Cleat Geeks

2018 Division Rankings | NFC North

Whoa. This is strange. It feels like ages since I sat here writing an article about the best sport in the whole entire world. The NFL. My last article was prior to Free Agency, which seems as it was a lifetime ago, life has got in the way, doing my best impression of a law student got in the way, but I’m back, and the season is THAT much closer. Still, not close enough. Talking of the season, this is where we start, these set of articles will attempt to predict the 2018 division rankings for all 8 divisions in the NFL. The first division we will start with is one of the best divisions in all of football. The NFC North.

  1. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (11-5)

I believe that the Vikings are the best team in this division, if not in all of football. We saw the quality of this team last year, with Case Keenum, Case freaking Keenum, who we all seem to forget was a pile of garbage prior to last year. This off-season, they only got better, they signed Kirk Cousins to a monster deal, upgrade, they went and got Sheldon Richardson for much needed defensive line depth, upgrade. They went and drafted Mike Hughes in the first round, upgrade over 40-year-old Terrance Newman, but you know all of this.

I would be amiss to not talk about defense with the Vikings, despite the Cousins signing, this is how they are going to win games. Last year, they ranked 1st in points allowed (15.8), 1st in total yards allowed (275.9) and as I mentioned earlier they only got better. What stopped them from getting to the promised land last year was depth, especially along the defensive line, Everson Griffen and newly signed Danielle Hunter, were on the field for nearly 80% of the defensive snaps, (79.4% and 77.5% respectively), that is too much. Fixing this was an obvious focus going into the off-season, and with players like Sheldon Richardson and rookie Jalyn Holmes being added, it seems they have found somewhat of a solution. Add linebackers, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr into the mix, the Vikings post possibly, the most dominant front 7 in all of football.

So we know that their defence is pretty damn sexy, but what about their offence? If Kirk Cousins is the guy we all expect and want him to be then this team can be the real deal. We saw from Cousins when he had weapons galore in Washington, that he was a consensus top-10 quarterback, throwing for over 5,000 yards. The weapons he has in Minnesota rival, if not trump what he had then, Adam Thielen, Steffon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, Dalvin Cook, and even Kendall Wright, who has shown flashes throughout a rather disappointing career. It is all there for Minnesota and I have full confidence that they will be battling for a place in Superbowl by seasons end.

  1. GREEN BAY PACKERS (10-6)

Green Bay, despite having Aaron Rodgers, has been thrown to the dogs and almost forgotten about as one of the better teams in the NFL. Hello people, Aaron Rodgers!! Any team with Aaron Rodgers should always be a favorite, and I think it says more about the talent of the Vikings that I haven’t put the Packers at 1. This off-season has proven to be a very interesting and unprecedented off-season for the Packers, they parted ways with Jordy Nelson who had a telepathic communication with Rodgers, but perhaps most unusual they were active in Free Agency and in moving up and down the draft.

Obviously, the Packers identity is and has been for a long time, offensive supremacy, with Brett Favre and now Aaron Rodgers. The offensive line is always good, Bakhtiari is a criminally underrated Left Tackle, Davante Adams seems like he is always good for 10 touchdowns a year at receiver and they acquired Jimmy Graham, who isn’t the player he was in New Orleans, but will gain a vast amount of redzone targets, he had 42 targets in the redzone last year, 42!! With Jordy gone, I would not be surprised to see that number of targets again for Graham. The most intriguing thing about the Packers offence this year, is their running back situation, Ty Montgomery, Jamal Williams and Aaron Jones. We know what Montgomery is, a band-aid at best, with the ability to catch the ball, because, you know, converted wide receiver and all. Jamal Williams, is okay, does the job, but Aaron Jones is the one for me, if he can stay healthy, I think he will be the lead back, he has the ability to make defenders miss and has that big play ability that will only help this offence.

The issue last year for the Packers, outside of the Rodgers injury was the inadequacy and ineptitude of the defense, especially in the secondary. Free Agency, saw Mohammed Wilkerson and Tramon Williams come in, Wilkerson obviously being the better of the picks, although Williams was not awful last year. With Wilkerson, the Packers have quietly one of the best interior defensive lines in all of football, with Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, both have PFF grades north of 87. But, as I mentioned it was the defensive secondary that was a mess last year, but this year it is unrecognizable. They drafted Jaire Alexander in the first round, who was regarded as the best corner in the draft not named Denzel Ward. Plus, they got a steal in the second round in Josh Jackson, who consistently drew comparisons to Marcus Peters. Not to mention they managed to gain an extra pick in the 1st round next year!! So this Packers team is scary and if they can avoid the injury bug, then I think they will be an under the radar candidate to make a deep playoff run.

