Will All Four NFC North Teams Finish .500 or Better?
With a month to go before the NFL Draft, it’s a bit early to predict the final standings – but with the fireworks of free agency mostly concluded, it appears the two division teams with the worst records – Green Bay went 6-9-1 and Detroit was 6-10 – have upgraded the most. According to many, the two teams with the best records in 2018 failed to improve or went backwards.
Sporting News just ranked every NFL team on its signings and trades so far in 2019. Four teams received “A” grades (in order): Browns, Packers, Jets, and Raiders.
The Saints and 49ers were given a grade of A-. Getting B grades were: Ravens, Jags, Dolphins, and Patriots.
Skipping down to the seven B- teams, the Lions were the last one, leaving them ranked nineteenth overall.
Six teams were given a grade of C: the Bears came in at 22nd overall, while the Vikings came in last, and least, of the NFC North teams, at 25th overall.
For the Win, a USA Today product, on March 19 handed out its “best and worst of the offseason (so far)” awards. The Packers earned the “team that did too much” tag. Here’s their reasoning:
We get it: New GM Brian Gutekunst isn’t Ted Thompson, the former Packers front office man who notoriously stayed out of free agency much to the chagrin of spoiled Packers fans. But Gutekunst did too much. The Adrian Amos signing was a smart one, but then he went ahead and overpaid for the Smiths, Preston and Za’Darius, before deciding that underwhelming guard Billy Turner was worth a long-term investment. I’m sure fans in Green Bay are happy to be in on the free agency fun, but it won’t last very long.
TouchdownWIRE, another USA Today feature, presented its 2019 power rankings just after the first week of free agency. I had to click through the list, 32 times, worst to first. Detroit was 22nd, Vikes 20th, Packers 15th, and Bears 5th. The top four were the Pats, Saints, Rams, and Chargers.
NBC Sports recently picked its winners and losers from the 2019 offseason in this way: Browns, Jets, and Packers were winners, and Giants, Chiefs, and Rams were losers.
SB Nation decided to grade major individual signings of free agents and trades. Regarding the NFC North teams:
Bears Signing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – A (short term) TBD (long term)
Vikings re-sign LB Anthony Barr – A
Packers sign OL Billy Turner – B
Packers sign LB Preston Smith – A (short term), B+ (long term)
Packers sign S Adrian Amos – B
Packers sign LB Za’Darius Smith – B- (short term), C+ (long term)
Lions sign DE Trey Flowers – B
Lions sign WR Danny Amendola – B- (short term), C- (long term)
There’s a fair division of opinion here – and I couldn’t come up with ratings by some of the more respected prognosticators. I know that one respected source rated the Lions in its highest tier of FA signings, and the Packers next highest, but I can’t remember who that was. I’ll just go with my gut.
I believe the Bears got lucky with only five players put on the IR list last season. If they have an average number of serious injuries in 2019, I feel that will drop them to either 10-6 or 9-7. Additionally, they lost two valuable defensive backs in Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos – and we know DBs are hard to replace.
The Vikings wound up 8-7-1 last season, and they’ve basically held pat during the FA season. I see no reason for them to markedly change, so I foresee either an 8-8 or 9-7 season for them.
The Lions appear to have made some appreciable gains in free agency. Maybe Trey Flowers will raise the team up as Kahlil Mack did the Bears last season. I would guess they’ll finish either 8-8 or 9-7.
Our beloved Packers underperformed last year. Even though Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine received praise almost uniformly, he couldn’t keep patching up the secondary every time another DB limped off the field. The Packers’ edge rush was almost non-existent in 2018 – which won’t be the case this season. I’m also looking for Coach Matt LaFleur to reinvigorate two-time league MVP Rodgers. I look for our guys to reverse the wins and losses, to either 9-7 or 10-6.
If these forecasts are close, it would indeed mean that all four of the teams in the division will indeed finish with at least a .500 record – and that 10-6, or even 9-7, will be enough to win the division. Parity!
Things might change when the draft takes place, but at this early juncture I think the NFC North could well end up being a four-horse photo finish. I don’t see any team being out of the running by, say, Week 14, nor do I see any team clinching the division prior to Week 15. It’s likely they’ll be two, or even three, teams vying for the top spot in the division going into the final week of the regular season.
Waddya think: no great teams in the division, but no patsies either?