Thursday, Sep 5th
Monday, Sep 9th

NFC NORTH

CHICAGO BEARS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Luke Getsy returns as the offensive coordinator.
  • Defense: Head coach Matt Eberflus has a defensive background and is returning this season along with defensive coordinator Alan Williams.

Personnel Changes::

  • Justin Fields enters his third season firmly entrenched as the Bears starting QB.
  • Running back David Montgomery left town in free agency, leaving Khalil Herbert as the top Bears rusher. Chicago signed D’Onta Foreman in free agency and selected Roschon Johnson out of Texas in the 4th round of the NFL draft.
  • The Bears added DJ Moore when they traded away the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Moore will join Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool as the top wide receiver options for Chicago.
  • Robert Tonyan was added in free agency as a second tight end to complement starter Cole Kmet.
  • Chicago improved their offensive line through the draft and free agency, adding two new highly regarded starters.

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • GB x2, DET x2, MIN x2
  • NFC South (4)::
    • @ NO, @ TB, vs. CAR, vs. ATL
  • AFC West (4)::
    • @ KC, @ LAC, vs. LVR, vs. DEN
  • Other (3)::
    • @ CLE, @ WAS, vs. ARI

Bull Case::

The Bears went 3-14 last season, but it was not a lost cause and they are set up with a bright future. Justin Fields ascended into one of the more exciting quarterbacks in the league in his second season and set records with his rushing ability while showing flashes of growth as a passer. Looking towards 2023, it is hard not to be excited. The addition of DJ Moore truly can’t be overstated as the Chicago offense was clearly missing a dynamic, consistent threat in the passing game in 2022. The addition of Moore reminds me of the Eagles’ addition of AJ Brown last season in the way that it puts everyone else into roles that fit their skill sets and could be what propels this Bears offense to new heights this year. With Moore as the alpha wide receiver who can be used all over the field, Darnell Mooney can be used in his field stretching role that he was successful in early in his career before being asked to do too much while getting too much defensive attention last year. Likewise, Chase Claypool should benefit from advantageous matchups created by the additional threats on the field. Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan are very capable pass catchers and red zone threats who will also stress defenses, while the rushing threat of Fields and the more balanced offensive approach should keep running lanes open for the running backs. The Eagles comparison may sound like an exaggeration, but the addition of Moore truly does change the entire dynamic of the offense and Fields is primed for a big jump as a passer in his second season in the system. 

Bear Case::

The Bears offense is extremely dependent on the playing style of Justin Fields and he takes a lot of hits that put his body at risk on a weekly basis. While there is injury risk on every NFL team, the way Fields plays takes that risk to another level and the way this Bears team is set up would likely fall apart if they were to lose him. Exposing yourself to the Bears offense is a bet on Fields staying healthy and also requires the idea that there is enough offensive production to go around outside of Fields, as there were several games last season where his insane rushing production cannibalized offense from his teammates. Finally, the Bears offense has a lot of mouths to feed with three running backs, three wide receivers, and two tight ends all expected to be given ample opportunities. When you consider the potential low volume and high risk of an injury tanking this offense, the “Bear Case” for Chicago becomes very worrisome.

Expectations/Takeaways::

Outside of Justin Fields and DJ Moore, this Bears offense is very cheap to gain exposure to in Best Ball drafts. It should surprise no one if Fields posts THE QB1 season in 2023 and Moore could finally make the jump to the elite tier of wide receivers that many have expected for a couple of years now, as he is finally playing with an electric quarterback. While those two go in the third or fourth round, no other Chicago player is currently going before the 9th round, thus leaving a ton of room for profit. The cheap price tags on all of these Chicago pieces makes a bet on this offense in the form of a team stack highly tantalizing. The ambiguity in the backfield and lack of faith in Fields as a passer makes it impossible for the field to significantly push any of the ancillary pieces of this offense way up draft boards, meaning that there are almost certainly multiple pieces of the Chicago offense that are significantly undervalued right now. Claypool in the 15th round or later and “whichever Bears RB is the last one on the board” are my two favorite spots to attack and mine for value, while stacking any of the pass catchers with Fields will help you tap into his ceiling games. 

This Chicago offense epitomizes what is great and unique about Best Ball, as most of this Bears offense will be infuriating in formats where managers must set weekly lineups but in the Best Ball format, we don’t have to sweat the inevitable clunkers that are going to come from a still developing offense led by a quarterback who can hog all the production in a given week. The combination of an explosive offense and a reasonable schedule of opponents has me very excited for a big jump from this Bears team in 2023, as I expect them to challenge for a .500 record.

