2019 NFC NORTH PREVIEW
By Marc Lawrence
Welcome to the 2019 NFL North division preview, with excerpts from the 2019 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine.
In addition to the previews outlined below, these interesting scheduling statistical notes merit consideration, compliments of the 2019 MTI Regular Season NFL Win Report:
Chicago – Bears … had 8 wire-to-wire wins last year … had played ‘under’ its regular-season win total 5 consecutive years until last season … +12 net turnovers in 2018 regular season.
Detroit – Lions … suffered 6 double-digit losses last year … will face 4 opponents with a Thursday game on deck this season … +5 net turnovers in 2018 regular season.
Green Bay – Packers will face zero opponents coming off a Monday night game this season … 0 net turnovers in 2018 regular season.
Minnesota – Vikings … had 5 wire-to-wire wins last season but suffered 6 wire-to-wire losses last year … 0 net turnovers in 2018 regular season.
TEAM THEME: DOUBLE DOINK
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9 (over -120)
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 134
As it should be, the NFL will open the regular season – the 100th in its history – on September 5 with the 199th meeting between the Packers and the Bears at Soldier Field. For loyal Chicago fans, the best news out of the NFL draft for the Bears is likely a player they never drafted but signed afterward. He’s Emmit Carpenter, said to be the greatest kicker in Minnesota Gophers school history. Hopefully, he can lay to rest the nightmares caused when PK Cody Parkey hit the goal post twice on the final play of the game in a cruel 16-15 playoff loss to Philadelphia. The one-and-done was especially difficult to swallow given the fact that it was the first time since 2011 that two teams (the Chargers the other) finished the regular season with 12 wins, yet had to play in a Wild Card game. Still, behind a suffocating defense that forced 36 takeaways, rookie head coach Matt Nagy made a smashing debut as the Bears won the NFC North en route to a 12-win campaign, the most since 2006, which was also the last time Chicago repeated as NFC North champions. It will be imperative for the Bears to come out of their cave with fervor as four of their first five games are against teams that owned losing records last season. Facing three foes playing in the second of back-to-back away games should help as well.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Chicago is 17-6 ATS at home all-time versus AFC West opponents, including 17-3 ATS when not favored by more than 7 points.
PLAY ON: at Philadelphia (11/3)
INSIDE THE STATS: The Bears scored the 4th highest amount of points in 2018 in franchise history.
TEAM THEME: FAMILY REUNION
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 6.5 (over -130)
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 129.5
For a team that was outgained in 11 of its 16 games under rookie HC Matt Patricia, a 6-10 SU and 9-7 ATS record might be deemed as acceptable. The key number in those stats, though, is the fact four of the Lions’ five ITS wins came against opponents that all finished the season with losing records, going 23-40-1 combined on the year. What it tells us is Detroit needs to roll up its sleeves and go toe-to-toe against winning teams if it wishes to become a winning team itself. Understand the defense is not a concern as it actually improved both overall and scoring despite the fall from 9 wins to 6. It’s time for QB Matthew Stafford to step up and earn the megabucks contract that he inked two years ago. The Lions will take on the cushiest non-division strength of schedule foes in 2019 (foes 73.5 projected wins), as well as tackling 4 foes with a Thursday game on tap – the most in the league. This offseason, the Lions already have added several players who played with or for Patricia in New England, including Trey Flowers, Danny Amendola, and Justin Coleman. Those players have an inherent knowledge of Patricia’s expectations, making them natural fits in Detroit. Should TE T.J. Hockenson live up to his billing, Stafford just may stand and deliver – provided he can overcome a tough home slate that features four playoff teams, along with the Packers and Vikings.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Detroit has never won the NFC North division. Its last division crown – the NFC Central – was 26 years ago.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Minnesota (10/20)
INSIDE THE STATS: The Lions have held 72 of their last 91 opponents to under 400 yards of offense.
Green Bay Packers
TEAM THEME: DAIRYLAND EXPRESS
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 129
The egg on Aaron Rodgers’ face is not a good look. The elite signal-caller suffered only his second losing season last year (the other his first season as a starter in 2006). In addition, Green Bay endured its second losing year in a row for the first time since 1991 as Rogers played through a myriad of injuries for the second straight year. After signing a record-setting $134M contract extension in 2018, it’s a hard pill to swallow for the future Hall of Famer. The Packer brass hit free agency and the draft hard this offseason, shoring up the defense (the line in particular). The biggest change this season, though, will be on offense where new head coach Matt LaFleur brings an offensive mindset. In contrast, the Chicago Bears turned themselves into standard bearers in the NFC North with a ferocious defense, and just enough offense, under rookie coach Matt Nagy last season. LaFleur’s first job as Packers coach will be to shift the balance of power three hours north. A former offensive coordinator with the Titans last year and the Rams in 2017, LaFleur will likely call the plays, duties Rodgers resisted turning over to former boss Mike McCarthy. In order for the egg to be eradicated, it will be critically important for the two of them to be on the same page. Because, after all, Brett Favre never missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: QB Aaron Rodgers is 15-3 SUATS in division games when the Packers are coming off a SUATS loss.
PLAY ON: vs. Detroit (10/14) – *KEY
INSIDE THE STATS: The Packers are 10-26 ITS in their last 36 away games.
TEAM THEME: THE YIN AND YANG OF IT
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9 (under -120)
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 130
As it turned out, Kirk Cousins was not the missing link to Minnesota’s mystery. Coming off an 8-7-1 effort last season, the Vikings have now missed the playoffs twice in the last three seasons, winning only eight games both years. With it, Minny’s stats were down across the board on both sides of the ball in scoring and total yards in 2018. It doesn’t figure to sit well with Mike Zimmer who, despite last year’s shortcomings, is still the best spread-beating coach in the loop. That’s confirmed by his sterling 52-28-3 ATS record overall, including 37-14-2 ATS in non-division battles. It towers over QB Kirk Cousins’ losing record as a starter (34-38-1 SU) in this league. And therein lies the rub. Can Zimmer elevate Cousins, or will Cousins bring Coach Zim down to his level? What we do know is the Vikes will face a brutal stretch of away games the second half of the season, all against teams that made the playoffs in 2018. They will also need to handle their five prime-time games, which are like poison ivy to Cousins (5-13 in his career, including 0-7 on Monday night). Be sure to circle Thursday, October 24, when Cousins takes on his former team, Washington, who will likely be quarterbacked by a former Viking with a chip on his shoulder, Case Keenum. That will be must-watch TV.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Vikings are 10-2 ATS as dogs of more than 3 points versus AFC West opponent, including 7-0 ATS the last seven.
PLAY ON: at Chicago (9/29)
INSIDE THE STATS: The Vikings have held 17 foes to season-low – or 2nd low – yards the L3Y.
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