Every NFL team hopes to win their division. It is the most clear-cut way to not only secure a playoff spot, but also a playoff home game. The Minnesota Vikings are no different. If they want to succeed in 2020, the Vikings will likely need to assert themselves as the best team in the NFC North.
In this three-part series, we offer an NFC North preview by looking at the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and Green Bay Packers to offer a brief analysis of notable changes, the draft, and team strengths & weaknesses. We begin with the Chicago Bears.
Notable Additions and Subtractions
- Ted Ginn (WR)
- Tashaun Gipson (S)
- Robert Quinn (EDGE)
- Germain Ifedi (OL)
- Nick Foles (QB)
- Jimmy Graham (TE)
The Jimmy Graham deal is in the running for the worst of the offseason. It’s been several years since he’s been a true difference-maker, but GM Ryan Pace thought it best to sign Graham to a 2-year, $16 million contract.
No matter what he does on the field for the remainder of his career, Foles should always be remembered as a success. His postseason run in 2018 – one that ended the Vikings’ chance of getting to a Super Bowl – is among the great moments in league history. That being said, Foles has never been a consistently strong regular season player.
Quinn, who is 30, signed a 5-year, $70 million deal, according to Over the Cap. It includes $30 million fully guaranteed. One wonders how this deal will look in a year or two. Pro Football Focus gives Quinn a considerably stronger grade on his pass rush abilities than his run defense. In the past couple seasons, Quinn has been an above average edge defender, according to PFF.
- Trey Burton (TE)
- Leonard Floyd (LB)
- Prince Amukamara (C)
- Taylor Gabriel (WR)
The biggest losses here are Floyd and Amukamara. Both are above average players on defense. Floyd has tremendous length and speed, traits that created issues for the Vikings. Pro Football Focus ranks him as their 41st best edge defender from the 2019 season. Amukamara was also solid. PFF ranked Amukamara 45th overall. For context, Trae Waynes finished 48th, Mike Hughes finished 78th, and Xavier Rhodes finished 109th. Amukamara usually ranks somewhere in the 30s or 40s in PFF’s rankings, but he did finish 9th overall in 2018.
It will be interesting to see if the Bears can overcome these losses or if their defense will have some exploitable weaknesses. Quite often, defenses succeed because there are no clear weaknesses. It’s fairly easy for coaches to scheme around a few elite players (though they do create issues), so the key often rests in raising the entire unit’s floor.
Unlike Rick Spielman, Pace doesn’t do a great job of accumulating picks. The Bears chose seven players in the 2020 draft, consisting of two second-round picks, three fifth-round picks, and two seventh-round picks. The Vikings, in contrast, had chosen seven players by the end of the fourth round.
The most notable players from Chicago’s draft are tight end Cole Kmet and corner Jaylon Johnson.
Kmet was chosen 43rd overall. He has great size. It will be interesting to see if Trubisky and/or Foles will be able get the ball to Graham and Kmet. Outside of Allen Robinson, the Bears don’t have great options in the passing game.
Johnson should slot into Amukamara’s position in the starting lineup. Chosen 50th overall, Johnson has upside, but there are issues with some chronic shoulder injuries. Expect NFC North quarterbacks to test Johnson early and often.
Strengths and Weaknesses
One could easily oversimplify this category to simply say that the defense is strong and the offense is weak, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The defense is indeed among the best in the league. It’s not just Khalil Mack, who is an absolute stud when he wants to be. Akiem Hicks struggled with injuries last year; when he is healthy, Hicks overwhelms Minnesota’s interior offensive linemen. Roquan Smith, the 8th overall pick from the 2018 draft, hasn’t lived up to expectations so far, but still deserves respect. Kyle Fuller took a step back last season, according to PFF, but he did finish as their 7th best corner in 2018.
On offense, Allen Robinson is a legitimate weapon. There’s a good chance that the Vikings’ young corners will have a difficult time matching up on Robinson. He finished last season with 98 receptions, 1147 yards, and 7 TDs. Otherwise, the Bears’ offense isn’t that impressive. There are some obvious concerns at QB, and Graham’s contract is awful. Their o-line is below average, ranking 22nd overall in PFF’s offensive line rankings (one spot ahead of the Vikings).
Position in the North
If everything goes right, the Bears can win the division.
They have top-level talent on defense. It’s arguable that Ryan Pace gave up too much to acquire Mack, but no one can question Mack’s ability. When he is on, Mack is among the most formidable players in the NFL. Even though he gets most of the headlines, the Bears defense has plenty of elite talent elsewhere.
Not altogether unlike the Vikings, though, the Bears have a fairly large range of outcomes. If everything goes wrong, they’re an average team.
It’s astonishing to think that Patrick Mahomes could have been a Bear; instead, they have Trubisky. If Foles can step up, the Bears will not only have a competent offense, they’ll be really tough to beat.
In next week’s NFC North preview, we’ll consider the Detroit Lions.