DETROIT LIONS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Emerging star Ben Johnson returns to the Lions as their offensive coordinator after leading one of the more exciting offenses in the league in 2022.
  • Defense: Aaron Glenn was given a raise and extension as the Lions defensive coordinator after another big step forward from the team last year.

Personnel Changes::

  • Jared Goff remains the Lions quarterback.
  • Detroit has a completely new backfield, with David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs replacing Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift.
  • DJ Chark left in free agency and the Lions brought in Marvin Jones. Jones will fill in at the “X” receiver spot until Jameson Williams returns from his six game suspension to start the season.
  • The Lions drafted uber-athletic tight end Sam LaPorta out of Iowa with the 34th pick in the NFL draft. LaPorta has a great prospect profile and is in position to contribute immediately due to his profile and lack of competition.

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • GB x2, CHI x2, MIN x2
  • NFC South (4)::
    • @ NO, @ TB, vs. CAR, vs. ATL
  • AFC West (4)::
    • @ KC, @ LAC, vs. LVR, vs. DEN
  • Other (3)::
    • @ BAL, @ DAL, vs. SEA

Bull Case::

The Lions exceeded most expectations in 2022 and became one of the more exciting offenses in the league. Jared Goff’s career renaissance (which feels weird to say about a QB who just turned 28 years old) sparked the team a year earlier than most expected and allowed the Lions to move forward with him as their signal caller, focusing their resources on other parts of their team. The Lions are currently the odds-on favorite to win the NFC North – something we haven’t been able to say for a long time – and they have earned that respect with their growth on the field and commitment to sticking with their process over the last couple of years. The Lions have an incredible young offensive core as Jahmyr Gibbs, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jameson Williams, and Sam LaPorta all have elite prospect profiles and being 23 years old or younger. Some capable veterans in the room such as David Montgomery, Josh Reynolds, and Marvin Jones should help Detroit stay on track and provide solid production.

Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was highly sought after in the NFL’s head coaching carousel this offseason but chose to stay in Detroit and see things through. His ability to bring it all together and get the most out of Goff while finding creative ways to attack defenses is really what makes this offense go. Johnson is elite at finding and exploiting the weaknesses in his opponents defense and he does a great job of playing to his player’s strengths. As the Lions continue to evolve and have upgraded their personnel this season, they have the ability to duplicate or surpass last season’s offensive performance when they ranked top-5 in the NFL in both yards and points per game. 

Bear Case::

The Lions are a fun team to watch and provided a lot of value last season to those who invested in them, but there is some concern for regression in 2023. Looking strictly at the offense, the optimism is warranted but there are also some potential holes. Rookie tight ends (such as Sam LaPorta) often take a while to develop and contribute while the six-game suspension of Jameson Williams leaves Detroit in a similar spot to last season where there was a big drop off in talent in the receiving corps behind Amon-Ra St. Brown. The Lions “base” personnel on offense is “11” – which is one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers. This effectively means that three of the Lions five skill players on the field on a given play will have some questions and limitations. Ben Johnson has done a great job getting the most out of Jared Goff, but let’s not forget why the Rams shipped him off in the first place. Goff was a star early in his career with Sean McVay, but as time went on the league figured them out and exposed Goff’s limitations. That same potential lurks here as the Lions will face a tougher schedule this season as well as much higher expectations. The final question mark for this Lions offense is the expected continued ascension of their defense, as much of the offense’s value the last couple of years was driven by the propensity of the team to get into high scoring shootouts. If the defense takes a step up, the game scripts could become much more mundane as the Lions attempt to transition from a “fun team” to a true contender.

Expectations/Takeaways::

I have some concerns about the Lions early in the season while Williams is suspended and the team adjusts to the new personnel in the huddle. Gibbs and LaPorta are rookies and should have a bit of a learning curve, but right around mid-season when they should start to hit their strides is when Williams will return and I think from that point forward Detroit should be one of the top offenses in the league. Every player we’ve discussed in this team preview is a viable option in Best Ball drafts, it’s just a matter of how you want to go about it and if you are OK with individual exposures or want to try for full team stacks. The toughest part about the Lions is their draft acquisition costs being pretty high – with three players having top 70 ADP’s in addition to Jameson Williams, who will miss half of the first round of Best Ball tournaments, being selected in the top-100. Both running backs are being taken in the first six rounds and while there is a lot of room for production there, generally the ambiguous backfields we want to attack involve cheaper ADP’s. Here are some player-specific takes on the Lions for this season::

