Welcome back for part two of my Crystal Ballin 2022 series! This week we're going to gander at the NFC North division and decide exactly how these teams will finish in the upcoming season.
After a major trade which saw arguably the best wide receiver in the league head to the other conference, many believe the division is up for grabs this year. There are plenty of questions that need to be answered, and we will go over them shortly.
That being said, I will now be taking out my crystal ball and informing you all precisely how this upcoming season will play out.
If you guys enjoy this series, please let me know! I'd love to see any sort of feedback - be it questions, critique or suggestions! Thanks for reading and have an awesome day!
Note: All win totals are current as of the time of this writing via DraftKings Sportsbook
4. Chicago Bears
If there's one team in the league who currently screams "rebuild", it's the Chicago Bears. Last year looked truly abysmal if you were rooting for the team, losing 4 of their final 6 games. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields looked lost and overwhelmed at times with a poor offensive line and receivers struggling to gain separation and hold on to the football.
The makeup of this team as a whole has gone from being one of the oldest rosters to one of the most inexperienced. Khalil Mack was traded away, Allen Robinson left in free agency and they cut veteran defenders Tashaun Gipson, Danny Trevathan and Alec Ogletree, among other moves.
I believe in the talent of guys like Justin Fields and Darnell Mooney, but it's far from enough to maintain a productive offense. Defensively, I'm excited to see rookie defensive backs Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon as I believe they can grow into very solid players. However the team as a whole does not appear to be good enough to compete for at least another two years.
2021 Record: 6-11
The 2021 Bears were a struggle to watch. Whether it was mediocrity from rookie Justin Fields or the struggles of Allen Robinson, they just couldn't get in any rhythm. That shows just how far Chicago is from sporting a great team.
2022 Key Performer: S Jaquan Brisker
Brisker will beat out DeAndre Houston-Carson to step into a starting role alongside 28 year old Eddie Jackson. With a young secondary full of potential, the second round draft pick will be the standout as he makes a run at the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
64 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles
2022 Over/Under: 6.5
Chicago is basically slated for the same amount of wins as last year, and I believe that's optimistic. Unless Fields takes a major step up and they get a few lucky breaks, I can't see them even matching last year's output.
Crystal Ball Says: 4-13
3. Detroit Lions
I'll admit it... when I first went through the schedule and saw the final record I came up with, I was in shock. I thought there was no way this was right, but after diving deeper into this team, I definitely believe the Detroit Lions will make a run this year.
Starting on offense, Jared Goff is not a terrible quarterback. He's not great - but they are in better shape than some other teams. Obviously head coach Dan Campbell and the front office liked him better than any of the rookies coming in, and he does have a 64% completion percentage for his career and two 4,600 yards seasons under his belt... Goff will do fine for now.
D'Andre Swift is one of the most exciting running backs in the game, as he has an all around skill set, including electric ability in both the running and receiving game. Jamaal Williams is an excellent backup who has shown he is more than capable of contributing alongside Swift as well as taking the full workload if he needs to.
The receiving core is pretty exciting too, as we saw 22 year old Amon-Ra St. Brown break out down the stretch last year (8+ catches in the final six games of the season). He will be joined by free agents D.J. Chark, Josh Reynolds and 12th overall rookie pick Jameson Williams (when he recovers from his ACL injury). These weapons plus stud tight end T.J. Hockenson should give Goff more than enough help this year - especially considering their great offensive line.
Defense is the Lions' weakness, however. They finished as the 29th overall defensive unit in 2021, allowing six games of 34+ points (including being on the receiving end of a 51-29 dismantling by the Seattle Seahawks in week 17). They did address this side of the ball plenty in the offseason, drafting edge rusher Aiden Hutchinson with the second overall pick. He should make an immediate impact as a starting edge rusher. They also drafted safety Kerby Joseph (3rd round), linebackers Malcolm Rodriguez and James Houston (both in the 6th round), and cornerback Chase Lucas (7th round). These moves in addition to cornerback Mike Hughes and linebacker Jarrad Davis in free agency show this team should at least improve defensively in 2022 marginally, if not considerably.
2021 Record: 3-13-1
Record wise, Detroit was BAD last year. However when you look at their schedule, you'll notice that six of their 13 losses came within one possession. When you also take the 16-16 tie in week 10 with Pittsburgh into account, this team had the potential to go 10-7 if luck fell their way. Now with more talent and a little more experience as a unit, Detroit should be more poised to capitalize on those close games in 2020.
2022 Key Performer: TE T.J. Hockenson
Known around the league (especially in fantasy football circles) as one of the best young tight ends in the game, Hockenson has shown the ability to break out statistically (especially in 2020 where he had eight games of 50+ receiving yards). With another year with Jared Goff plus a solid receiving core to take some pressure off, this very well could be the year Hockenson finally breaks the 1,000 yard threshold.b
67 receptions 1,059 yards 7 TDs
2022 Over/Under: 6.5
The odds here aren't giving the Lions the benefit of the doubt. This squad has the 5th easiest strength of schedule and with question marks surrounding a few division rivals and a head coach with as much fight as Dan Campbell has, I'd absolutely take the over here.
