We’re just past the quarter mark of the NFL season — technically quarter-plus-one for the Chicago Bears — so it seems like a good time to check-in on our neighbors in the NFC North. While the Green Bay Packers have jumped out to a dominating start, the rest of the division has been less impressive. So let’s work our way down from #2, starting with the Chicago Bears. Note that the rankings of units and players will be done using EPA/play unless noted otherwise.
Starting with the team’s “fundamentals,” they rank 26th in total offense, 26th in passing offense, and 5th in total defense. Despite this, the Bears have stumbled their way into a 4-1 record. What the hell is going on?
Much virtual ink was spilled last year on if the Packers were fraudulently good. If the Packers were frauds last year (they did overperform their underlying numbers), then we don’t really have a word in the English language to describe what the Bears are. Their point differential suggests they should be a .500 team so far, and their DVOA (pre-Buccaneers game) ranked them 22nd in the league. In the rbsdm “Team Tiers” they line up right next to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Bears fans hoped that the switch from Mitch Trubisky to Nick Foles might jumpstart a disappointing offense, but that has yet to happen. In fact, Nick Foles has a WORSE EPA/play than Mitch Trubisky, albeit with a slightly better CPOE.
The Bears’ good unit, their defense, has also not played anyone.
CHI's ranking by EPA/play:— rcon14 (@rcon14) October 9, 2020
Pass O: 26th
Run O: 25th
Pass D: 4th
Run D: 17th
Have played following offenses:
Have played following defenses:
Defense is generally much more reliant on who you play rather than how good you are, so I would expect some regression from Chicago’s defense; the offense doesn’t appear to have any answers to its problems. They may end up sneaking into the playoffs due to the combination of banking wins and a larger playoff field, but don’t be fooled: Chicago is not good.
At the start of the year I thought Minnesota would be the biggest threat to Green Bay in the division. While their record has put them in a very precarious position, their play actually indicates they might still be a playoff contender, albeit a fringy one.
The Vikings rank 14th in offense, coming in 23rd in passing offense, but 5th in rushing offense. Despite the rankings, the Vikings passing offense remains more efficient than their rushing offense on a per-play basis. The Vikings defense ranks 21st in total defense and 24th against the pass. The defense has been Minnesota’s biggest problem, especially the young cornerbacks.
Minnesota is also making it harder on themselves on offense. They are the only team in the NFL aggressively committed to the run.
Gary Kubiak has taken over for now-Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski and has fully turned back the clock to the 1990s with his play script. The Vikings are making Kirk Cousins’ job incredibly difficult by handing him so many third down throws.
The Vikings have also played a pretty difficult schedule so far. They played the Packers, who are the NFL’s best team by EPA/play, the Colts, who are a solidly tier-two team, and the Titans, who before their COVID debacle looked to be a solid wild-card team. The Vikings’ schedule doesn’t get easier though, as they take on Seattle and Green Bay again in the next month. The Vikings might be an okay team, but okay probably isn’t good enough to dig out of the hole they got themselves into.
Oh, the Lions. After an incredibly unlucky last year that saw them lose their starting QB for much of the season, drop two hilarious losses to Green Bay, and use a high draft pick at cornerback, Detroit was a mildly sexy pick for the NFC playoffs. I almost predicted them to make the playoffs, but I just couldn’t do it. The reason why: Matt Patricia.
His seat is basically on fire at this point as he, Dan Quinn, and Adam Gase are in a race to see who can follow Bill O’Brien to the chopping block. The biggest reason why is a defense that is truly awful. They rank 31st in total defense and are a disaster against both the pass (25th) and the run (32nd). Patricia, as a former defensive coordinator, was supposed to fix this. Patricia has most definitely not fixed the defense in any way.
I kind of expected the defense to be bad for Detroit, both because Patricia is bad and because they have very little talent on that side of the ball. Where I am a little surprised is just how mediocre the offense has been. They rank 23rd in offense, 21st in passing offense, and 19th in rushing offense. They’re just not good at anything.
Matthew Stafford has struggled this year after being quite efficient last year. His CPOE has fallen to -2.2, below the likes of Mitch Trubisky and Daniel Jones. DVOA puts Stafford at 21st.
There isn’t a ton to say about Detroit that is all that interesting. They’re bad in a way that is kind of simple and boring. They are a team with very little talent outside of sometimes-quarterback and wide receiver, and are a very poorly coached team. I expect Patricia to be fired before the end of the season and the GM, Bob Quinn, may not be far behind.
The Packers are fortunate to be in the NFC North. None of these other teams likely rank in the top dozen of the NFL. The Vikings have some offensive upside if they stop running the ball so much, but that may be too much to ask for Gary Kubiak. Chicago’s offense sucks and their defense hasn’t played anyone yet. Detroit is Detroit. If the Packers take care of business, it should be a 6-0 year in the division, maybe 5-1.