  • Jared Goff’s lack of rushing theoretically limits his ceiling, but being selected in the 10th-13th rounds of drafts he has a relatively high floor and given his playing style he is very easy to stack for weekly upside and season long correlation.
  • Jahmyr Gibbs is a potential league winner even at what feels like an expensive price tag. Gibbs could essentially be everything we all wanted D’Andre Swift to be for the Lions when we were drafting Swift in the early second round in 2022, and Gibbs now looks like he is headed for an early fourth round ADP. 
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown is not going to fall off the map, but I do have some concerns about his volume dependent role taking a bit of a hit as the Lions continue to add other weapons. He will certainly have a solid year, but he may underwhelm his current top-20 price tag.
  • Sam LaPorta is a perfect fit as a late round tight end to stack with Goff and/or use as your second tight end if you draft one of the top-5 tight ends early in your draft.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Head coach Matt LaFleur still runs the offense and will have more freedom to do things “his way” with Aaron Rodgers out of town.
  • Defense: The Packers defense had a late-season surge in 2022 that saved the job of defensive coordinator Joe Barry for at least one more season.

Personnel Changes::

  • In case you haven’t heard, Aaron Rodgers is now on the Jets and Jordan Love will be the Packers starting quarterback.
  • Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon both return to lead the Green Bay backfield.
  • Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb have left town and the Packers have a youth movement at wide receiver with Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and second round rookie Jayden Reed leading the position group. Green Bay seems likely to add a veteran wide receiver this summer as well.
  • Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis are gone, leaving Josiah Deguara as the top tight end in the building. The Packers did select highly regarded tight end Luke Musgrave with the 42nd pick in the draft.

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • CHI x2, DET x2, MIN x2
  • NFC South (4)::
    • vs. NO, vs, TB, @ CAR, @ ATL
  • AFC West (4)::
    • @ DEN, @ LVR, vs. KC, vs. LAC
  • Other (3)::
    • @ NYG, vs. LAR, @ PIT

Bull Case::

Sometimes you can have addition by subtraction and that is exactly what the Packers may get with the loss of Aaron Rodgers this offseason. In addition to freeing up their books from his massive contract, the Packers have also freed themselves of the hostage situation that relying on Rodgers often becomes. Matt LaFleur will be able to run the offense how he sees fit and give the keys to the car to a player who he has developed and who should fully trust him, rather than a salty veteran who merely tolerated him. A big weakness of Rodgers has always been his tendency to hold the ball too long and wait for things to break open before releasing the ball. When Green Bay’s offense sputtered, it was often because Rodgers wouldn’t trust the scheme and would ad-lib, thus throwing off the timing for everyone. 

Jordan Love looked crisp last preseason and in his limited regular season action in 2022. An offseason of first team reps should have him ready to rock by Week One. This Green Bay offense features two talented and dynamic running backs as well as some young and explosive players on the perimeter. There were no questions about Love’s physical abilities entering the league and three seasons of behind the scenes work honing his technique and professional approach while learning from watching an all-time great should have him fully prepared for the QB1 role in Green Bay. There is a very real possibility that the Packers offense operates at a higher level and becomes more fun this year without Rodgers milking the play clock and micro-managing every aspect of the team. Like a ball dominant player on a basketball court, losing Rodgers could free everyone else up to reach their own ceilings. For the first time since he became the head coach we might get a chance to see Matt LaFleur’s true vision of the Packers offense.

Bear Case::

The “Bear Case” for the Packers is pretty straightforward – they lost one of the best QB’s in NFL history who had also won two of the last three NFL MVP awards. Jordan Love has minimal live reps and with such an inexperienced receiving corps the Packers could really struggle to move the ball through the air. Green Bay’s offensive line also had struggles last season which, if they continue, will make a young QB’s life very difficult. Finally, the last time Matt LaFleur was in charge of an offense where Aaron Rodgers was not his quarterback was in 2018 when the Tennessee Titans offense ranked bottom-10 in the league in both yards and points with LaFleur as their offensive coordinator. There is a very real chance that the 2023 Packers take a very conservative, ball control approach and rely on their defense and running game to win games while slowing things down and hoping variance works in their favor. If Love shows signs of trouble with his play early in the season, LaFleur and the Packers front office will almost certainly take steps to protect him from falling flat on his face and embarrassing them as no one wants to “lose the breakup.” This is one of the greatest threats to the upside of the Packers offense – they could fail through their own poor play but also have systemic risk if the team proactively tries to hide any perceived shortcomings.

