Predicting the NFC North

The Footballguys staff looks at how the NFC North will end up in 2021

Links to discussions of other divisions:


Let's dig a little into the NFC North. Who takes this division? How many wins do you predict for each team? The short answer is that it depends on one guy.

If Aaron Rodgers plays for the Packers in 2021

NFC North Team
Vegas Win
Totals
Staff Predictions
Avg Place
1st-Place Votes
2nd-Place Votes
3rd-Place Votes
4th-Place Votes
Green Bay Packers
10.5
1.0
8
0
0
0
Minnesota Vikings
8.5
2.1
0
7
1
0
Chicago Bears
7.0
2.8
0
1
7
0
Detroit Lions
5.0
4.0
0
0
0
8

If Aaron Rodgers does not play for the Packers in 2021

NFC North Team
Vegas Win
Totals
Staff Predictions
Avg Place
1st-Place Votes
2nd-Place Votes
3rd-Place Votes
4th-Place Votes
Minnesota Vikings
8.5
1.1
7
1
0
0
Chicago Bears
7.0
2.0
1
6
1
0
Green Bay Packers
10.5
2.8
0
1
7
0
Detroit Lions
5.0
4.0
0
0
0
8

Note: Vegas Win Totals are taken from VegasInsider.com.

Jason Wood

Will he or won't he? As Aaron Rodgers goes, so goes the NFC North. If he returns, the Packers are clearly the favorites to win the division and on the shortlist of likely NFC Super Bowl entrants. Without Rodgers, it comes down to who starts. It seems unlikely a team like Las Vegas would trade for Rodgers at this point in the offseason, but crazier things have happened. Derek Carr in Green Bay could still win 9-10 games. But Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater or, gasp, Jordan Love would mean a losing record almost assuredly.

It's hard to see Detroit competitive this year with Jared Goff under center and arguably the least compelling receiving corps in the league. Chicago is an X-factor given the uncertainty at quarterback. Many expect Josh Fields to take over this year, but that only happens if the Bears are struggling. The team really found an identity mid-2020 when it committed to the run behind David Montgomery. Chicago could be a fringe playoff contender if they stay committed to a balanced offense.

Minnesota is an odd duck because there isn't much change afloat there save for a new offensive coordinator -- who is the son of the old coordinator. Can Klint Kubiak make like Kyle Shanahan and emerge from his father's shadow as an innovator? I wouldn't put it past him, but you can't bet on it.

  • Green Bay (with Rodgers) -- 13-4
  • Green Bay (without Rodgers) -- 5-12
  • Minnesota -- 9-8
  • Chicago -- 9-8
  • Detroit -- 3-10

Anthony Amico

This is not a strong division, particularly if Aaron Rodgers departs from Green Bay (more on that shortly). The Vikings are my expected division winner. They have worked to make improvements on defense and should have a successful passing game ignited by the always-underrated Kirk Cousins. The fact that they choose to run more than they should is frustrating, but ultimately will not matter in this race.

Chicago drafted their hopeful quarterback of the future in Justin Fields, but it doesn't sound as though the team is looking to start him right away. I'm bullish on Fields -- Andy Dalton not so much. The Bears are the definition of mediocre until there is a regime change in my opinion.

I think Rodgers is done in Green Bay. He has intimated as much, and that message has been clear and consistent for months. Whether or not the Packers trade him is a different story, but I don't think Rodgers takes a snap in 2021 for them. That means Jordan Love or whoever is returned in a trade will be under center. Green Bay could be a single-wing offense this season.

The Lions appear to have a plan, and that likely does not involve winning too many games in 2021. They are following the Cleveland model of accumulating picks and reconstructing the offense and defense (particularly through the lines) prior to adding a quarterback. Brad Holmes is going to give Jared Goff a lengthy tryout until that time, but I think ultimately they will find ways to lose.

  • Minnesota -- 9
  • Chicago -- 6
  • Green Bay -- 6
  • Detroit -- 4

Chad Parsons

Aaron Rodgers is a key watch in the coming months for this division. The Bears are one of the more difficult teams to project with Andy Dalton a functional veteran quarterback and Justin Fields a high-upside incoming rookie. Will either be a substantial upgrade over previous quarterbacks viewed as holding back a quality roster otherwise?

