The NFC North looks set to be the tightest division in the NFL in 2019. The Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings all have serious – and realistic – playoff ambitions, while the Detroit Lions are still in contention, having picked up six wins in 2018.
It was a quiet offseason in the Windy City, with their first two draft selections owed to other teams after the Mack and Anthony Miller trades last summer. Continuity has its own, admittedly unquantifiable, value, however. The Bears won 12 regular season games in 2018 and will come into the 2019 campaign full of confidence they can win the division again, particularly if Mitchell Trubisky takes a much-needed step forward.
There’s nothing immediately suggesting that Trubisky will regress or that the Bears’ defence will be incapable of replicating its 2018 dominance. For those backing the Bears to again reign supreme, there are plenty of online options for placing bets that say the NFC North is theirs to lose. However, it’s telling that they’re only slight favourites over their two rivals west of Chicago.
So don’t be surprised to see the race for the division go down the final weekend. The tone for the season, though, could be set when the Packers and Bears meet in week one as the post-Mike McCarthy era begins in Green Bay and Chicago look to build on their disappointing playoff exit earlier this year. The contest of Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks against Aaron Rodgers is always doing to be box office – even more so in a division that will be fiercely competitive.
Matt La Fleur, the former offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, has succeeded McCarthy as the Packers’ signal caller. His relationship with Rodgers will be crucial. Green Bay prioritised defence in the draft, and understandably so. Will they have enough weapons for Rodgers to guide them back to the postseason?
The Vikings’ offseason was about protecting their most valuable asset, Kirk Cousins. Garrett Bradbury and Josh Kline were brought in to improve the offensive line, after the veteran quarterback was bombarded throughout the 2018 regular season. Their talent isn’t in question, but there are doubts about Cousins’ ability to lead the team to a deep playoff run. Whether those doubts are fair or not is up for debate.
In Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, they have two stars who can make game-changing plays on defence. In Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Cousins has two of the most consistent offensive options in the league. Don’t write off the Vikings this season, even if the attention will be on the Bears’ terrifying defence and the Rodgers soap opera.
Detroit made one of the moves of the offseason, adding Trey Flowers from the New England Patriots in free agency. CBS Sports graded the Lions as having the best offseason in the NFC North, thanks to making upgrades across the roster without significant cost financially or in draft picks. Veteran Jesse James provides a solid option at tight end, while TJ Hockenson, who was their first-round pick, has a limitless ceiling and could quickly become a major contributor offensively.
It’s going to be a battle for supremacy in the NFC North this year. There’s uncertainty in Green Bay and Minnesota, Chicago are running it back, and Detroit could be sneakily good after a shrewd offseason.