2020 NFL Preview, Part 4: The North

Phew, almost done. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, and Part 3 is here.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

If you’re like me, and you root for a team that you just know is gonna totally blow it at some point or another, you’re always keeping a close eye out for other, better, cooler teams to Stan for once your amalgamation of schmucks has been sent packing. In the worst years (2016 immediately springs to mind as an example), these are slim pickings indeed, but last year we were gifted with an surfeit of fun bandwagon squadrons. You had the Chiefs, with Patrick Mahomes and his ludicrous bombs! You had the 49ers, who I guess were obnoxiously dominant at one point, yeah, but that was a long time ago! You also had the Titans, if you’re into reflexive underdog endorsement.

And then there was the Ravens. The Ravens were the coolest and freshest and most fun team in the whole entire world in 2019. I was as impressed with Lamar Jackson in the first few weeks, but when I saw him shred the then-undefeated Patriots alive in week 9, I fell all the way in love. Then they totally fucking blew it in their first playoff game, because I can’t even leech onto other people’s nice things.

But shit happens! Sometimes you get the 1 seed and lose in the Divisional Round anyway, and that’s OK! This year they’re back with Lamar Jackson and most of the rest of his supporting cast, and thus they are well-positioned to run it back in the regular season and go a further (which in this case is any but shush!) distance in the postseason. Legendary guard Marshal Yanda retired, and that has the potential to suck quite a bit, but Greg Roman seems like a smart guy and I’m guessing he’ll figure out how to work with what he’s got.

I spent the entirety of the offseason believing that this year is going to be a two horse race between the Chiefs and the Ravens, and I stand by that even if the Chiefs end up blowing this here game (they just tied things up as I’m typing this). While their division rivals are all various levels of promising, I don’t see any of them seriously challenging for the division throne. The King stay the King, after all.

Predicted Finish: 1st

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ok, time to speed this up some since the season has already started and I’m getting sick of doing the thing where I name like, three people who are on the team in a misguided attempt to make it look like I’ve been paying attention to football during the offseason; I assure you, I have not. Also fuck the Steelers.

For a few years there, we were living in a bizarre parallel dimension where the Steelers’ offense was an unspeakable powerhouse, and the defense was a liability. Last season, they reset to the normal state – a lights out defense that is totally screwed as soon as they’re losing by more than a touchdown. Ben Roethlisberger was lost after week 2, and since he’s back and healthy and all that stuff, the Steelers are a pretty trendy pick to grab a playoff spot.

But, am I missing something here? Isn’t Roethlisberger getting pretty damn old, and wasn’t he notorious for missing multiple games a season every season in his prime? Why is it assumed that this trend will reverse now that the dude is 38 and coming off of an injury that took him out for an entire season? Also, this is a reminder that defensive performance does not remain constant from year to year, so even if Roethlisberger starts all 16 games, healthy QB plus top shelf defense does not guarantee a playoff spot, because there’s less than no guarantee said defense remains so. I haven’t assigned enough Wild Cards in the AFC, but not I’m retroactively assigning it to the Patriots.

Predicted Finish: 2nd

Cleveland Browns

Unfortunately, I didn’t preview last season before it started. Had I done so, I would have piublicly reminded everyone that the Browns are the fucking Browns, and then presented that reminder here, now, so that I could “I told you so” everyone, and the cackled like the mad, evil genius I know myself to be. But alas, I kept it to myself, and therefore cannot style on anyone.

But it’s never to late for now, so here’s a polite public service announcement for people who should know better already: It doesn’t matter how much raw roster talent they acquire or how promising their new coach looks, the Browns do not deserve the benefit of the doubt until they at least string a few Wild Card appearances together. Seriously, who the fuck crowns the Cleveland Goddamn Browns before a single snap is played?

I will say a brief handful of nice things about Kevin Stefanski if and only if you ask very nicely and ply me with alcohol and/or desserts beforehand (both regular and psychoactive). For now, suffice to say that there is no reason to believe he has the juice to turn the Browns around until and unless he actually does so, and when I learned he got poached from the Vikings I wasn’t even disappointed.

Predicted Finish: 3rd

Cincinnati Bengals

The fact that I didn’t say a single nice thing about the Browns, yet still have them penciled in at 3rd place in the division, should be pretty telling. I reserve any and all judgment on Joe Burrow until he starts playing, but I fail to see how he’s been put in a position to succeed immediately, and since this is the Bengals here, I don’t think I have the imagination to see him put in a position to succeed at all.

Here I two things I believe fully and without reservation:

1. Marvin Lewis was never going to win a playoff game, let alone get the Bengals over the hump.

2. Marvin Lewis dragged the Bengals toward relevance kicking and screaming, and now that he’s gone Mike Brown is going to drag the entire team back to hell through the sheer power of his miserly incompetence.

Predicted Finish: 4th

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

The Packers are sort of the anti-Browns. Both Aaron Rodgers individually and the team as a whole get the benefit of the doubt even when they don’t quite deserve it. They went 13-3 last year despite obvious deficiencies on both sides of the ball, and the 49ers had the decency to expose them as total frauds not once, but twice. The result of the NFC Championship Game was not in doubt for a single second, because it was not in doubt at any point in the week leading up to it.