The Lions will be in the running for 1.01 in the NFL Draft, but Jared Goff is good enough to keep them out of the top spot, especially if Houston is sans Deshaun Watson.

With Aaron Rodgers on the Packers...

  • Chicago -- 6
  • Detroit -- 4
  • Green Bay -- 11
  • Minnesota -- 9

Without Aaron Rodgers on the Packers...

  • Chicago -- 7
  • Detroit -- 4
  • Green Bay -- 6
  • Minnesota -- 10

Andy Hicks

This year's over/unders are pretty close to a carbon copy of last year's actuals. All of these teams are in various stages of their development and wild fluctuations are entirely reasonable. The Aaron Rodgers situation however is holding the whole process to ransom. Like the others, we need to do the forecasting with or without Rodgers, as his hold on the division is so vital.

We have a new head coach in Detroit and new quarterbacks in Chicago and Detroit as well.

Green Bay management has done everything to show Aaron Rodgers the door, despite his MVP efforts. Losing key members on the offense and drafting the wrong positions is mystifying. All of the receivers, except the rookie Amari Rodgers, are in the final year of their contracts as well. Even with Rodgers the under is attractive, without him it’s easy money.

Minnesota could easily be a team that collapses. With Mike Zimmers’ influence may be wearing thin on the players and Kirk Cousins in the final year of his contract this could easily go south. Is a .500 season good enough anymore? Early season momentum will be vital for keeping hopes alive.

Chicago also has a coach on the hot seat and if recent history is any guide relying on a rookie quarterback tends to result in that poor guy having to learn a second offense in their second year in the league. Maybe Justin Fields saves Matt Nagy, but how many wins will be enough.

Detroit once again starts from scratch and the expectations are not high. Jared Goff has his reputation in tatters, the receiving group is being dismissed as the worst in the league and the running game just cannot get off the ground since Barry Sanders retired. Smoke and mirrors may get this unit past five wins.

With Rodgers

  • Green Bay 7-15 wins, prediction 11-6
  • Minnesota 4-13 wins, prediction 6-11
  • Chicago 5-13 wins, prediction 9-8
  • Detroit 2-8 wins, prediction 4-13

Without Rodgers

  • Green Bay 3-10 wins, prediction 6-11
  • Minnesota 4-13 wins, prediction 8-9
  • Chicago 5-13 wins, prediction, 10-7
  • Detroit 2-8 wins, prediction 5-12

Ryan Weisse

I’m not going to make a lot of friends in the Midwest when I say this might be the worst division in all of football next season. Green Bay should take the division again, assuming Aaron Rodgers falls into line. Their offense still has the same number of limited weapons it’s had before, but Rodgers can excel with them. Defensively, they will be good enough to beat up the rest of NFC North but be found wanting when facing better teams.

Minnesota should play just above .500 and could steal the division if Rodgers is a no-show. The Minnesota offense should hit on all cylinders in both the running and passing games, and their defensive front-seven should play well enough to hide deficiencies in the secondary. Their only real playoff hope is a Green Bay collapse.

The Bears did a lot to improve in the draft but they still feel one season away from anything good happening. The offense will have growing pains with either Andy Dalton or Justin Fields. Their defense is good and should play far better than they did in 2020, but they aren’t going to be able to carry this offense.

Detroit is a full rebuild and there are very few pieces in place to make this team competitive. Their wide receiver room is a bunch of JAGs and T.J. Hockenson may see 150+ targets. All in all, it will be a rough year to route for the Lions.

  • GB 12-5 with Rodgers (7-10 without)
  • MIN 10-7
  • CHI 5-12
  • DET 3-14

Jeff Haseley

I'm with everyone else and believe there should be two rankings, one with Rodgers playing in Green Bay and one without.

The Packers with Aaron Rodgers are a playoff team. Without him, I don't see it, mostly because their alternatives at quarterback don't deserve to be starting. Blake Bortles has a career .489 winning percentage and hasn't taken a meaningful snap since 2018 with Jacksonville when he finished 4-9. Jordan Love has zero meaningful or not snaps. If either of them is forced to start multiple games for the Packers, it could be a long season - like 4-5 wins long. Aaron Jones, Davante Adams, and the other notable players can still play effectively but ultimately someone has to make timely, accurate throws and make split-second decisions. I'm not sure either Bortles or Love is capable of keeping this team afloat.

