The 2018-2019 season was a wild one for the NFC North. The Bears went from worst to first, the Vikings team as a whole still seems to collapse at the worst moments, the Packers fell off the face of the earth, and the Detroit Lions struggled with a new Head Coach in Matt Patricia.
But was this year as strange as they come for any division in the NFL?
It seems to feel that way.
It is unusual for a team to go from worst to first and give up all 1st-round draft picks until 2021 to do so. An NFL team which dominated the league for a decade fired its coach mid-season, which was completely unprecedented. Another paid $84 million guaranteed to a QB, which ended up losing a win-and-in game, and the team from the motor city traded away its best wide receiver, only for that player to catch a game winning touchdown against an NFC North opponent in the playoffs. Again, a wild season in the NFC North.
If someone had told you (before the season started) that if the Packers were one Daniel Carlson made field goal away from last place in the NFC North in 2018, would you believe it? That sounds like a silly scenario, but it’s true. If the former Vikings kicker Daniel Carlson makes a field goal in OT at Lambeau field in week two, that would leave the Packers at 6-10, and being swept by the Detroit Lions, last in the NFC North. Who would have believed that Khalil Mack would have placed 2nd in sacks in the NFC North behind the Vikings’ up-and-coming star Danielle Hunter? Khalil Mack in the NFC North? Wild. Some people thought the Raiders were insane for trading away a generational player in Khalil Mack, and there is some truth to that. Others thought it was insane for one team to give up more than one 1st-round draft pick for a player on defense. Turns out, just one player on defense makes a huge difference. The NFC North was a wild ride in 2018, starting with the Chicago Bears.
- Chicago Bears (12-4, 2nd seed in NFC Playoffs):
First things first, the Bears enormously exceeded expectations for the 2018 football season. A 2nd-year QB and a rookie head coach don’t exactly make for promising expectations, especially when you finish last in the division in the previous year. When John Gruden was hired on a 10-year contract down in Oakland, fans everywhere thought this could be their year. As it turns out, Oakland sent Khalil Mack to Chicago for two 1st-round draft picks, sparking one of the most dominant defenses in the league, if not the most dominant.
In week 1, Aaron Rodgers constructed a comeback few could foresee almost ensuring Packers fans that year 100 of their team would be a promising one. From that loss, the Bears saw that Mack could fit into their defense no matter what role he played due to the fact that Mack didn’t have a lot of time with the team before the first game of the season. He would lead the team in sacks with 12.5, all the while being double-teamed on most of his snaps throughout the season. Tarik Cohen, Eddie Jackson, and Jordan Howard have all shown that they can be potential stars someday, if not already. The Bears finished a 12-4 regular season where QB Mitchell Trubisky didn’t have to be perfect to get them there. It seems evident that every great playoff team is well rounded. On offense, on defense and on special teams. Some may say that QB wins are an important stat, others don’t even consider it a stat at all. Football is the ultimate team game. You can have an Aaron Rodgers to carry you to an NFC Championship game, or you can have a Vikings defense to carry you to an NFC Championship game, or you can have a Devin Hester on special teams to boost you to the Super Bowl. In the end, it takes a whole team to win a game. The Bears season came to an end because their special teams couldn’t execute when it mattered most. Sure, Cody Parkey may have “missed” the game winning field goal for the Chicago Bears, but the ball was tipped. Even though the ball was tipped, it still takes the blocking on the field goal unit to hold each defender back, and that is what failed the 2018 Chicago Bears’ promising season.
2) Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1):
The Vikings no doubt fell short of their 2018 expectations to a point where fans were calling for the firing of head coach Mike Zimmer. It started off promising, real promising in fact. The Vikings reached the NFC Championship game the previous year, and it felt like all they needed to get over that hump was a solid quarterback to match star wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Many thought Kirk Cousins was the answer at 3-years, $84-million. After the New York Giants swooped up their OC Pat Shurmur, it seemed like the Philadelphia Eagles QB Coach John DeFilippo was a solid replacement– the Eagles did win a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback. So off they went. Cousins, Diggs, Thielen, and DeFilippo seemed to be the winning formula the Vikings needed on offense, because after all, their defense was solid.
After several lousy offensive performances, the Vikings decided to part ways with DeFilippo, essentially ending his shot of being a head coach the following season. Even though the Vikings put up 41 points the game after they let go of DeFilippo, it wasn’t enough in the end.
