For the next four weeks leading up to opening day, we here at Full Press NFL will be predicting how we believe each division will shape in 2019. Today, Cardinals editor Ryan Adverderada and Vikings editor Sam Smith share their predictions for the NFC and AFC North.
Chicago is one year more familiar with the offensive scheme, and have done a solid job of building on both sides of the football. Expect a bounce back from the Vikings as they now have a healthy Dalvin Cook. A healthy ground game makes things easier for Kirk Cousins and opens up the passing game. The Lions defense looks solid on paper, but I’m concerned about Matt Stafford and the ability of the offense to consistently score points. Green Bay has a ton of question marks, although they have upgraded on defense. Truth of the matter is that the Bears are the team with the fewest amount of question marks leading into the season. If the defense can maintain even half of their effectiveness from 2018, they will be tough to beat.
1. Chicago Bears
2. Minnesota Vikings
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Detroit Lions
This division is going to be a meat grinder. The only team I do not see winning it is Detroit, and even they have a pretty appealing roster, especially with how they have rebuilt their defensive line. I think there is a real chance three teams make it out of this division. That said, I am picking it to finish in the exact order it did a season ago. Chicago will move a bit further towards the pack, and Minnesota should improve enough to keep the division open until the final weeks, but I think the Bears are still a bit better.
The Packers are the wild card in all this. When they have fallen short in the Aaron Rodgers era, they always had his health to point to. Last year, that was not the case. He was healthy wire-to-wire, he just did not play well enough to elevate a middling roster. And other than draft picks and some signings on the defense, they have not added talent. I see them hovering around .500, while the Vikings and Bears push closer to 10-6.
This division is tough. Three teams have a legitimate shot at the playoffs while the Bengals are wasting prime A.J. Green years. The aforementioned Green will be out the first few weeks after a ligament tear in his ankle. It’d be a shock if the Bengals can escape the first quarter of the season with more than one win. The Ravens defense took a hit, losing C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs. How effective they are at the second level will weight heavily in their success.
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Offensively, there is faith that the Ravens have a plan for Lamar Jackson. The second half of the playoff loss to the Chargers showed how effective Jackson can be. The Browns are the biggest wild card. They have the hype and on paper look like a solid team, but they’re young with a first-time head coach. Pittsburgh beefed up the defense and hope they can replace the departed Antonio Brown. Big Ben gives them a shot each week, although you have to wonder if they will show up.
1. Cleveland Browns
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Admittedly, I am drinking the Kool-Aid with the Browns. I think they have found their quarterback of the future, and they have put some pretty darn good talent around him to make that offense flourish under Freddie Kitchens. Plus, the defense was already looking up, but with Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon headlining the front? That is a potentially lethal defense.
As for the others, Baltimore is the only other team I feel strongly about. Their defense should be the best in the division, and their fun quarterback is a year older. Pittsburgh is going to slip in my eyes. Not just because of Antonio Brown leaving, but because Roethlisberger’s immense production overshadowed some deteriorating decision-making last year. The numbers did not accurately reflect performance, and losing a top-five receiver is not exactly going to make things better. And then there is Cincinnati. They simply lack the talent up front on both sides of the ball, and losing Jonah Williams for the season just made that worse. To me, this is a two team race.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.