For the overall 2019 NFL Preview click here, and see the links below for the rest of the divisional previews.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, Kirk Cousins seemingly brought the bad running and mediocre defense he had in Washington to his inaugural season as the Vikings’ highly paid starting QB.
Obviously, Cousins can’t be blamed entirely for the Vikings’ disappointing 2018 season, but he has a lot to prove in 2019. He’s got an embarrassment of riches in the passing game, a new offense (coordinated by Kevin Stefanski with input from Gary Kubiak) to actually run the ball and take advantage of talented RB Dalvin Cook, and even a new center to shore up what was a weak offensive line (assuming Garrett Bradbury gets his butt sweat under control).
There’s virtually no change to the talented Vikings defense, and they should be closer to the 2017 unit than the one that underachieved last season. Watch special teams, though: Minnesota drafted a new long snapper and gave up a fifth-round pick to Baltimore for preseason kicking sensation Kaare Vedvik. If the Norwegian Viking can provide a permanent solution to their spotty kicking situation and the offense gets back to being balanced, this team not only edges out Green Bay and Chicago for the division title, it is also a contender for a Super Bowl.
Chicago has gone from the NFL’s annual worst-to-first storybook tale to big bet to go to the Super Bowl.
I’m not so sure about them, though. The Bears — specifically coach Matt Nagy — aren’t over their double doink home playoff loss, and still have a ton of questions at kicker after missing out on the Kaare Vedvik sweepstakes and settling for the shaky Eddy Pineiro.
That said, new coordinator Chuck Pagano will keep the Bears’ defense ferocious and the offense should take a step forward with Mitchell Trubisky getting another year of Nagy’s system under his belt. But Minnesota and Green Bay got better, too. If Trubisky earns his Madden rating and the team’s psyche is still scarred from last season’s deflating playoff defeat, this team is more underachiever than title contender.
This offseason, Green Bay reversed course from their long history of punting on big-money free agents and didn’t just dip a toe into free agency — they jumped in waist deep.
The Packers finally got aggressive about improving their lackluster defense after years of neglect. They stockpiled outside linebackers, signing the Smiths (Preston and Za’Darius from Washington and Baltimore, respectively) and drafted Rashan Gary in the first round. Assuming the loss of longtime linebacker Clay Matthews doesn’t leave a leadership void, Mike Pettine’s defense should be the best Titletown has seen in awhile.
There’s more questions on offense than you would think for a team with Aaron Rodgers at QB. New coach Matt LaFleur is only slightly older than his legendary signal caller, and given questions about Rodgers’ coachability, this could be a rocky marriage from the start. If the two can get on the same page, this is a playoff team. If not, Green Bay is still middle-of-the-pack.
Don’t expect much from Detroit.
Trey Flowers is a nice addition to the defense, continuing the pipeline of former Patriots to Matt Patricia’s team in the Motor City. In his first year as offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell has a good 1-2 punch at RB with Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount to provide some balance with Matthew Stafford’s passing game.
But there’s marginal (if any) improvement to the team that finished 6-10 last season, and this year’s schedule is far less forgiving. All but two home games is against a team that either made the playoffs in 2018 or is likely to contend for the 2019 postseason. Half of their road games are west of the Mississippi River. Oh, and the rest of the division is just flat out better, so that’s six difficult games already baked into the schedule.
Barring a mind-numbing collapse by another NFC North team, the Lions will assume their usual position in the division basement.
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