NFL 2020 Record Predictions and Off-Season Summary: NFC North
Team success can play a major role in determining how an individual player will perform in fantasy football. Will receivers benefit from a consistently losing game script? Will running games thrive as the team looks to run down the clock on their way to victory? Over the next few weeks, I will dive into each division, predict how it might shake out in 2020, and how that could impact fantasy football.
First up, the NFC North.
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2020 has arrived and the NFC North has a new batch of storylines. Can Nick Foles lead the Bears to success? The Packers have seemingly abandoned Aaron Rodgers in his time of need by drafting Jordan Love. Matt Patricia needs to win and win now, can he do it with Matthew Stafford back in the fold?
1. Minnesota Vikings (2019: 10-6, 2nd in the NFC North)
Best Victory: Week 5 @ Seattle Seahawks
Worst Loss: Week 4 @ Houston Texans
Off-season Recap: The Minnesota Vikings, like the rest of their division, seem to have broken even or regressed slightly this off-season. Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, and Anderson Sendejo all depart from the secondary. Defensive end Everson Griffin (for now) joins the group heading out of town and is taking his valuable pass rushing abilities with him. Stefon Diggs is perhaps the most notable departure as he was shipped off to Buffalo. To compensate for these losses the Vikings began their measured youth movement by selecting WR Justin Jefferson and CB Jeff Gladney in the draft. These two players should allow Kirk Cousin and Co. to remain competitive in 2020 and take the division.
Fantasy Impact: In a wide-open division the Vikings should be able to play their preferred style, which centers around Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking and an efficient play-action passing attack. Their style will be tested on the road in Indianapolis and New Orleans, as both teams can impose their will at any time with strong line play. The backbone of the Vikings will continue to be Dalvin Cook. Barring injury, Cook should be safely in RB1 territory. While I don't imagine he finishes as the team's second-leading receiver again in 2020, he should see around 250 carries and 40+ targets, which is plenty for a player of his talent level to put up elite numbers. The Viking's defense finished 6th in fantasy scoring last year, but don't bank on a repeat performance given all the turnover in personnel.
Kirk Cousins won't see anywhere near the volume that Dak Prescott or Matt Ryan might be accustomed to, but given how tight the games will be in this division he will be a reliable contributor and especially valuable on bye weeks. Justin Jefferson amassed 111 receptions last year as Joe Burrow's go-to threat and should step right into a large workload with Diggs (team-leading 63 receptions) now in Buffalo. I would not expect him to duplicate his college volume in Kubiak's offense, but he should see his fair share of opportunity alongside bounce back candidate Adam Thielen. Thielen posted a disappointing 30 receptions in 10 games last season, invest at his bargain price while you can.
2. Green Bay Packers (2019: 13-3, 1st in the NFC North)
Best Victory: Week 11 @ Indianapolis Colts
Worst Loss: Week 15 @ Carolina Panthers
Off-season Recap: The San Francisco 49ers were the only team that separated Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers from another Super Bowl appearance. If you only tuned in for Packers off-season, then you might assume they were rebuilding rather than contending. The lack of receiving talent behind Davante Adams last season was abundantly clear to every football fan, but rather than draft some help for Rodgers the front office decided to invest their first-round pick in his heir, QB Jordan Love. They followed that pick up by selecting bruising running back out of Boston College A.J. Dillon in the second round. Despite seeing reliable weapons in Geronimo Allison and Jimmy Graham leave town, the only step the Packers took to help Aaron Rodgers was to bring in Devin Funchess on a one year deal.
Fantasy Impact: The days of Aaron Rodgers being a set it and forget it QB1 have passed. He may still possess his elite talent and deliver dominant performances, but Matt LaFleur's' clear intent to emphasize the Packer's running attack will impact Rodger's ability to consistently deliver high-level fantasy outings. The Packers should be able to stick to their running identity in most games, but when traveling to Tampa Bay and hosting MNF against Atlanta expect vintage Rodgers.
Aaron Jones led the league, with Christian McCaffrey, in total touchdowns at 19 despite having 118 fewer touches than the Panthers do-it-all back. With Dillon in the running back room and Jamaal Williams still around, I'd bet on Jones experiencing a healthy amount of touchdown regression. Dillon's 6'0 and 240+ lb frame should set him up well to slide right into a goal-line and short-yardage role. While the running game should have plenty of opportunities, the receiving core can't say the same. Davante Adams will continue to see the bulk of Rodgers targets, but I can't pretend I am not intrigued at Devin Funchess's potential with Rodger's skill set. The only thing preventing Funchess from a massive workload in the red zone is LaFleur's willingness to put the ball in the air while close to the goal line. Jones finished 2019 second in league with 23 rushes inside the 5-yard line.
