Key: DVOA = Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, EPA= Expected Points Added
- Green Bay Packers
Back to back NFC championship game losses with last season’s being the most painful all while their window to win is closing fast. Oh ya and their quarterback hates the General Manager. This team is mostly the same as a year ago and for them, that’s good outside of neglecting wide receiver again. Pro Football Focus graded their offense 1st last season and their defense 9th. The Packers also finished 3rd in Football Outsider’s team DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) so again this team is already in great shape; it just has a couple of weak spots.
Davante Adams is an amazing wide receiver but this team hasn’t done anything to add pieces that force defenses to pay good attention to multiple targets. Maybe Robert Tonyan and or incoming third round receiver Amari Rodgers can change that but we’ll see. PFF graded their run defense 16th which is middle of the pack and something we’ll see which way it moves for 2021. The main reason to believe the Packers win this division again is of course because of who’s under center. Aaron Rodgers can still play at an elite level as evidenced by his 94.3 PFF grade ranking 1st and being 1st in EPA/play at 0.361. The Vikings have made improvements but it’s not likely they overtake the Pack this season.
Projected win total: 12 plus wins
Coach Zimmer’s Vikings are looking to rebound by making it back to the playoffs and just maybe if they’re lucky, take the division. There’s honestly a lot of reason for optimism that this team can make the playoffs and most of it is offensively. Kirk Cousins gets a lot of flack but he’s better than what most give him credit for. He’s not an elite quarterback but with the right surroundings and a good play caller on offense, he can be won with. In terms of PFF grades he ranked 4th in 2019 and 11th last season and that’s with horrible pass blocking. PFF graded his pass protection 25th in 2019 and 29th last season.
Smartly they addressed their offensive line this off season by drafting a great left tackle prospect in Christian Darrisaw in the first round and then Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis in the third. If this unit could be at least league average in pass protection this season they would benefit greatly. Their middle of the pack run blocking grade of 18th should improve, which is scary to think that Dalvin Cook could produce even more with a better line in front of him. We know they have two great receivers in Adam Thielen and last season’s rookie phenom Justin Jefferson so they’re loaded in that department. They also have the play caller and offense with Klint Kubiak, son of Gary, running the show. Klint Kubiak should do just fine running the offense as he’ll likely run his offense similarly to his dad but with his own spin.
As for their defense, we’ll see if a full offseason allows this unit to take big steps forward. If they become good on this side of the ball and the offensive line improves this team can challenge Green Bay, but that’s a big ask. Pro Football Focus graded their defense 27th last season including 28th against the run and dead last in pass rush. A playoff berth with a 2nd place finish in the division is most likely.
Projected win total: 10 plus wins
DAAAAAAHHHH Bears! Ryan Pace was somehow spared but he wisely dumped Trubisky and was fortunate that they were able to get Justin Fields from Ohio State to be their quarterback of the future. They also wisely got veteran Andy Dalton to likely start for this season or even most of it while Fields develops. The Bears also still have Allen Robinson which was good to see for them. Matt Nagy needs to start proving his problem was Trubisky in the next two seasons. The defense should be strong again as the last three seasons they finished 1st, 12th, and 5th last season in PFF grade on defense. With no major changes on that side of the ball, they should keep it up. This team has a strong defense but offensively they’ll be limited with Andy Dalton so expect a bad year but not top five pick bad. It is possible Fields could take over during the season but he’ll likely need a year of growing before being ready to lead an NFL team to success.
Projected win total: 6 to 8 wins
4. Detroit Lions
The Lions are going through a full blown rebuild and that includes trading away long time quarterback Matthew Stafford. In come Brad Holmes as General Manager, Dan Campbell as Head Coach, and Jared Goff as quarterback. At first I liked the Holmes hire but when I saw him pass on Justin Fields I no longer felt as confident. The Dan Campbell hire never looked good since he isn’t a young and or innovative offensive mind or defensive guru. Even worse they paired Jared Goff with Anthony Lynn as his offensive coordinator.
People who think Goff is good because he started in the Super Bowl and was on three playoff teams aren’t separating him from his surroundings. Goff isn’t a good quarterback. He’s pretty bad and that’s despite very favorable circumstances in LA and having a great play caller and offensive mind running the show in Sean McVay.
Goff last season showed us what he truly is with a PFF passing grade of 23rd, 22nd finish in DVOA, and he ranked 23rd in EPA/play. Goff was dead last in Big Time Throw% at 2.3% and had a 2.9% Turnover worthy play rate while ranking 39th in ADOT (Average Depth Of Target) at a miserable 6.7 yards. Sean McVay intelligently uses a lot of play action as the last three seasons Goff’s play action % ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 5th. Goff was also horrendous with play action which typically helps quarterbacks as he had a 2.6% Big Time Throw %, 2.9% Turnover Worthy Play rate, and shitty ADOT of 6.6 yards ranking 38th. Prior to last season it was the heavy play action and scheming of McVay that made him look better but he again just simply isn’t good and that was exposed.
Anthony Lynn is a bad pairing as his teams never called a play action rate higher than 21.1% while Goff since his big 2018 season never had a play action rate lower than 32.8%. Lynn, like Campbell, is not an innovative or young offensive mind and this defense is a work in progress. TJ Hockenson should be a bright spot and maybe D’Andre Swift. Amon Ra St. Brown has potential but with Goff and Lynn I don’t know how likely it is he reaches his full potential next year. Expect a rough year Lions fans because while this team sucks they could pull their bullshit and win a few games that don’t matter at the end of the season and get too high of a pick potentially forcing a trade up if they want a new quarterback which by next offseason they absolutely should. Defensively there isn’t much to suggest they’ll be better other than Matt Patricia is gone. The unit graded dead last in PFF grade and in Football Outsider’s DVOA. Again a bad year is in store.
Projected win total: 5 or fewer wins