As for the other teams, Minnesota is looking like they may be the team to beat in an otherwise down division. The combination of Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Irv Smith give the Vikings a formidable offense that will be difficult to stop over the course of 9-10 possessions per game. If their defense can rise up, they should have a decent grasp on the Rodgers-less division.

Chicago was a playoff team last year. They have pieces on both sides of the ball, but I'm slightly more pessimistic than optimistic about Justin Fields carrying them to the promised land. I could be way wrong about Fields and Chicago could turn out to be a gem in the weak NFC North, but I need to see it before I believe it. I feel the same way with Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson as well.

Detroit is a work in progress. Which Jared Goff will we see? The same Goff we saw the past few years under Sean McVay or the rookie Goff who nearly went the path of Jimmy Clausen. My take is that he'll be somewhere in between. Detroit's lackluster receiving corps is another reason I'm not confident in them this year. In a down division, Detroit may finish worst of them all. I see them with all kinds of growing pains in 2021. Five wins may be their ceiling.

  • Minnesota 10-7
  • Chicago 7-10
  • Green Bay (without Rodgers) 6-11 (12-5 with)
  • Detroit 4-13

Sigmund Bloom

This is going to be a tough year for the NFC North. They draw the NFC West and AFC North which are arguably the best divisions top-to-bottom in each conference. Here are the three non-shared opponents for each team:

  • Chicago - @LV @TB NYG
  • Detroit - PHI @DEN @ATL
  • Green Bay - @NO WAS @KC
  • Minnesota - @CAR DAL @LAC

Green Bay has the uncertainty of the Aaron Rodgers situation hanging over them, but otherwise is mostly returning the core of the back-to-back NFC runner-up squads. Detroit is in complete rebuilding mode and will be lucky to be competitive. Chicago is starting Andy Dalton (at least going into camp) and might not switch to Justin Fields until it is too late. Minnesota's defense should be better, and the offense is set. With all that in mind...

  • Chicago - 7-10
  • Detroit - 2-15
  • Green Bay 9-8
  • Minnesota 8-9

Jordan McNamara

This division has significant changes. With Aaron Rodgers holding out, the only team with continuity between head coach and quarterback is Minnesota. Kirk Cousins has been chronically undervalued, finishing second in the NFL in yards per attempt in 2020 (8.3 yards per attempt), so I'm bullish on Minnesota. So much of what happens in this division will be dictated by the fate of Aaron Rodgers. Without Rodgers, the division is very competitive, while a Rodger-led Green Bay team is a prohibitive favorite.

  • Chicago -- 7 wins
  • Detroit -- 4 wins
  • Green Bay -- 7 wins (without Rodgers)/12 wins with Rodgers
  • Minnesota -- 10 wins

Victoria Geary

Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota are all on the top-5 most difficult strength of schedule list for the 2021 season. If Aaron Rodgers stays with Green Bay, they should have an easy time taking the division once again. It remains to be seen why the front office continues to neglect their MVP quarterback, refusing to invest in more playmakers and his overall happiness, but Rodgers still has the chops to pull off another division title.

Chicago had a fantastic draft, but the inevitable quarterback carousel of Andy Dalton and Justin Fields may prove frustrating for any real continuity throughout the season. The Bears have the third most difficult strength of schedule and their coaching staff is in the hot seat - a formula for an underwhelming division finish.

Kirk Cousins and company were extremely efficient last year, but their defense was a glaring weakness throughout the entire 2020 season. Though I expect the defense to positively regress back to middle-of-the-pack, I don't think they will keep them in enough games to beat out Green Bay for this title.

Detroit is rebuilding from the ground up and will likely finish as a bottom-5 worst team in the league. Jared Goff is a more capable quarterback than many are giving him credit for, but he is surrounded by a less-than-mediocre receiving corps and brand new coaching staff. They'll find a way to surprise us with a few wins though.

  • Green Bay 10-7 with Rodgers, 6-11 without
  • Minnesota 9-8
  • Chicago 7-10
  • Detroit 3-14

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