3. Chicago Bears (2019, 8-8 3rd in the NFC North)
Best Victory: Week 17 vs Green Bay
Worst Loss: Week 1 @ Detroit Lions
Off-season Recap: Nick Foles once again reunites with John DeFilippo in Chicago and Bears fans are hoping his Super MVP form returns and puts the Bears back on track. This should end the Mitch Trubisky era, but Foles is not exactly a lock to be the answer at the quarterback position. The Bears did lose several key contributors on the defensive side of the ball in Nick Kwiatkowski, Leonard Floyd, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Prince Amukamara. The addition of Robert Quinn, who is coming off an 11.5 sack renaissance season in Dallas, and investing at the corner position in the draft should be enough to keep the Bears a top-notch defensive team. Adding Cole Kmet with their first pick in the draft and signing Ted Ginn Jr should provide this offense with some much-needed playmaking for whoever is quarterbacking this team.
Fantasy Impact: Figuring out this QB situation will be difficult, but whoever it ends up being, don't expect much fantasy production. Foles may provide more passing ability, but is nonexistent as a rusher. Trubisky is just the opposite, he flashed running ability in 2018 but that disappeared in 2019. Either way, neither player can be depended upon for week to week production. If Foles is named the starter, then the receiving corp will get a valuable boost. I expect the Bears to be competitive in most match-ups, so there should be a healthy distribution between rushing and passing. Matt Nagy is bound to show a little more faith in Foles as a veteran passer. Allen Robinson is still a reliable WR1/WR2 in most fantasy formats and given the way Foles clicked with Alshon Jeffery at times there is certainly optimism for Robinson to dominate targets and turn in his first double-digit touchdown campaign since being Blake Bortles go-to option in Jacksonville. Ted Ginn Jr should fit right into his field-stretching role, while Anthony Miller continues to establish his identity in the slot. Cole Kmet could be the lone rookie tight end to make an impact in 2020 as he should easily outshine Jimmy Graham. David Montgomery put together a productive rookie campaign in 2019 and I expect him to take the next step forward by eclipsing the 1,000 yards rushing threshold with Tarik Cohen continuing to thrive as a pass-catching specialist.
4. Detroit Lions (2019: 3-12, 4th in the NFC North)
Best Victory: Week 15 @ Tennessee Titans
Worst Loss: Week 6 @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Off-season Recap: Darius Slay goes to Philadephia and is quickly replaced in the draft by Jeff Okudah out of Ohio State. The Lions also added running back D'Andre Swift in the second round to the backfield to pair with Kerryon Johnson. They had a relatively quiet offseason by added solid defensive pieces in Reggie Ragland, Danny Shelton, and Desmond Trufant to plug some remaining holes. Bob Quinn did open up his checkbook to lock up the services of offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai on a 5 year/$50 million dollar deal to solidify the line following the departures of Graham Glasgow and Rick Wagner.
Fantasy Impact: I struggled to predict the Lions because I could easily see the puzzle pieces fitting together and Detroit contends for the division crown. Even though I still have the Lions finishing in the last place, they should produce much more reliable fantasy numbers while being increasingly competitive within each game. This should allow for a more balanced attack seeing how the Lions called a running play on just 39.86% of their plays. A healthy Matthew Stafford will make a world of difference, more reliable QB play will lead to better running lanes for both Kerryon Johnson and D'Andre Swift. I expect both players to regularly contribute RB2 numbers weekly, but it will be crucial to see who gains the goal line touches. Stafford himself is primed to vie for Comeback Player of the Year in 2020 and given his tendency to let loose, has top 10 QB upside, consider him a great late-round QB option in redraft. Even if the team does focus more on the run game, Stafford's style still allows for big performances. Kenny Golladay led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 11, which is the lowest total to lead the league since Wes Chandler in 1982. He could certainly do it again with Stafford instead of Jeff Driskel and David Blough. The return of a healthy Marvin Jones Jr, who had 9 touchdowns himself over 13 games, and TJ Hockenson entering his second year have this team primed to provide some much need fantasy value. I'm just not convinced their defensive talent will slow opponents down.