NFC NORTH PREVIEW PT 1

It was an interesting year for Kirk Cousins and the Vikings last season

With the 2019-2020 NFL season set to kick off later tonight, we’re going to be taking a look at all of the divisions in the NFL to give a better idea of what the teams across the divisions can do to improve upon their 2018 seasons. Today, we start with two of the greatest rivals in football: The Vikings and Packers.

The NFC North was, for lack of a better word, weird (or disappointing….Minnesota, we’re looking at you) last season. The Pack failed to make the playoffs, Cody Parkey doomed Khalil Mack and the Bears, Matthew Stafford somehow avoided regressing without a clear No 1. receiver, and Minnesota…well, the Vikes really didn’t prove anything to us at all.

To kick things off, we’re headed to Minnesota to look at the Vikings and how they can get back on track this year to improve on a dismal 8-7-1 record, and trust me, they’ll need to. There was a lot of talk that went around last year in Minnesota that Kirk Cousins was the missing piece for a team that had the misfortune of running into Playoff Nick in the NFC Championship game the year before. Yes that was an NBA reference. Yes it fits. No, we’re not sorry.

Vikings 2019 Season Preview:

Dalvin Cook and the Vikings are looking to bounce back in 2019

There was so much hype surrounding the Vikings coming into last season…like, an unbelievable amount of hype. They got rid of Case Keenum, which, at the time looked like the right move. Especially, and I mean especially, if they were going to bring in a guy like Kirk Cousins, who seemed destined for playoff greatness with the right team. There was no secret that Washington was just not that team to get him over the hump. Now, 16 games and a whole offseason later, it seems like the questions that were in Washington have followed him to Minnesota.

Let’s be honest, not many teams would question a guy who threw for 30 TDS, only had 10 INTS, and over 4,200 yards passing, but those stats didn’t make the playoffs. The Vikings didn’t make the playoffs. It wasn’t all Kirk Cousins’ fault, but when there’s that much hype surrounding one player going to a team that was one game away from the Superbowl the previous year, you’ve got to address it. With a fresh set of games, and a depressing 2018 season behind them, let’s look at what the Vikings can do to atone for last years dismal 2018 and their toughest games on paper this year.

Find a Suitable Back Up RB:

There’s no way to tell if Dalvin Cook would have eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark if he had played a full season last year, but it seems that the injury bug that bit him during his rookie year resurfaced last year. Cook missed 5 games due to a hamstring injury, and considering that the year before he had torn his ACL, it may be time for the Vikings to look for someone who can carry the load if Cook goes down again this year. Latavius Murray was able to fill in nicely for 6 games, but he’s a member of the New Orleans Saints now.

The Vikings only scored 9 rushing TDs on the ground last year, tied for second worst in the league, and were ranked 30th out of 32 teams last year when it came to running the football. They actually rushed for 14 yards in a game against the Bills last year and 22 yards against the Bears in one of their two games against Chicago. They didn’t fare well in the second game against Chicago, either, but 63 is better than 22. The Vikings failed to get over the 100 yard mark in 11 of 16 games last year. They only averaged 93 yards a game on the ground, putting the pressure on Kirk Cousins to carry the team. The Vikings have 4 RBs on the depth chart to help this year, but you know what they say, “Good help is hard to find”.

Tighten Up That Run Defense:

The Minnesota pass defense was, in some ways, phenomenal last season, allowing a mere 15 passing TDs for the whole year. They allowed the third least yards through the air. That sounds like a championship caliber defense. Their run defense, however, did not have the same level of success. They were average at best, allowing 113 yds a game on the ground. While they did show some promise in a few games, they also gave up rushing totals of 148, 160, 214, 156, and 169 in five of their last seven games to end the season. They only won one of those contests and that was against the lowly Dolphins.

Ultimately, that 1-4 record in those five games was the difference between sitting at home and playing in January when it really mattered. Only two of those five games were actually close, with the other three being decided by two touchdowns. Defense wins championships and that will always be a fact. Just ask the Chiefs. The Vikings are going to have to plug the holes at the line and contain the corners if they want to improve from last year’s mess.

3 Toughest Games This Year

  • Sun, 9/29 @ Chicago: This game will be a measuring stick to see just where the Vikings are after their first four games. No disrespect to the Pack in Green Bay (they play them two weeks before this game), but Khalil Mack and the Bears are for real. The Vikings didn’t play well in either of their games last year against the Bears and this will be a chance to see how they measure up against what I believe will be the NFL’s best defense this year. If they can steal this game in Chicago, they might be headed towards a very different year than last year.
  • Sun, 10/13 vs Philadelphia: Don’t worry Viking fans, Nick Foles took his talents to South Bea…I mean Jacksonville, where he now plays for the Jaguars. That’s not a good thing for the Vikings, though, because they’ll have to deal with the real starting QB for the Eagles, Carson Wentz. Philly looks to be at full strength this year, and that’s a scary thing for anyone. They took the Bears down to the wire in a game that they weren’t supposed to be competitive in (Playoff Nick strikes again), and they won. Okay, maybe there was a little magic at the end, or turmoil if you’re a Bears fan, but that wouldn’t have been an issue if the Eagles weren’t as good as they were last year without Wentz. This year, they should be a completely different beast.
  • Sun 11/3 @ Kansas City: Honestly, this game is really a toss up depending on which Vikings defense shows up. Patrick Mahomes can carve up any defense on any given night, but that Chiefs’ defense is highly suspect. Believe it or not, this game will come down to defense. I don’t expect the Vikings to have a chance in this one, but stranger things have happened in the NFL. If the Vikings fall behind early in this one, you can toss this game in the loss column. They’ll have to stay competitive early and find a way to hang around and keep the Chiefs from scoring 28 in the first half. It’s a tall order, but by this point in the season, we’ll know if the Vikings are game or not.