In week 17 in Minnesota at US Bank Stadium with the season on the line the Vikings offense simply staggered. Something similar to what the Packers experienced all season. 3-and-out after 3-and-out makes for a very long game, and it proved fatal for the Vikings. It was supposed to be Kirk Cousins that would lead them not only to the playoffs but to the Super Bowl. The Vikings didn’t think that Case Keenum was going to be the man, but that it was going to be Cousins. All they needed was a QB, right?
3) Green Bay Packers (6-9-1):
If one year was the most disappointing for a team in 2018 within the North, it was the Packers’ season. Sure, the Vikings had big plans for 2018, but the Packers have Aaron Rodgers back at the helm. In the previous season where things couldn’t have gone worse, this season was more disappointing. Why? Because Rodgers didn’t have a broken collarbone. In the offseason, the Packers acquired DL Muhammed Wilkerson, and TE Jimmy Graham, two promising free agents. Aaron Rodgers was back, Joe Philbin was back, and the Packers had all of the key spots filled on offense and most on defense (besides edge rusher). It looked like new GM Brian Gutekunst gave the Packers a solid chance with the roster that was given to him.
In week 1, Rodgers’ comeback against the Bears was most likely the most difficult of his career on a bum knee, and he did it. In week 2 the Packers got shafted on a poor roughing the passer call on Clay Matthews, and were also given a gift with a Daniel Carlson missed field goal. In weeks 3-6 the Packers tried to find themselves as a team, knowing they had a long and tough road stretch. In weeks 7-11 the Packers faulted in Los Angeles, New England, Seattle, and Minnesota. A team that had promise just couldn’t win on the road, and that was their headline for the season. Championship teams must win on the road, and they just couldn’t do it. So when they Packers came back home after a loss in Minnesota and lost to the 2-9 Arizona Cardinals, Mike McCarthy was out.
Mike McCarthy brought many great things to Green Bay. New schedules, new training programs, new team bonding events, the whole nine yards. What every coach knows is that their time with their team will come to an end at some point. For some coaches like Duke basketball Mike Krzyzewski, his time may end when he retires, where coaches like Steve Wilks from the Arizona Cardinals, one year is the limit. McCarthy’s time was simply up. His message was stale, his offense was not innovative, and his quarterback wasn’t on the same page.
The 2018 Green Bay Packers were extremely disappointing and there is no way around that. One topic that Packers fans can rally around is the fact that 2019 will seem promising. Why? Because the Packers did in fact hit rock bottom in 2018. Firing their head coach and missing the playoffs can’t make the next season any worse. Cheers to the 12th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
4) Detroit Lions (6-10):
The 2018 Detroit Lions have to be in one of the most uncomfortable positions in the NFL. Above them in their division are three teams which could compete for a solid playoff spot each year for the next several years. What the Lions do have is a promising quarterback. Like the Bears, the Lions also began their season with a degree of uncertainty. With a rookie head coach and a decent quarterback, the Lions were almost in the same position as the Bears. The difference? The Bears have more playmakers.
In a league where big plays are almost crucial in winning a game, the Lions traded away one of their playmakers in Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions began the season with uncertainty. After losing to rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and the San Francisco 49er’s, the Lions handed an L to future AFC playoff 2nd seed, the New England Patriots, and wouldn’t win again until Mason Crosby would miss 4 field goal kicks in Detroit. It almost seemed like Matt Patricia didn’t have a great feel for his Lions team from the get-go, sending the Lions to a poor 6-10 season. Detroit hasn’t bought into Patricia’s preference of the tough, Patriot way. The Lions only had a couple of impressive wins on the season, even if they did win six. Including the Patriots, they beat the Carolina Panthers (who were 6-4 at the time) at home 20-19. If you count a 31-0 win against the Packers in Green Bay a solid win, suit yourself.
The Lions have some serious changes to make if they are going to be competitive within the NFC North in 2019. Their defense must improve, as well as their offense. It sounds simple, and with a defensive minded head coach in Matt Patricia, maybe it is. The reality is that the Lions have a great QB in Matt Stafford, a solid running game, and promising individuals. They just need to piece it all together.
You can follow Josh on twitter at @josh_amacher
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