For fans of the show “Game of Thrones” the phrase, “winter is coming” is something you’ve heard for seven season now. That is a long time to reach a climactic conclusion, even for Bears fans. The show has been wildly entertaining and building to something that has never been seen on television before. The suspense is killing the fans of the show as they continue to push back premiere dates for books and new seasons. The upcoming NFL season for Bears, Packers, Lions and Vikings fans has a similar excitement and anxiousness to it.
Unlike on the show, where a horde of undead from the north, powered by a zombie dragon took down “the wall”, here in the NFC North, the team from the south, powered by new quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (Jon Snow) and new head coach Matt Nagy (Sir Davos) looks to invade the North this weekend and take down the perception that the division race is between but two teams.
National talk about the Vikings and Packers being favored to emerge as Super Bowl favorites from the North just took a battleaxe to the balls, with the Bears acquisition of pass rush linebacker Khalil Mack. A game that looked decisively in favor of the Packers and “Ice King,” Aaron Rodgers a week ago, suddenly doesn’t appear to be a sure thing. Mack will play mainly in pass rush situations, after holding out and not being in game shape. His effectiveness and how long he is on the field against the Packers offense will dictate the flow and possible outcome of the game.
This opener could have the added significance of helping to decide the division crown in four months time. Don’t get me wrong, the Packers are at home and still heavily favored since this is the Bears first game with their new head coach and offense. But the Bears arrow is definitely pointing up right now in terms of energy and excitement. They enter a game no one expects them to win with a “what do we have to lose?” mentality. That makes them dangerous, and Nagy, I believe, will go all out in terms of aggressive play calling to win this game.
A win in Green Bay for the Bears would be big enough to propel a playoff run. More likely, the Bears make it an interesting game but fall short to Aaron Rodgers, who has been preparing for weeks. And don’t forget the Packers have a new defensive coordinator who was brought in to install a more attacking style of defense that creates turnovers and brings pressure from all over the field to opposing quarterbacks. Rodgers will still get his points regardless of what Mack and the Bears do on defense. The question is, can Trubisky keep up against a defense which he has barely seen before? The division title may hang on that question.
Minnesota spent huge money on Kirk Cousins ($94 mil. guaranteed) at quarterback, but didn’t invest in his protection well enough. Ruh-row. The Vikings start Tom Compton at right guard who was Kyle Long’s backup with the Bears a year ago. They also just traded for a center last week because theirs is slow to come off an injury. As the season starts, the Vikings are vulnerable. A couple of early losses puts them behind the Packers and on even ground with the Bears.
The Lions first half schedule is too brutal to recover from, as former Patriots defensive coordinator and new head coach Matt Patricia observes what he has in Detroit. They are a year away on defense from contending for the division title. The Packers made some huge additions, literally, in defensive tackle Muhammed Wilkerson, tight end Jimmy Graham and rookie cornerback Josh Jackson. The Bears have closed the offensive talent gap decidedly with free agent receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, tight end Trey Burton and rookie wideout Anthony Miller.
PREDICTION: Packers 11-5, Vikings 9-7, Bears 8-8, Detroit 7-9
Has a different divisional champion every year. This year will be no different. The Eagles will miss Carson Wentz in the season opener and possibly more games ,and several defenders were lost to free agency. Their first place schedule and poor running back health knocks them out, starting with the season opener hosting Atlanta tonight. ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio reported this morning that Eagles head coach Doug Petersen, views the opener as “critical” to Philadelphia’s playoff chances and seeding.
This is one of the most improved divisions in football with a huge influx of defensive talent across the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins rosters. Everyone loaded up on defensive tackles, edge rushers and cornerbacks. The Cowboys dynamic duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott does just enough to put Dallas on top of one of the most competitive divisions in football. Giants and Redskins tough early schedules knock them out. December divisional battles will be a dogfight. Saquon Barkley will be the Rookie of the Year in what may be Eli Manning’s last stand in New York. Giants make it close.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 9-7, Giants 8-8, Eagles 7-9, Redskins 6-10
Is a one team race. The Los Angeles Rams will run away with this division and use their schedule to prepare themselves for the playoffs. Todd Gurley might win MVP except he will get pulled early from a lot of games. The big story in this division is that Russell Wilson will win the MVP award, as he attempts to single handedly put the Seahawks in the playoffs. Bet the over on all of the Seahawks games this year. Their defense needs another year of rebuilding, although Shaquem Griffin will make a lot of headlines for making the Pro Bowl as a one armed player. Arizona will eventually start rookie quarterback Josh Rosen this year, and the 49’ers lack of offensive skill position talent keeps them out of the playoffs. Memo to 49er’s GM, Jimmy Garoppolo needs help.
PREDICTION: LA Rams 13-3, Seattle 8-8, 49’ers 7-9, Cardinals 5-11
This may be the best division in football, with three teams that are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. The Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers have each been in the championship the last three years, and the New Orleans Saints who won the Super Bowl seven seasons ago. Tampa Bay has been rebuilding behind former number one overall pick Jameis Winston, who can’t stay out of trouble and is suspended again for the first three games of the season.
The Falcons slumped during the season last year after blowing a big lead to New England the year before in the Super Bowl. Their slump can be attributed to losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who went on to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. New offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, was slow to find a groove with quarterback Matt Ryan. But he did eventually improve the Falcons enough to make the playoffs, and come within a goal line stand of beating the reigning champion Eagles in the NFC Championship. A second season of calling plays should have even greater improvement, as Atlanta tries to become the first city to host their own Super Bowl trip.
New Orleans had their own playoff horror story last year, losing in the final 30 seconds when their cornerback fell to the ground and Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs ran into the end zone. New Orleans has reloaded with more defensive talent as future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees attempts to win his second Super Bowl of his career. Offensive rookie of the year Alvin Kamara will play a larger part of the offense while running back Mark Ingram serves a four game suspension to start the season.
PREDICTION: Atlanta 10-6, New Orleans 10-6, Carolina 9-7, Tampa Bay 8-8
The Battles To Come
It may appear that the south, along with Los Angeles, is dominating the NFC kingdom for now. With new head coaches in Chicago and Detroit, as well as new quarterbacks for the Bears and Vikings, it won’t be long before the North is resurrected as a championship destination.
The race to win has begun with the Bears acquisition of Mack. Still flush with cap space, the Bears are positioned to compete for the next several years and lure more mercenary talent to a defense that should approach top 5 status this year.
It will be important for the fan populace to remain patient with the offense and the young captain at quarterback. Bears head coach Nagy has said it may take up to three years for Trubisky to fully grasp offense. A dynasty is not built in a day or a year. Winter is definitely coming!