vastly reinforced with talent and was an atrocious call away from beating the Vikings in Week 2 last year. Even with the game being early in the season, the Packers offense should click enough to beat the Vikings at Lambeau. The Packers have yet to win at the Vikings new stadium, however, and a sweep seems difficult.
Overall: Detroit, Green Bay, and Minnesota had productive offseasons, while Chicago appears to have lost more than they gained. Minnesota and Chicago have largely complete rosters, but quarterback remains a question mark. The Bears, Packers, and Vikings all have viable claims to be King of the North, with the Lions lagging behind until proven otherwise.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.