Thursday, September 7, 2023

2023 NFL Predictions: NFC North

Before the start of the season, I will post my division-by-division predictions for the 2023 NFL regular season and postseason.

Instead of projecting an outright winner and loser in all 272 regular-season games, I've assigned a win probability to each team in every game and totaled them up.

Check out our 2023 NFL Predictions page for other divisions.

With that said, here are our early NFC North projections for each team including their win total.

1. Detroit Lions - Projected Wins: 9.53

Ben Johnson is a future head coach in this league, and he helped Jared Goff and the Lions operate the fourth-ranked offense (380.0 YPG) and fifth-best scoring offense (26.6) in 2022. Other than slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, there are question marks at receiver. Jameson Williams was drafted to be a difference maker, but he had two touches as a rookie and will miss the first six games in 2023 due to suspension. That said, the Lions have one of the league's best offensive lines and their 1-2 punch of rookie Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery is an upgrade over D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams.

The Lions ranked last in the NFL in scoring defense (392.4 YPG), and only the Cardinals (26.4) and Bears (27.2) allowed more points per game (25.1). Aidan Hutchinson is a future star, and they have a new-look secondary. In fact, one of the biggest values in the entire draft was defensive back Brian Branch. The Lions may be the favorites to win the NFC North, but their defense could ultimately be what keeps them from going deep in the postseason.

MORE: Detroit Lions 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

2. Green Bay Packers - Projected Wins: 8.3

For the first time since 1992, the Packers enter the season with a starting quarterback not named Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers. While Jordan Love has thrown only 83 career regular-season pass attempts, the team "would run through a wall for him."

Going into the season, the team's top five wide receivers and tight ends are either rookies (three) or second-year players (two). We should see a heavy dose of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon running behind one of the league's best offensive lines, when healthy, to take some pressure off as they begin the Jordan Love era.

Bad news first: The Packers defense underwhelmed compared to its talent level in 2022. The good news, however, is that the Packers definitely have the best defense within the division.

MORE: Green Bay Packers 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

3. Minnesota Vikings - Projected Wins: 8.12

The Vikings were one of five teams to win 13-plus games in 2022, yet they had a negative scoring differential (-3) on the year. None of the other four teams to win 13 or more games had a scoring differential less than +127 (Chiefs). In addition, the Vikings had 11 one-score victories. To be fair, they deserve credit for winning close games, but it also illustrates how the season could have gone quite differently as well.

Minnesota's passing offense may be even better in 2023 with the addition of first-round wide receiver Jordan Addison joining Justin Jefferson, NFL AP Offensive Player of the Year, and T.J. Hockenson, now the highest-paid tight end in the league. Kirk Cousins, a potential free agent in 2024, is definitely not in the elite tier of NFL quarterbacks, but he's a fringe top-10 quarterback and the top quarterback in the NFC North. Even with Alexander Mattison replacing Dalvin Cook, the Vikings are likely to be more committed to the run in 2023 than they were last season.

On a positive note, bringing in Brian Flores to run Minnesota's defense is a step in the right direction. But it's just a step, and it will likely take time (beyond this season) to realize the benefits of the coaching and scheme change. Both Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith had double-digit sacks in 2022, but Smith is now in Cleveland and the Vikings signed Marcus Davenport to a one-year deal to fill his void. While he struggled to finish in 2022 (0.5 sacks), he had nine sacks in 2021.

MORE: Minnesota Vikings 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

4. Chicago Bears - Projected Wins: 7.7

Success in 2023 is mostly tied to the development of Justin Fields, who made in-season strides as a passer and was dominant as a runner in 2022. Only six running backs had more rushing yards than Fields (1,143), who also led the NFL in YPC (7.1), and here are his intra-season splits as a passer:

  • Games 1-7: 55.9% completion, five TDs and six INTs
  • Games 8-15: 63.7% completion, 12 TDs and five INTs

Meanwhile, adding a true No. 1 receiver in D.J. Moore and using the ninth overall pick on offensive tackle Darnell Wright will help support Fields' development.

Collectively, the NFC North defenses are relatively bad compared to other divisions. And one could argue that the Bears defense is bad relative to the other defenses in the NFC North. The Bears ranked last in the NFL in sacks (20) and in scoring defense (27.2 PPG) in 2022.

MORE: Chicago Bears 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

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