Crystal Ball Says: 9-8
2. Green Bay Packers
Like many, I am very interested to see how this offense operates without star wideout Davante Adams. Since his breakout season in 2016, Adams has been the go-to guy for Aaron Rodgers (117+ targets in each of the last six years), and he has always delivered. With the hall of fame quarterback in his age 38 season, he will need to build new chemistry with someone else... and I think that someone isn't who you'd expect.
I believe running back Aaron Jones will have a major role in this offense in 2022. He has great pass catching ability, and with third year runner A.J. Dillon proving more than capable up the middle, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Jones took more of a receiving role and we saw Dillon gain more rushing opportunity in the process.
Allen Lazard is another guy who will need to step in big time as well. We have seen spurts of his ability (nine games of 60+ yards in his four year career) as well as a small glimpse at game breaking electricity (6 catches for 146 yards and a score against the Saints in week 3 of 2020). Other than Lazard, Rodgers has old friend Randall Cobb, rookie speedster Christian Watson, the skilled (but often injured and disappointing) Sammy Watkins and tight end Robert Tonyan coming off a torn ACL. Rodgers has all the cards stacked against him heading into 2022.
Luckily Green Bay does sport a nice defense, as they finished 9th in 2021. They did lose linebacker Za'Darius Smith in free agency to rival Minnesota, but they added defensive lineman Jarran Reed to the team as well. The team did a great job addressing defense in the draft as well, selecting both Quay Walker (linebacker) and Devonte Wyatt (defensive lineman) with their two first round picks. Other rookies Kingsley Enagbare, Tariq Carpenter and Jonathan Ford could have the ability to earn rotational playing time as well.
2021 Record: 13-4
Rodgers, Jones and Adams carried the offense last year and the defense was stout. I expect a major drop in overall production from the former, as Adams was simply too impactful for their stability. Rodgers targeted Adams 169 times last year (32% of his total pass attempts). There's no way Green Bay can fully make up for that.
2022 Key Performer: RB Aaron Jones
Like I said earlier, I believe Jones will benefit greatly from the departure of Davante Adams, he will be a STUD in fantasy football PPR leagues. The rushes will go down, but the targets will shoot up. Is it time we see a running back become Aaron Rodgers' favorite receiver?
159 rushes 780 yards 4 TDs
110 targets, 93 receptions 941 yards 6 TDs
2022 Over/Under: 11
I can get on board with this win total. It all depends on how you think Aaron Rodgers will rebound without Adams. I think he'll do okay, but definitely not worthy of another MVP season... or even a division title for that matter. I have Green Bay going under - but barely.
Crystal Ball Says: 10-7
1. Minnesota Vikings
I feel like I say this every year, but I really like the Vikings this year. I'm very excited to see this offense with Kevin O'Connell as head coach, taking over for Mike Zimmer. This crew has the potential to be a top 5 or 6 offense with the weapons they have.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins doesn't give most people much hope but I disagree. I'm a huge fan of Cousins as a quarterback (not counting the vaccine controversy) and believe he can be top 5 in many categories this year. In his four years with the Vikings, he has averaged a statline of: 68% completion, 4,097 yards 31 TDs and 9 INTs per season. He is heavily underrated and more than capable of leading his team to great success.
Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu and rookie Ty Chandler is a great running back core for their quarterback to lean on. Considering he always fills in well whenever Dalvin Cook gets hurt, it wouldn't be shocking to see Mattison get a little more of the workload this year.
Justin Jefferson is a superstar at wide receiver. Since he was drafted in the first round in 2020 draft, he has taken the league by storm and refused to let up. Jefferson's stats speak for themselves: 196 catches, 3,016 yards and 17 touchdowns on 292 targets in two seasons. This man is quite possibly the best receiver in the league - and he only just turned 23. Adam Thielen is an experienced vet who fits in great as the number two option. K.J. Osborn broke out in a way last year as the third receiver and should get more targets if the passing game opens up. I'm also excited for second year man Ihmir Smith-Marsette as well as tight end Irv Smith Jr.'s return from injury.
The defense should be solid despite last season's 30th ranked finish. The additions of rookies Brian Asamoah (linebacker), Andrew Booth Jr. (cornerback) and Lewis Cine (safety) should reinvigorate this unit. Free agency saw Minnesota bring in defensive lineman Harrison Phillips and linebacker Za'Darius Smith, both of whom should see a staring role this season.
2021 Record: 8-9
Much like the Lions, 2021 saw the Vikings underachieve. Of their nine losses, eight of them saw the final score within a single possession. With a new head coach and some solid offseason additions, the Vikings will win more of those close games and capture the divisional crown in the process.
2022 Key Performer: WR Justin Jefferson
I already listed his stats from his two year career, but Justin Jefferson is unbelievably impressive: He has 100+ yards in nearly half of his career games (14 of 33) including a ridiculous statline against the Detroit Lions last season of 11 catches 182 yards and a score... in a losing effort. After this season, he will prove to the world what I already personally believe: Justin Jefferson is the best receiver in the NFL.
178 targets, 126 receptions 1,801 yards 14 TDs
2022 Over/Under: 9
Minnesota is being given a fair win total here, I suppose. Typically for the number like this, it all depends on if you believe they are a playoff team. Based on how they're ranked here in my predictions, I obviously do. They won't run away with the 1 seed or anything, but keep an eye out for the Vikings come January...
Crystal Ball Says: 10-7