We all know that Pro Football Focus is one of the most divisive sites out there; fans tend to either love them or hate them. But regardless of what you think of their methods, the amount of work they do is undoubtedly impressive.
That is, to say, of all the complaints you can hurl towards PFF, under-researched is one that’s off limits. And so, their 2018 NFC North preview is pretty extensive and very interesting.
Like many, PFF views the Minnesota Vikings as the leaders in the division. Seeing as the Vikings contended for the conference title last year, only lost one starter on defense and added Kirk Cousins behind center, it makes a lot of sense. Sure, there are questions about whether their offensive line will hold up and how Minnesota will respond to a new offensive coordinator, but I think it’s fair to say they should be considered the team to beat in the division right now.
The more interesting conversation is around who will be the Vikings’ best competition in the division. PFF gives the Lions and Packers identical odds to win the North, placing the probability at 23 percent for each (the Vikings are at 38 percent, the Bears are at 16 percent).
PFF’s probabilities are based on what is called their PFFELO rating system, which they describe thusly:
“an iterative, backward-looking algorithm that leverages PFF grades to yield a schedule-adjusted power ranking that can predict roughly three-fourths of the variance in the Vegas spread on a weekly basis.”
They also adjust these projections based on significant changes in a franchise - for example, Aaron Rodgers coming back from injury, or the Bears and Lions making coaching changes in 2018.
The battle for second place is an interesting one, because most believe with Rodgers back, the Packers will assume the role of biggest challenge to the Vikings. This is further evidenced by the wild difference in Vegas’ win totals for each team. The Packers’ over/under is set at 10.5 wins for 2018 (same as the Vikings), while the Lions are at just 7.5. PFF, on the other hand, has the Packers at 7.93 wins, while the Lions are at 7.9 wins.
Vegas seeks to set odds that reflect public perception, so this is clear example of the disconnect between the Lions’ reputation and their actual set of affairs. For those claiming that the Lions never get the credit they deserve, this is a great example. If PFF is as objective as they attempt to be, the talent level on this team is much higher than the general public gives them credit for.
As for the Packers, it’s been known for some time that Aaron Rodgers has carried their below-average roster for a while now, but Green Bay went through some significant changes this year. They replaced long-time general manager Ted Thompson with Brian Gutekunst and clearly looked to upgrade their poor secondary by going defensive back with their first two draft picks this year. They still have a ways to go to improve their average-at-best defense, but they’re finally on their way to getting Rodgers the help he needs on the other side of the ball.
Is it enough to reclaim a spot in the top half of the division? Only time will tell. Either way, I have to say that I agree with PFF’s ranking and their assertion that the Packers and Lions are much closer than most seem to think.