As he has mentioned more than a couple of times over the years, this is Red’s least favorite division when it comes to preseason picks. All four teams have made the playoffs in the past three seasons and there have been three different division winners during that stretch. If Red could skip this one he would, but that is not how the game is played. And he has to pick it today because the NFC North has the honor of kicking off the 100th NFL season with the two oldest franchises still playing. The Bears host the Packers in the Thursday night opener much to the chagrin of NFL Champion Patriots who are denied that traditional spot because of the 100 year anniversary. Oh, to be at Soldier Field tonight. Chicago Bears – Da Bears are da team to beat in this division. Red expects Bears to come out of the box strong with win over the Pack in the historic season opener. By mid-point they should be 6-2 with a possible 5-0 start with a win over the Packers. The mid stretch of the season is the toughest with challenges from Saints, Chargers, Eagles and Rams. After that a break and then the Cowboys, Packers and Chiefs before a season ending laugher in Minnesota. If Da Bears win the games they should win and split the tougher match-ups they are in driver’s seat in what some are calling the best division in football this season. The only troublesome spot remains the redoubtable Mitch Trubisky who can be a turnover machine. The Bears won several games despite his lowlights. Look for the Bears defense to be even better and keep the team in enough close games to pull out more than a few. This could be Red’s best pick or his worst. Chicago has a solid season and wins division with 11-5 record.
Green Bay Packers – Things are not happy in northern Wisconsin. The Pack was in the hunt at mid-season in 2018 and then . . . Well, they didn’t quite fall off the radar, but the Bears put them in the rear view mirror. Remember when A-Rodg was the second coming of Joe Montana? That was a while back. Rodgers cannot carry a team like he used to. Fortunately he has help in a very good O-Line, Davonte Adams, Jimmy Graham (not quite tired and old yet – but check in with Red in November) and the all NFL Name Team wideout combination of Marquez Valdes-Scandling and Equanimeous St. Brown (Red picked him for fantasy on name potential alone). But it probably isn’t enough given the suspect situation at running back. Red likes Aaron Jones but can he play a full season without getting injured or suspended. If the Packers are going to have any success it will be because of an upgraded defense. Green Bay has seen better days (in the 1960s) 9-7 maybe works and maybe not.
Minnesota Vikings –Lots of pundits are going all in for the Vikings. Red will hold his chips for now. Red could never quite see what all the Kirk Cousins hype was about and if 2018 is any measure, Red was right. Red thinks the Vikings may play one of the toughest schedules in the league this year. They could lose to the Falcons, Packers, Bears (twice), Eagles, Chiefs, Cowboys, Seahawks and Chargers. If they don’t beat the Sad Sacks (Lions, Redskins, Giants and possibly Broncos), it will be a long season in the hinterlands. Minnesota misses out on chance to lose another Superb Owl at 8-8.
Detroit Lions – For more or less irrational reasons, Red has never liked the Lions. He is buying Detroit real estate however. Unfortunately for the Lions, the most exclusive real estate (their opponents’ end zone) will remain off limits for much of the season. Detroit wonders if Bobby Layne might still be available when it finishes 4-12.
May Red just say, “He hates this division.” Red is not entirely sure why, but he has always disliked having to pick winners and LOSERS from this one. Which is curious because the NFC-North contains three of the most venerable franchises in the league. The Lions started as the Portsmouth Spartans in 1929 moving to Detroit in 1934 and played in the first official playoff game – the 1932 Championship against the Bears (played because the teams ended the season tied for first place). The Packers joined the league in 1921, the second official NFL season. And the Bears can lay claim being one of the two original NFL franchises (as the Decatur Staleys) still in existence. The Arizona Cardinals (nee Chicago Cardinals) are the other. The Vikings are the upstart newcomer having joined the league in 1961 to increase the NFL to a whopping 14 teams.
Minnesota Vikings – New quarterback – new offensive coordinator – new challenge with first place schedule – all could add up to a tough season. Many commentators are looking at a difficult schedule and predicting a big fall off for the Nordic warriors. Red doesn’t see the NFC -West as all that tough as the Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams and 49ers are all overrated. The NFC – East component should be even easier unless the Bills and Dolphins step up – and Red thinks the more likely scenario has those teams stepping in it. Red is not high on Kirk Cousins but he made a really pathetic OTNAs team look decent at times. The big question is what to do about the running game with the loss of Jerrick McKinnon and no real answer for a solid replacement. So why the Vikings? Like he said, Red has to pick someone. Minnesota sleds to a tough 10-6 record.
