Reality Check: NFC North Edition

I have been reading and hearing a lot about a topic in the NFL that is sure to grind the gears of Vikings fans everywhere. Potentially the most prominent example being that Colin Cowherd has the Packers winning the division at 11-5 and the Vikings finishing 2nd at 9-7.

Now, this may be taken for a grain of salt because Cowherd of Fox Sports has become a sensationalist commentator on sports. He also just a few short months ago predicted the Vikings would repeat as NFC North Champions, so what caused him to change his mind?

The answer is nothing tangible. The biggest (and honestly one of the only) reason Cowherd and Packer fans everywhere believe they have a chance is because of Aaron Rodgers. Seriously try to have a legitimate conversation with a Packer fan, check your watch right as you start, and I can guarantee you that Rodgers will be mentioned in the first five seconds (along with all of those championships that happened over 50 years ago). They also will mention how cheap of a hit Anthony Barr put on Rodgers last year (which it wasn’t).

Having one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the league is definitely a net gain. Trust me, I am not undervaluing Rodgers. But I like to look at more than just a single player, especially in a game like football where so many players need to be relied on to find success.

For example, what about the 22nd ranked defense exudes brilliance? What about a very shaky and inexperienced receiving core breeds confidence? What about a 34 year old rehabbing from a broken collarbone?

If we take a look at the Vikings against the Packers position by position, the edge on most of them would be in the Vikings favor.

Now, I really am not a biased writer. Yes, I obviously cheer for the Vikings, but I am a realist and skeptic. Any season can be derailed by a critical injury (see the 2017 Packers) and the Vikings were fortunate to avoid any major defensive injuries in 2017. However, they did find a way to have the 10th best scoring offense in the league despite losing Sam Bradford, Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs for a stretch and a couple O-Line members throughout the season.

Defensively, they were 1st in the NFL only allowing 15.8 points per game and 275 yard of offense per game. They also set a NFL record for 3rd down conversion percentage. Basically, teams found very little success against the Vikings (except for the NFC title game, but let’s not get into that). Minnesota lost nobody critical to the defense and added Defensive Tackle Sheldon Richardson to the mix as well as 1st round pick Mike Hughes. Barring (no pun intended.. Okay fine pun intended) no major injuries, we will likely find the Vikes at the top of the list for defense in 2018.

Now, the nature of the NFL is that anything can happen. Kirk Cousins might not fit in great, new Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo may struggle in his first OC job, the O-Line could get some injuries and things could fall apart.

The way I predict a season is by thinking about it in terms of percentage of outcomes. So, if the 2018 season were to be simulated 100 times, how many would the Vikings finish ahead of the Packers? These are the numbers that come to mind for 1st in the division with 100 simulations (entirely made up “data”).

Bears: 1 (this might be generous). Lions 24 (Stafford is good). Packers 30. Vikings 45.

The Packers will obviously be better than last season since Rodgers is back, but I’ll take my chances with the 10th best offense and the best defense in the NFL.

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