NFC NORTH POWER RANKINGS- MARCH 24 2020
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Where Does Each Team In The NFC North Stand As Free Agency Opens And The Road To The Draft Begins?
Fierce, historic rivalries and ultra-passionate fan bases of teams with one combined Super Bowl win in the last 20 years--the NFC North in a nutshell.
NFC North Power Rankings:
1. Green Bay
The Lions activity in the early goings of free agency have been criticised by football pundits, due to one move in particular that publically made the team look bad--the trade of Darius Slay. Not only was the cornerback traded, but the team’s plan for a replacement at the position was the former Falcon and less effective Desmond Trufant. Slay’s departure made Lions coach Matt Patricia look like a villain in Detroit this week, due to Slay’s public criticism of his former coach, where Slay said he didn’t respect him and didn’t find it easy to play for him. Among other behind the scenes stories shared by Slay, Patricia comes out representing the Lions in a bad way moving forward.
Trufant will be in tough to not only replace Slay, but bring the Lions passing defence up to standards, after Football Outsiders ranked the team 29th overall in the category.
Ever since the Lions hired Patricia as head coach prior to the 2018 season, the team’s upper-brass has shamelessly attempted to turn the Lions into a knock-off version of the Patriots. The attempt is understandable--Matt Patricia was the defensive coordinator in New England from 2012-2017.
But the insistence of acquiring former Patriots on defence is becoming redundant and holding the Lions back. This past week, the Lions signed the following former Patriots to add to its defence:
Depth Safety, Duran Harmon
Veteran Linebacker, Jamie Collins
Defensive Tackle, Danny Shelton
The Lions started off 2019 with a 2-1-1 record, setting themselves up with an important divisional matchup with the Packers in week five. Detroit probably should have beaten Green Bay at Lambeau Field, but due to the inability to close games, the Monday Night battle became the pivotal point of the year for the Lions. After the 23-22 loss in Green Bay, Detroit only won one game the rest of the way, and became the doormats of the NFC North.
In 2020, the Lions will be in tough playing in a difficult NFC North, and time is ticking on QB Matthew Stafford. The former number one pick is now 32 years old, and will likely force the Lions to make a decision on his destiny with the team going forward sooner rather than later.
When Mitchell Trubisky started his 2019 campaign, time was bought for himself in terms of public perception due to a successful team effort in 2018. But the positivity between himself and the Chicago faithful was short lived--2019 was no season to remember for the former number two overall pick.
In a reactionary move, the Bears acquired Nick Foles from Jacksonville for a fourth round pick to provide Trubisky with some true internal competition at the quarterback position.
The defence in Chicago is still strong, despite taking a small step back from its dominance in 2018. Former Cowboys DE Robert Quinn was signed to a five-year deal worth $70 million, as he will be paired with Khalil Mack on the defensive line.
Quinn carried the Cowboys D-line in 2019 and was the team leader in almost every category, but even with a successful campaign a year ago, Quinn has not been a true force since 2013 when he was a member of the then St. Louis Rams.
On the offensive side of the field, Chicago signed washed-up tight end, Jimmy Graham--and not for cheap. Graham was inked to a two-year deal worth $16. He spent the last two seasons in Green Bay, where he only caught a combined five touchdown passes.
Graham is not the same player he was in Seattle, and after playing with quarterbacks of the likes of Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers throughout the course of his career, he will be introduced to a major downgrade in that department once his arrival is made official in Chicago.
The Bears finished 2019 with an 8-8 record, missing the playoffs after winning its division and being a Super Bowl contender in 2018. A bounce back year is expected, but the leashes will be short on both Trubisky and head coach Matt Nagy.
Foles and Trubisky’s battle for the starting job should be intriguing, but the future of the Bears head coach will be even more fascinating. The public has become restless in Chicago, and Nagy will be on the hook for it.
Kirk Cousins' first season with the Vikings in 2018 was as disappointing as first seasons come for a newly signed commodity. The lucrative deal given to Cousins was criticized (and rightfully so) by fans in Minnesota. But in 2019, the offensively explosive, and defensively steady Vikings made a return, and Cousins dodged the role of playing as a Minnesota scapegoat.
The Vikings finished 2019 with a 10-6 record and walked into New Orleans in the Wild Card Round confidently, as Cousins miraculously beat Drew Brees in a big game, something the quarterback was never trusted for doing in the past. Despite losing to the eventual NFC champions in San Francisco the following week, the season was looked at as a success. In 2020, Mike Zimmer’s squad will yet again have to battle in the highly competitive NFC, with hopes of overtaking Green Bay in its division.
Due to how tight the Vikings were against the cap prior to the start of free agency, the offseason was bound to be a busy one. CB Xavier Rhodes was released, and fellow corners Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander both left for Cincinnati. Everson Griffen was also unable to be retained due to the salary cap complications, as he remains unsigned as a free agent.
And then the big domino fell, when Stefon Diggs was officially off the roster, after being traded to Buffalo for four picks, including the 22nd overall selection in the upcoming draft. The Vikings have to view the return for Diggs as a win, considering what the Texans got in return for the better receiver in DeAndre Hopkins.
Minnesota now holds 12 picks in the 2020 NFL draft, second to Miami who owns 14.
Green Bay Packers
The Matt LaFleur experiment in 2019 was a successful one for the Packers. The first-year head coach developed rapport with Aaron Rodgers, a such coach-player relationship not seen in later years of Mike McCarthy’s tenure.
The defending NFC North champions finished 2019 with a 13-3 record, earning themselves a playoff bye and an eventual trip to the NFC championship game. Despite falling short on Championship Sunday, the expectations are sky-high in 2020--in other words, Super Bowl or bust.
Green Bay’s priority thus far has been to add another receiver to minimize the reliance the Packers have had on DeVante Adams, but to no avail. The Packers struck out on Emmanuel Sanders, who opted to play in New Orleans as well as Robby Anderson, who now makes his home in Charlotte with the Panthers.
WR options in free agency are now limited and Green Bay may have to turn to the draft, not an ideal scenario for a team who’s first choice was to add a veteran presence.
Linebacker Blake Martinez has made his home in Green Bay since 2016, but not anymore, as he is now a New York Giant. To fill the void at LB, the team signed former Brown Christian Kirksey. Former Lions offensive tackle Rick Wagner was also signed, but other than that, the Packers have been quiet.
With the loss of TE Jimmy Graham, the Packers re-signed Marcedes Lewis to temporarily occupy the spot as the full-time player at the position. The 14-year veteran who spent the first 12 seasons of his career in Jacksonville, had 15 receptions with 156 yards in 2019.
Green Bay is the best team in this division--but not by much. Expect the NFC North battles in 2020 to be as fierce as ever, but the Packers will need Aaron Rodgers to maintain his elite level play to have even the slightest chance of success. Without the stellar Rodgers and Adams connection on offence, the Packers are dead in the water. Rodgers will turn 37 years of age late in the 2020 season, as he will take every small opportunity he has to win his second Super Bowl ring.