The NFL is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams in the lead-up to kickoff on Thursday, Sept. 5.
Today, we look at best- and worst-case scenarios for the NFC North. (Teams are listed in the order in which we believe they’ll finish in the 2019 standings.)
2018 finish: 12-4, lost in wild-card game (#DoubleDoink)
Major additions: SS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, CB Buster Skrine, RB Mike Davis, third-round RB David Montgomery, WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Major subtractions: S Adrian Amos, CB Bryce Callahan, RB Jordan Howard, K Cody Parkey
Best-case scenario: The Bears’ Matt Nagy-led offence won’t catch anyone by surprise this year, but it doesn’t need to. Trubisky continues to develop thanks to a fascinating set of weapons and earns the trust of Bears fans that they’ve got their QB of the future. The defence is slow to find its footing without Vic Fangio at the helm but is rock-steady through the second half of the season. Chicago lands atop the NFC North once again, and despite lingering anxiety every time they line up to kick a field goal, the Bears are Super Bowl-bound.
Worst-case scenario: Almost all of last year’s talent on defence is still intact in Chicago, but the Bears feel the loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and it shows. Mitch Trubisky is given more responsibility under Matt Nagy’s dynamic schemes but doesn’t always look up to the task. They sneak into the wild-card game, and lose… by a field goal.
2019 prediction: 11-5, lose in NFC Championship
2018 finish: 8-7-1, missed playoffs
Major additions: G Josh Kline, DT Shamar Stephen
Major subtractions: DT Sheldon Richardson, G Mike Remmers, C Nick Easton, G Tom Compton
Best-case scenario: Kirk Cousins hit several career-highs last year, but a new offensive scheme under Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak helps the gunslinger translate that into what really matters: more wins. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs take turns starring in this show, while a healthy Dalvin Cook gets better as the season progresses and posts career-best rushing numbers. Mike Zimmer’s dominant defence stays intact. No miracles are needed this time around – this is the year that everything finally clicks.
Worst-case scenario: Cousins is good, but not great, and all Vikings fans see is the giant price tag that follows him around. An injury on offence exposes the lack of depth in the receiving core, while Zimmer’s defence dwindles as the weeks go on and limps into an early off-season for the second straight year. The Minneapolis Miracle is but a distant memory.
2019 prediction: 10-6, lose in wild-card game
2018 finish: 6-9-1, missed playoffs
Major additions: Head coach Matt LaFleur, OLB Za’Darius Smith, LB Preston Smith, S Adrian Amos, G Billy Turner, first-round draft picks LB Rashan Gary and S Darnell Savage.
Major subtractions: LB Clay Matthews, WR Randall Cobb, DT Mike Daniels, OLB Nick Perry, SS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Best-case scenario: GM Brian Gutekunst’s long-awaited free agency spending spree pays off early and often, with the newly renovated defence making life a little tougher for opponents visiting Lambeau. That also eases the pressure on Aaron Rodgers, who embraces a new playbook with Matt LaFleur as the two forge a unique coach-QB relationship that rejuvenates this offence and gets the Packers back into the playoffs – a happy Rodgers is a winning Rodgers.
Worst-case scenario: All that off-season change proves to be too much for this typically change-averse club, which struggles to strike chemistry on both sides of the ball. Injuries don’t help things. Aaron Rodgers is as talented as ever – he’s still Aaron Rodgers, after all – but trust is an issue as we witness a growing power struggle between QB and coach. Discussions of whether the Packers are wasting Rodgers’ talent dominate football panels as the team misses the playoffs for the third straight year and barrels towards an off-season with more questions than answers.
2019 prediction: 9-6-1, miss playoffs
2018 finish: 6-10, missed playoffs
Major additions: DE Trey Flowers, DT Mike Daniels, TE Jesse James, CB Justin Coleman, WR Danny Amendola, CB Rashaan Melvin, first-round pick TE T.J. Hockenson, RB C.J. Anderson
Major subtractions: G T.J. Lang, DE Ezekiel Ansah, CB Nevin Lawson, S Glover Quin
Best-case scenario: Defence in Detroit? Definitely. After years of mediocrity, the Lions have build a defensive line that won’t fly under the radar for long. Second-year head coach Matt Patricia has the tools in place to build a defensive foundation as well as something this franchise hasn’t had for a while: an identity. Playoffs? Not yet. But is that optimism we sense?
Worst-case scenario: Patricia’s plan to build a strong team through defence works, sort of. The problem is, the offence can’t hold up its end of the bargain. Matthew Stafford’s 2018 back injury haunts him for much of the upcoming campaign, the Lions remain at the bottom of the division, and a restless fanbase questions if Patricia is the right man for the job.
2019 prediction: 6-10, again