Packers 2019 Season Preview:

If you were at a loss for words at the Packers 2018 season, you wouldn’t be the only person left scratching their heads when the 2018 regular season came to a close. There were high expectations for the Packers coming into last year, but their season was over by Week 13, when they were 4-7-1. They actually found a way to lose to Arizona, Washington, and (yikes) twice to Detroit. Of course, in all fairness, Aaron Rodgers did play most of last season with a tibial plateau fracture (a broken bone) in his leg. Talk about having the heart of a champion. Rodgers wasn’t the only one as the Packers ended the year with 15 players (that is 15 and not a typo) on injured reserve.

It’s one of those weird and strange things in sports, and a ton of bad luck, but these things are possible and they can and will happen at any given moment. We all know that the past is the past, so it’s time to focus on the 2019 Packers. They have their QB of the future back (98.7 million guaranteed solidifies that statement) and a new head coach, but those aren’t the only things that raise question marks about this Packer’s team. Of course, we all want to know if Aaron Rodgers will be back in “Top 3 QB in the NFL” shape. But the other question that everyone wants to know is: Will that be enough to get the Packers back to an elite level of play where they are contending to bring more championships back to Lambeau? We’re going to take a look at what it will take for the Pack to get back to the top of the pecking order in the league, and possibly turn the NFC North into one of the best divisions in the NFL.

Health:

This was the scene as Aaron Rodgers goes down against the Bears in their 2018 season opener. His knee was injured on the play.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. If the Packers had been healthy last year, there’s no telling what they could have accomplished. If Aaron Rodgers had been fully healthy, the Packers-Patriots game could have actually lived up to the hype. Yes, I know that Brady is a football god and Rodgers most-likely won’t be able to catch him in the rings department, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy watching two of the best of their generation duke it out on Sundays. The Pack left so much to be desired last year, even if they started the year 3-4-1 through their first 8 games. Maybe it’s the high expectations that everyone, myself included, had for them. I’m not the only one who circled that Patriots game when the NFL released the official schedules for last year.

In all, 10 starters were injured last year, which makes one think that even if Rodgers was healthy, the Packers really were a long shot to make the playoffs. Some years you have players that get injured and there are those that step up and fill those roles, but it felt like the Packers didn’t have any viable options to step up and fill in. The evidence: A 31-0 drubbing suffered at the hands of Detroit Lions team to end the year where the Packers only gained 175 yards total for the game. If Green Bay wants to find success, they’ll have to stay healthy for the year and give themselves a chance.

Defense Has To Make Plays:

The Packers defense was, as you guessed, horrid last year. They tied for 8th in the league in sacks, but that was about the only category that they were actually good in. They gave up over 1,900 yards on the ground, but even worse than that, only intercepted 7 passes all year. That was tied for second worst in the league. They have to get to the ball and make plays when it matters and get takeaways. The secondary doesn’t scare anyone and neither does the defensive front.

When teams can run all over you and pass to their hearts content, knowing that the ball will either end up in one of their player’s hands or on the turf, they won’t come out and respect you. The Packers are going to have to work hard to get their opponents to be conservative in the passing game, but there’s no telling what they will be able to do against a potent rushing attack. It may be a year of discovery for the Packer’s defense, even if they are healthy. They’ll figure out just how bad, or how good, they really are this season, especially if they can have all of their starters suited up and on the field for most of the year.

3 Toughest Games This Year

  • Today @ Chicago, 8:20 PM: This will be a big test for the Packers as they open the year with the same opponent as last year: The Bears. This game probably won’t tell us much about the Packers; they won last year in their season opener, and we all know how the season went. The Bears defense will be more hungry this year and you better believe that they will attack Aaron Rodgers from the start. Look for lots of different blitz packages to be thrown at Rodgers, specifically Khalil Mack, who should have his own section of the defensive playbook. If the Packers win, it will give them momentum and something to build off of, but all wins are not equal, and all wins do not tell you how good a team will or will not be. No matter the outcome, this game is going to be a tough one for the Pack to win.
  • Sun, Oct 6 @ Dallas: Zeke has officially been fed and that’s not good news for the rest of the league. The Cowboys are looking to find their balance this season with a full year of their new Big 3 in Dak, Zeke, and Coop. The offense of the Cowboys isn’t going to steal the show, however; their defense is young, hungry, and ready to take the next step. The Packers better be careful in this game, because this one could turn ugly in a hurry. The Cowboys may be the most balanced team the Packers will face all year, and if they can walk away with a win, it will show just how serious this team is about getting back to winning. But it won’t be easy.
  • Sun, Oct 27@ Kansas City: I promise I’m not a Chief’s fan, but they are a horrible match-up for a lot of bad, and good defenses in the NFL. With what the Packers showed last year in the secondary and from their run-defense, I can confidently say that this may be one of those games that Packer’s fans can check off as a throw away game. That’s not to say that they won’t show up, but I just don’t think they will be good enough to keep up with KC’s high-powered juggernaut of an offense. It will be their eighth game of the season, so we’ll have a clear idea of what kind of Green Bay team we’re dealing with this year, but that won’t matter against this Chief’s team. Good or bad, the Packers’ chances of winning this game are about as high as the Dolphins’ chances to win the Superbowl this year.

That wraps it up for our first preview of the season in the NFC North. We’ll be back with part two so stay tuned.

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