AROUND THE NFL

2019 NFL Preview: NFC North

Khalil Mack Chicago Bears

A newly-improved Green Bay squad will look to knock off the reigning NFC North champs.

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Phelps/AP

After being one of the least competitive divisions in football last season, the NFC North might be one of the tightest in 2019. The 12-4 Chicago Bears ran away with the division; led by a suffocating defense, they finished 3.5 games over the Minnesota Vikings while an injury-riddled Green Bay Packers team finished under .500. All three teams enter 2019 expecting a playoff berth while the Detroit Lions should lag behind.

Chicago Bears 10-6 (4-2 Division)

Key Additions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Riley Ridley, Mike Davis, Buster Skrine

Key Losses: Jordan Howard, Adrian Amos

A missed field goal cost the Bears an NFC Divisional Round appearance last season and, despite plenty of controversy, the team still hasn’t figured out its kicking situation. It shouldn’t matter too much in the regular season as they still have one of the league’s best defenses. Chicago allowed the fewest points, third-fewest yards, and forced the most turnovers in the NFL in 2018. With an insane linebacker group comprised oh Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, and Leonard Floyd, the Bears’ defense should have similar success to last season, though the turnover numbers will likely regress a bit.

The offense is where there are some question marks. Mitchell Trubisky hasn’t shown much more promise than simply being a game manager to complement the elite defense. The receiving corps is pretty lackluster, led by Allen Robinson who had just 754 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games last season. Most of the action will come on the ground with Tarik Cohen (a breakout receiving back), Mike Davis, and rookie David Montgomery.

Green Bay Packers 10-6 (4-2 Division)

Key Additions: Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary, Adrian Amos, Billy Turner, Darnell Savage

Key Losses: Randall Cobb, Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry

Green Bay’s ugly 6-9-1 campaign was their worst since going 6-10 in 2008, Aaron Rodgers’ first season as the team’s full-time quarterback. He clearly wasn’t healthy for most of last season and his poor offensive line didn’t do him any favors. Now, with Matt LeFleur replacing Mike McCarthy (and last year’s interim coach Joe Philbin) at head coach, running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones should have a bigger role in the offense, taking some pressure off Rodgers and the thin receiving group led by scoring-machine Davante Adams.

The Packers made the defensive front-seven a priority this offseason, drafting Rashan Gary out of Michigan as well as signing linebackers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith. If young corners Kevin King and Jaire Alexander can take a step up, Green Bay’s defense should greatly improve after years of mediocrity. However, will it be enough to keep up with the Bears without Mike Daniels clogging things up at the front?

Adam Thielen Minnesota Vikings
Does Minnesota have the best receiving duo in the NFL with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs? (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Minnesota Vikings 9-7 (3-3 Division)

Key Additions: Garrett Bradbury, Josh Kline, Irv Smith Jr., Kaare Vedvik

Key Losses: Sheldon Richardson, Andrew Sendejo, Latavius Murray, Tom Compton, George Iloka

Despite catching a lot of hate recently, Kirk Cousins is actually coming off a fairly successful first season with the Vikings; he threw for nearly 4,300 yards with a 70.1 completion percentage and a 30:10 TD:INT. It makes things easier with one of the league’s best wide receiver duos in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. The offseason additions of Garrett Bradbury and Josh Kline should make a huge difference for the offensive line and a healthy Dalvin Cook in the backfield. If everything goes as planned, Minnesota’s offense won’t have an issue finishing better than 19th in scoring where they finished last season.

The defense, one that finished top-10 in points allowed and top-five in yards allowed, is essentially identical heading into 2019. Thanks to an elite secondary duo of Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes, the Vikings also gave up the third-fewest passing yards and fewest passing touchdowns; expect more of the same from that group this season. With Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter giving offensive linemen nightmares, Minnesota can contend in this division based on defense alone.

Detroit Lions 5-11 (1-5 Division)

Key Additions: Trey Flowers, Mike Daniels, T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Danny Amendola, Justin Coleman, C.J. Anderson

Key Losses: LeGarrette Blount, T.J. Lang, Glover Quin, Theo Riddick

Finally, there’s Detroit. If this team comes remotely close to competing it would be a miracle. The offense should be decent if Matthew Stafford can pull out a turnaround performance after a few disappointing seasons. The Lions return their full offensive line (aside from T.J. Lang, who missed 10 games anyway) that was worse than league-average overall, but Kerryon Johnson and C.J. Anderson make an intriguing combination in the backfield. They also revamped the tight end group by drafting T.J. Hockenson and signing Jesse James to a big contract. Danny Amendola also gives them some insurance at receiver.

The defense was also pretty average last season but the additions of Trey Flowers and Mike Daniels on the defensive line should give the unit a nice boost. Darius Slay remains one of the game’s best corners and will line up opposite Justin Coleman; the 26-year-old was signed this offseason after playing all 32 games with the Seattle Seahawks over the last two years, though he started just 10 of those. If he can’t handle the bigger role in Detroit, the defense could quickly get picked apart over the top.

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