1. Green Bay Packers
The NFC North may be the division where I disagree most with the mainstream consensus, and that starts with picking the Packers to win the division.
My optimism of the Packers is entirely based on Jordan Love. As I explained in those quarterback rankings, the people who know the most about Jordan Love are the ones in the Packers’ front office, and their actions are speaking very loudly that they firmly believe Love will be a quality quarterback.
Will he be as good as Aaron Rodgers? Probably not. But I still mark him as an improvement over Rodgers because I am looking very narrowly at changes just to last year, and last year Rodgers wasn’t very good. If Love can be a good starter the Packers will be in good shape.
2. Detroit Lions
There’s a lot of excitement around the Lions, which I sort of get. They’re a decent team, which is a major improvement over the recent past. But I just don’t see why they should be expected to take another step this season.
For one, they didn’t really have many impressive games. Everybody loved their week 18 win over the Packers to keep them out of the playoffs, but it’s not like the Packers were a great team themselves. They also love their 7-2 finish to the season, but in that run they didn’t have a ton of impressive games. They only team they beat that finished with a positive point differential was the Jaguars. On the flip side that run also included a double digit loss to the Panthers.
Secondly, that turnover differential is concerning. I include it in my notes because turnovers are very random while also having a huge impact on the outcome of games. +7 isn’t monstrous or anything, but it’s high enough to expect some regression. If they are at a more normal +2 or +3 in 2023 that could end up costing them a win or two compared to 2022.
Thirdly, while I list them having 3 notable upgrades, they really aren’t that good. My cutoff for free agents is roughly those who earn $10 million per year, and Sutton barely cleared that line at $11 million. I also include 1st round draft picks, and the Lions used theirs on two of the least important positions on the field (yet celebrated like they just got Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill, as if they’ve never heard of positional value as a concept).
In total I expect them to be roughly the same as they were last year. They’ll be a playoff contender, and maybe even win the division if I’m wrong about Jordan Love. But I don’t see them as any sort of real contender.
3. Minnesota Vikings
You know analytics has finally made inroads when a 13-4 team with no major changes goes into the season with the odds put them as more likely than not to miss the playoffs. I actually think they’re slightly underrated. It’s not like they were horrible last year. They were actually pretty average. They just weren’t as good as their record would suggest.
4. Chicago Bears
Like the Packers, I don’t see eye-to-eye with most of the other NFL commentators when it comes to the Bears. Sure, they weren’t quite as bad as getting the top pick in the draft would suggest. And they also made a lot of improvements. But there is still one major problem they have they will hold them back.
Fields is simply not an NFL-level passer. His ANY/A+ last year was a mere 79. For comparison Carson Wentz was at 80, and the league considers him so bad that he’s still currently unemployed (if only the NFL had listened to me a couple years ago). This is largely driven by the huge number of sacks Fields takes. His sack%+ was a 41.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these adjusted stats that low. Even Brodie Croyle bottomed out at a 71 Y/A+ in his adjusted passing stats.
This is why I’m so much lower on Fields than everybody else. Most people overrate rushing, and underrate sacks. Fields is the perfect quarterback for the mainstream opinion to overrate.