The job of football forecasters is getting harder and harder. As teams continue to sit their stars, their veterans, their new acquisitions, and even their high-draft rookies, regular-season predictions are becoming little more than a crap shoot – which doesn’t stop forecasters from trying.
Sports Illustrated has given Green Bay fans some slight reason for optimism. The magazine a week ago issued it’s NFL forecast for 2019. In the NFL North division, SI has the Packers tabbed for second place in the division, with a 10-6 record. They think the Packers will go to the postseason as the lowest ranked of the six NFC teams, and will lose in a Wild Card game to the Vikings. SI feels the Vikes will be the top NFC North team, and will accumulate an 11-5 record.
Though the Bears finished at 12-4 a year ago, SI thinks they have regressed – they rank them last in the division, and predict they’ll finish the year with a 7-9 record. SI feels the Bears have slipped, mostly on the defense, since last year, while the other three divisional teams have all improved.
The loss of safety Adrian Amos (to the Packers) and his replacement by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (from the Packers) must have figured into their thinking.
For what it’s worth, SI predicts the Packers will have an up-and-down start to the season, but that as things progress their offense will become explosive. Here is their assessment of new head coach Matt LeFleur and the offensive schemes he will employ:
Green Bay’s unbalanced and condensed formations presnap motions, first-down play-actions and intertwined route combinations play to Rodger’s sharp football IQ while regulating his reads and timing. His lethal accuracy returns.
Defensively, SI terms Mike Pettine’s defense as boom-or-bust, but they are generally optimistic about the team’s direction:
Pettine’s approach works more often than not, thanks largely to the sterling young cover-corner duo of Kevin King and Jaire Alexander, who can be matched one-on-one against big and quick receivers, respectively.
The magazine likes the notion that Green Bay has a strong secondary, “with defenders taught to defeat their blocker first and worry about their run gap later.”
SI is especially high on “mega-athlete” defensive lineman Kenny Clark, and they believe “unheralded players Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster and Montravius Adams” will provide excellent line depth.
On August 15, ESPN published the predictions of “Forty-five writers and editors from ESPN’s NFL Nation”; that group has the Bears winning the division, but the Packers making the playoffs as a wild card team. They then compared this with something called Football Power Index, which went like this: Bears (Projected wins: 9.1), Packers (8.6), Vikings (8.5), and Lions (7.0).
Why stop there? ESPN ranked the Packers as having a 5.91% chance of going to the Super Bowl, and with a 2.62% chance of winning it all.
The Sporting News just came out with these guesses: Packers (12-4), Bears (11-5), Vikings (9-7), and Lions (5-11). Here’s the explanation they provided:
We understand the risk of picking a team that is 13-15-1 over the last two seasons, but we’re going with the Packers. Rodgers has something to prove, too. The switch to LaFleur should put Green Bay back on track in the division, one the Packers have dominated for most of the decade with five titles. If Aaron Jones stays healthy in the backfield and Rodgers relies more on the running game, then it will happen again.
On August 23, at draftkings.com, three experts predicted which teams would win each division and the two conferences. For the NFC North, the threesome were in disagreement – one picked the Bears, one the Packers, and one the Vikings; one of the three picked the Bears to go on to win the NFC conference title.
Bleacher Report back in April had the Bears and Packers finishing with identical 10-6 records, with the Vikings coming in at 9-7. In early August they updated their prognoses: Bears 11-5, Vikings 10-6, and Packers 9-7.
On August 22, Pro Football Focus published a podcast with Steve Palazzolo and Sam Munson previewing the NFC North. The feel it will be an extremely competitive three-way race, though they give the Bears the edge.
There’s a clear consensus that Green Bay will improve considerably from its 6-9-1 record last year. While many predict the Packers will slip into the playoffs, probably as a wild card team, hardly anyone sees them making a run at the championship.
As for next Thursday’s NFL season opener, The Sporting News is going with the Packers:
“If our predictions for the season play out, the result will be Green Bay topping Chicago in the NFC North. The defending division champions will have plenty to say about that as the season plays out, but in Week 1, put your money on a fresh Aaron Rodgers, with last season’s opener providing the reminder as to why. Prediction: Packers 27, Bears 23.”