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  1. DETROIT LIONS (9-7)

This team confuses me, I don’t know what to think of them, for the last 3 or 4 years they have been hyped to make the leap to being one of the better teams in the league and have never quite managed it. Without Matt Stafford and his affinity to win games in the last 10 seconds, this teams could be one of the worst teams in the league. With this being said, again, I think I am ready to jump on some kind of bandwagon for the Lions and think they could make some noise in the NFC wildcard race.

It seemed as if the Lions had one plan this off-season and that was to run the football, drafting Frank Ragnow and Kerryon Johnson in back to back rounds and picking up LaGarrete Blount in Free Agency. Combine this with a much improved offensive line compared to that of a couple of seasons ago, promising running back Ameer Abdullah and arguably the best receiving back in football, Theo Riddick, the elusive 100-yard rusher may happen for the Lions. More should be made of this offensive line it is stacked, like seriously stacked. Alongside, Matt Stafford continues to improve and make a case to be a top-5 quarterback in the league, with a very deep receiving corps, including the likes of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. One thing is for sure is that the Lions offence could be one of the best in the league, and I think their best chance to win is to play ball control offence and not have their defense on the field at all, akin to the 2015 Cowboys. The love I have for the Lions offensive potential is the exact opposite feeling I have for their defense.

The defensive depth chart is a hard read, outside of Darius Slay there is no one of note, and this is reflected in being the 21st ranked defense in 2017. Ziggy Ansah has always been poised to be one of the better pass rushers, but can’t, either stay healthy or even consistent, 12 sacks last year but only 2 the year before that. The fact that he was only franchise tagged, with the lack of talent the Lions have on defense speaks volumes. Previously undrafted rookie Kerry Hyder was a nice find, but missed all of last year with a torn achilles… so who knows what he will be. As I said it’s ‘Big Play’ Slay or no one, so ultimately, I think this team only goes as far as their defense takes them, and a 9-7 record suggests this. Give them another off-season with a dominant 2019 defensive draft and I think they could make some waves next year.

  1. CHICAGO BEARS (6-10)

Wow. This team was a hard watch last year, a really hard watch. Mitch Trubisky might as well have been in shorts… there was a 3 week stretch of games where he completed 24 passes, 24, in 3 weeks!! But the Chicago Bears wiped the slate clean, started again and had one of the busiest off-season of any team in the league. They signed promising young Head Coach Matt Nagy, brought in talent on the offensive side of the ball, with the likes of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. Plus, had one of the better drafts according to a multitude of draft experts, snagging, Anthony Miller, a polished route runner at receiver, Roquan Smith a game-changing linebacker and James Daniels one of the most technically sound interior offensive lineman in the draft. This acquisition of talent has culminated in the Bears being one of the biggest off-season darlings and has analysts gawking over their potential.

But, I’m here to pump the brakes. Not because I don’t think they are going to be much improved, or even….. good because I do… eventually, just not this year. First, let’s start with their offence a lot revolves around Mitch Trubisky, but he was bad last year, but you know, weapons… that whole argument. It’s the offensive line that is still a concern to me, Charles Leno and Bobby Massie are as bad a bookend of tackles as you can get in the league, in a division with the like of the Vikings. Whilst the interior offensive line is dominant, it makes you think that they will just run the ball, but hold on that not may be so easy. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are an exciting duo, but they are a little hit or miss, a little boom or bust. Jordan Howard, every time he had a 100-yard game, would follow it up with a dud of a performance. Take a look at this:

  • Week 3 vs Steelers – 140 yards, 6.1 YPC
  • Week 4 vs Packers – 53 yards, 2.9 YPC
  • Week 6 vs Ravens – 167 yards, 4.6 YPC
  • Week 7 vs Carolina – 65 yards, 3.1 YPC
  • Week 11 vs Lions – 125 yards, 8.3 YPC
  • Week 12 vs Eagles – 7 yards, 0.9 YPC

This inconsistency is not going to help Mitch, everyone knows the best way to develop a guy is to have a strong, consistent running game, it’s a time-tested theory.

On the defensive side of the ball, again exciting, but young, inexperienced, inconsistent and have major health concerns. The defensive interior is stout, the pass rush is unproven and inconsistent, Aaron Lynch was great his first couple seasons in the league with the 9ers but has taken a major step back and Leonard Floyd has been unable to stay on the field, but there is still upside there. I REALLY like Roquan Smith and he is an immediate DROY candidate. Secondary is young, Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos have the potential to be the best safety tandem in the league, Kyle Fuller broke out last year, but depth is an issue, especially with an injury history. I like this team, but it’s a tough division, so, for now, they still bring up the rear, but one more year, another busy, productive offseason and this could be one of the better teams in the league.

Well, that wraps it up for the NFC North division rankings, I hope you enjoyed it! I have actually recorded a podcast going into even more detail, including a deep dive into the schedules for each and every team in the league, so go check that out on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Google Podcast, just search The Football Murmurs Podcast. Also, you can follow us on Twitter and Instagram @TheFMPod, I would love to hear from you all and I’ll see you next time.

 

 

 

 

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