Chicago Bears – Every season one formerly pathetic excuse for a professional football somehow picks itself up off the garbage pile and starts winning games. Red’s pick for worst to (almost) first this season is the Bears. Red’s just going with his ever growing gut on this one. And Red will be putting an “I Like Mitch Trubisky” bumper sticker on his car – just so people will wonder – “Who the hell is Mitch Trubisky?” To which Red could answer, “He’s the poor man’s Kirk Cousins.” Chicago also goes 10-6 but only gets Wild Card spot – Maybe – stay tuned.
Green Bay Packers – Red admires the 200 some thousand Green Bay Packers, Inc. shareholders and the way this team has been run for almost its entire existence as a community project. All professional sports teams should be owned and controlled in this fashion – not by some billionaire blowhard (Jerry Jones comes to mind for some reason) who could give a shit about the average fan once he or she has paid for the season tickets. The owner who won’t make sure the fans aren’t gouged at the concession stands and don’t have to sit in three hours of traffic to get home. The owner who plays commercials at 120 decibels at every possible opportunity. The “welfare queen” owner who sucks on the public tit and expects the taxpayers to make him richer just because he has deemed to grace their city with a professional football team – at least until there is greener turf somewhere else. So while Red always wishes good things for the Packers, he also has to be honest with his readers and tell them – not this season. A-Rodg carried them on his capable shoulders until going down last season. Is he back? If so, then maybe there is hope. Or maybe not. Green Bay is 8-8.
Detroit Lions – The last good thing Red remembers about the Lions is reading Bobby Layne’s autobiography – Always on Sunday – in elementary school. Red is not sure why his parents let him read about Bobby’s alcoholic womanizing, drunk driving, and non-stop partying but it sure opened Red’s eyes to the possibilities of life – or a certain kind of life anyway. Unfortunately, Red’s athletic career and exposure to the side benefits of sports celebrity was cut short by a crippling lack of talent and a desire to keep his teeth. Maybe Red was allowed to read this fascinating tome because Layne had been the hero at UT when Red’s parents were in school. And maybe the curse of Bobby Layne is still hanging over this franchise. Although possibly apocryphal, after he was traded to the Stealers in 1958, Layne supposedly responded to the trade by saying that “the Lions would not win for 50 years.” Bobby apparently called for an extension at some point. So while short on analysis here, Red has hopefully provided you some insight into the stupidity of this whole exercise. Detroit stinks – 4-12.
Vikings. What a start to last season with the Vikings coming out of the gate 5-0. Then cold hard reality (like a Minnesota winter) set in and the team went 3-8 to finish the season. But for the fast start an even season would have looked pretty good after losing Teddy Bridgewater to what may still prove to be a career-ending injury. With Sam Bradford at the helm and little help from the running backs, the Vikings probably did about as well as could be expected. Adding Latavius Murray and rookie Dalvin Cook will give SB some more tools and there have been improvement on the O-line, but this season will turn on the defense. Mark Zimmer had the unit humming last year – ranking 3rd in yards allowed and 6th in points allowed. They start the same basic unit this season with only Captain Munnerlyn and Chad Greenway gone. Just a little better play from up and coming players like Danielle Hunter, Tres Waynes and Eric Kendricks could make this the second or third best defense in the league. More turnovers and they are there. Red likes the Vikings chances in an overall down year for this divisions. Minnesota blows no one away but manages a title with a 11-5 record.
Packers. Packers needed six consecutive wins to end the season after a mealy 4-6 to claim the NFC North last season. But guess what – they still have Aaron Rodgers and a talented crew around him. That is, except for at tailback where the untested Ty Montgomery is stepping in. Opening with Seattle will be a reasonable test of the Pack and could set the tone for the first half of the season. But it doesn’t get any easier for the Packers as they also face the Falcons, Bengals, Cowboys, Vikings and possibly dangerous Saints before a favorable Week 8 bye. Expect a 4-3 record at the break. After that it is a bit easier. Packers are 10-6 and in as the Wildcard.
Lions. Matt Stafford is now the highest paid player in the history of the NFL? Does that make any kind of sense – even nonsense? No. Even with the HPPITHOTNFL, the Lions were drubbed in the playoffs by Seattle. This year no one gets the chance to drub the Lions in the playoffs. Detroit is an 9-7 team at best and while that got them a playoff beating last year – it won’t be good enough in 2017.
Bears. Red swears the Bears will not switch gears and stay in arrears (in wins) this year, so hear this, steer clear (if you hold your cash dear) of ever betting on the Bears – except to lose – Red fears. Sorry. Chicago 3-13.