Williamson's Look Around The League: NFC North

Chicago Bears (Last year's record: 6-11)

  • The Bears were one of only seven offenses that averaged under five yards per play last year and only five offenses produced fewer points per game. Chicago scored points on just 32% of their offensive drives. Only six offenses were worse. The Giants, Jaguars and Texans were the only offenses that produced fewer offensive touchdowns per game. Turnovers were also a problem for Chicago last year. Only the Giants turned the ball over more often. In the first half of games last year, just three offenses ran the ball at a higher percentage of the time than the Bears. The Ravens and Patriots were the only two offenses that saw blitz at a higher percentage of their dropbacks than Chicago whether it was Andy Dalton or Justin Fields under center. Right now, only the Steelers have less salary cap space used on the offensive side of the ball.
  • While only three defenses had more sacks than Chicago last year, the Bears only took the ball away 16 times, the fifth fewest in the league. Chicago didn't have a first round pick after trading up last year for Fields, but they did use their first two selections this year on defensive backs. Their dime defense, with six defensive backs on the field, was a weakness in 2021.
  • Matt Eberflus takes over as the Bears new head coach. Chicago's -13 turnover differential was only better than the Jaguars last year. The Bears had very little salary cap room, but they did attempt to sign Larry Ogunjobi to a large contract before Ogunjobi failed the physical and then eventually signed with Pittsburgh. Chicago also lost James Daniels to the Steelers as well as other prominent players such as Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson. This could be a down year as this team is going through a lot of change, but next offseason Chicago is loaded with cap space.

Detroit Lions (Last year's record: 3-13-1)

  • The Lions offense ran the ball the second highest percentage of the time in the first half of games last year. They also had six or more offensive linemen on the field the second highest percentage of the time in 2021. Their identity as a power offense was clear, but the Lions signed DJ Chark in free agency and traded up in the first round for another wide receiver, Jameson Williams. No team currently has more salary cap tied up on the offensive side of the ball than the Lions.
  • The Ravens defense was the only one in the NFL that allowed more yards per play than Detroit in 2021 and the Jets were the only defense that gave up more points per game. The Falcons and Eagles were the only defenses that finished the season with fewer sacks than Detroit. The Lions used three of their first four draft picks on defense, including the second overall player selected, Aiden Hutchinson.
  • The Giants and Falcons were the only two NFC teams with a worse point differential than Detroit last year. The Lions failed to win an away game in 2021. Their yards per play differential was worse than all but two teams. Detroit asked their rookie class to play 6,172 snaps last year. That was the most in the league with the Jets being the only other team to have more than 5,000 snaps played by rookies. Detroit has won just 17 games over the past four seasons, but they do have two ties over the period, including one against the Steelers. Much of the above information doesn't show it, but the Lions are moving in the right direction under Dan Campbell.

Green Bay Packers (Last year's record: 13-4)

  • Aaron Rodgers won his second straight MVP award last year. Over the past two seasons, his TD/INT ratio is a stunning 85/9. The Packers offense averaged 5.8 yards per play. Only seven offenses were better. Green Bay's offense produced points on 48.1% of their drives, fourth best in the league. They were also fourth in the percentage of time their offensive drives resulted in touchdowns. The Packers, Vikings, and Seahawks all tied for fewest turnovers in the NFL last year. Green Bay didn't run one play last year with an extra offensive lineman on the field. The Packers made one of the biggest trades of the offseason by dealing Davante Adams to Las Vegas. Marquez Valdes-Scantling also went to the Chiefs in free agency, but Green Bay did use the 34th pick overall on a replacement wide receiver, Christian Watson, as well as drafting Romeo Doubs in the fourth round.
  • This defense took the football away 26 times, the eighth most in the league. Both of Green Bay's first round selections were used on defensive players. Going back to 2012, the Packers have used a first round pick on a defensive player every year except 2020. Green Bay did move on from Za'Darius Smith though. Green Bay was in their base defense with four defensive backs on the field just 20% of their defensive plays last year. They also rushed six or more defenders just 2% of the time.
  • Green Bay was 8-0 at home last year during the regular season. They have won 13 regular season games in three straight years. No one won more games than Green Bay in the NFC during the regular season, but four teams had a better point differential in that conference. The Packers +13 turnover differential was only behind Dallas and Indianapolis. The biggest weakness for Green Bay was their special teams. The loss of Adams is massive, but Green Bay is still the prohibitive favorite in the NFC North.

Minnesota Vikings (Last year's record: 8-9)

  • The Packers, Vikings, and Seahawks all tied for fewest turnovers in the NFL last year. In each of the past two seasons, Minnesota has had one back on the field the lowest percentage of time in the league. That is expected to change with an offensive minded head coach coming over from the Rams, who were at the top of the league in the usage of three wide receiver sets. In just two NFL seasons, Justin Jefferson has racked up over 3,000 receiving yards as well as 17 touchdowns.
  • Minnesota allowed 5.7 yards per play last year. Just five defenses were worse. But only the Steelers sacked the quarterback more than Minnesota and that was with Danielle Hunter only appearing in seven games. Just two defenses used their base personnel with four defensive backs on the field a higher percentage of the time than the Vikings. The Vikings first two draft picks were used to acquire defensive backs and five of their first six picks were used on defensive players. Minnesota also grabbed Za'Darius Smith, Harrison Phillips, and Jordan Hicks to help the defense in free agency.
  • After eight seasons as the Vikings head coach, Mike Zimmer was replaced by Kevin O'Connell. Four teams had a better turnover differential than Minnesota last year and the Vikings sacked their opponents 21 more times than their own quarterbacks were sacked. Over the past four years, Minnesota's record is 33-31-1 coming in either second or third in the division each of those seasons.
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