Now the Packers get to experience the joy of trying to run it back without having done a single thing to improve their short-term prospects, leaving Rodgers to scramble endlessly to find Davante Adams, lest he be forced to throw the ball away or take a sack because he finds either result preferable to trusting Marquez Valdez-Scantling (or whoever) to make a play. Enough people have dunked on their baffling offseason that it gives me no pleasure to pile on here, but not even trying to improve this receiving corps is almost a crime against the sport itself.

Should you have the misfortune of watching a significant amount of Packers football this year, get ready for a whole bunch of commentator hand-wringing about Jordan Love, and whether he’ll see the field, and whether Rodgers sees him as a threat to his job, and all this other hooey. Love won’t get so much as a snap unless Rodgers gets hurt (or gets the ‘rona, I guess), and is deeply unlikely to play next year, either. Everyone seems to know and understand this, but that won’t get the likes of Troy Aikman to shut the fuck up about it already.

Oh right, predictions. The Packers obviously suck, but so does every other team in the division. Inertia wins.

Predicted Finish: 1st

Minnesota Vikings

In absorbing the written and spoken words of the greater football punditry, I was surprised to find a great deal of soothsayers picking the Vikings to win the division this year, largely on the logic that they were the only team in the division that got through the offseason without making any sort of catastrophic fuckups, like overpaying a bunch of ex-Patriots or trading for the right to pay out Nick Foles’ contract.

This is, of course, entirely backwards, because while the Vikings went about their business in a conscientious and smart-ish way, the fact remains that most of their roster moves consisted of getting rid of dudes. So many dudes, some of whom were instrumental in the teams’ recent success, are gone. Granted, that’s not all bad; Xavier Rhodes was toast and repeatedly toasted, Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander were never gonna be worth what someone else would pay them, and Linval Joseph was still productive, sure, but not enough to keep around at his price tag.

When the team traded for Yannick Ngakoue, many started hyping up the combination of him and Danielle Hunter on the edge, seemingly unaware that Hunter is inflicted with some sort of mysterious injury (I can only assume leprosy at this point), and is out until who even fucking knows. So now, the defense is down to two good safeties, two good linebackers, and one good edge rusher, none of whom are supported with any depth should they get injured. The rest of the line is a bunch of dudes, and none of the cornerbacks have any experience to speak of. Huzzah!

Then there’s the offense, which has consistently been garbage for at least 66% of Mike Zimmer’s tenure. As much as he sucks and is easy to rag on, Kirk Cousins did (checks notes)…actually kind of well last year? The fuck? Doesn’t matter though, because Stefon Diggs is gone and Adam Thielen is old. Get ready for another season of Dalvin Cook getting mushed into a pile twice in a row to set up yet another 3rd and 8, only this time there’s no Diggs to save the day. The offensive line remains garbage, and is doomed to suck donkey balls for the rest of eternity.

I remain optimistic for next year, because I’m a chronic depressive with concerning drinking habits, but right now this team is doomed.

Predicted Finish: 3rd

Chicago Bears

As with the Packers’ curious decision-making apparatus, enough ink has been spilled about the Bears’ new innovations in faceplanting. There’s little ragging I could say to rag on Mitchy Biscuits that has not already been said, some of it by guys from Des Plaines named Mike who are sloshed on Old Style and in real danger of choking on their Italian Beefs.

So instead, I’m going to take this opportunity to rag on Matt Nagy, because he’s a fraud and it’s fun. Matt Nagy won Coach of the Year in 2018 after inheriting an already stacked defense that added Khalil Mack at the zero hour, and getting the barest promise out of Trubisky by letting him scramble for his fucking life as soon as he didn’t know where he was supposed to throw the ball, which was any time his first read wasn’t open. Once Nagy started doing what he was hired to do by attempting to make Trubisky into a real quarterback, the wheels came all the way the fuck off, culminating in a series of 2 yard screens to Tarik Cohen on 3rd and 17. He’s little more than an extroverted Marc Trestman with a place kicker complex. Doink Doink!

The defense is still good enough to smear the Vikings putrid line into goo, but unlikely to do well enough to get the team back to the playoffs by themselves unless they force 80 turnovers. That doesn’t seem a safe bet.

Predicted Finish: 2nd

Detroit Lions

Matt Patricia sucks. Matt Patricia is an embarrassment to the sport of football. Matt Patricia is an embarrassment to me, personally, despite the fact that he coaches a team I actively dislike. I look forward to another season of Patricia alienating his players, the teams’ fans, the poor bastards tasked with covering this team to make ends meet, and everyone else with a shred of common decency. I also look forward to his inevitable ouster at the end of this season, now that he’s overpopulated the defense with overpaid former Patriots, and will thus be out of credible excuses when his defense finishes in the bottom 10 of every metric (both traditional and advanced) once more. It takes a lot for me to feel sympathy for Matt Stafford, but fuck me if the guy doesn’t deserve better.

Predicted Finish: 4th

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