Expectations/Takeaways::

I was much lower than consensus on the Packers offense in 2022, but feel like I will be much higher than consensus in 2023. I am excited to see the approach and tempo of this offense without the shackles of success that Rodgers put on them. Perhaps playing with some tempo and removing the state of fear from young receivers will spark a high octane offense. There are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties around Green Bay at this point, but that is exactly the time to buy into these situations – especially in Best Ball where the payoffs are so drastic. 

  • Jordan Love is going in the 12th-14th round of drafts and is a perfect complement on teams who drafted one of the top-5 QB’s or for teams who are looking to take three QB’s. His combination of a secure starting role and upside from his offensive surroundings give him a great risk/reward profile at his ADP.
  • Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are being drafted 3+ rounds later than they were in 2022 despite what should be similar workload projections. If you believe the Green Bay offense can even be anything close to what it was in 2022 (when it disappointed), then at least one of these two should absolutely smash their ADP.
  • Christian Watson is an extremely talented player who has a chance to continue building on his torrid second half of his rookie season. Watson is explosive and caught a long touchdown from Jordan Love in the game against the Eagles last season when Love entered the game in relief of Rodgers. Any roster where you pay the fourth round price tag on Watson you should also make it a priority to draft Love. The thesis there is that if Watson’s 2023 performance ends up justifying a top-50 ADP then Love’s level of play will almost certainly have turned a tidy profit for a 12th round investment.
  • Romeo Doubs and Jayden Reed, as well as any veteran wide receiver they may sign prior to training camp, are terrific options to pair with Love in team stacks at cheap price tags.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Offensive minded head coach Kevin O’Connell returns to the Vikings along with offensive coordinator Wes Phillips.
  • Defense: Brian Flores takes over as the defensive coordinator for the Vikings.

Personnel Changes::

  • Kirk Cousins returns as the Vikings QB and enters the final year of his contract.
  • The Vikings re-signed backup running back Alexander Mattison this off-season and many reports are pointing towards a high likelihood of starting RB Dalvin Cook being released or traded before the season.
  • Justin Jefferson and TJ Hockenson return as the top options in the Minnesota passing game. KJ Osborn also returns and has showed flashes of brilliance over the past two seasons.
  • The Vikings lost veteran receiver Adam Thielen and disappointing tight end Irv Smith to free agency. 
  • Minnesota drafted dynamic rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison in the first round to replace Thielen. 

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • CHI x2, DET x2, GB x2
  • NFC South (4)::
    • vs. NO, vs, TB, @ CAR, @ ATL
  • AFC West (4)::
    • @ DEN, @ LVR, vs. KC, vs. LAC
  • Other (3)::
    • @ CIN, vs. SF, @ PHI

Bull Case::

The Vikings were a part of some of the wilder and higher scoring games in the 2022 NFL season. They are trying to fix their defense, but that is no sure thing. The NFC North could be a very fun division this season with the Lions offense looking to build on their strong 2022 campaign, the Bears surrounding Justin Fields with weapons, and the Packers potentially breaking out of the sluggish pace that Aaron Rodgers demanded. Along with that, the Vikings draw four games against what appears to be a very weak NFC South and have games against the Chiefs, Eagles, 49ers, and Bengals – all of which finished in the top-7 in the NFL in scoring in 2022. What I’ve just outlined accounts for 14 or Minnesota’s 17 regular season games. With that in mind, it is easy to see how this Vikings team could be one of the top producing offenses in the league as pretty much every game will be against a bad defense and/or a great offense – meaning that the Vikings and their explosive personnel will have a path to a big game virtually every time they step on the field. Their defense aided the cause for shootouts by giving up the 3rd most points in the league in 2022 and has not had significant changes, leaving the door open for another year of wild game scripts. 

Bear Case::

Earlier we discussed the exciting potential for the NFC North, but there is also a lot of uncertainty around those teams. Jared Goff, Justin Fields, and Jordan Love are far from “sure things” for providing productive offenses and all of those NFC North teams should have improved defenses. Along those same lines, three of the four AFC West teams that the Vikings will be facing have very good defenses and the Bengals, Eagles, and 49ers defenses are far from pushovers. Considering how matchup-dependent Kirk Cousins has been throughout his career, the potential for the schedule to turn into a “murderers row” of defenses is very concerning for Cousins and the rest of the Vikings offense. Making matters even murkier, Cousins is in the last year of his contract and if things start to go off the rails the front office and fan base could quickly lose patience with a quarterback who has failed to take the Vikings on any meaningful playoff runs during his time in Minnesota. This is not about what I, or anyone else, thinks of Cousins. Rather, it is about the underlying potential for things to turn sideways and what that would mean for everyone on this offense. The Vikings are loaded with talented and explosive players, but the recipe is certainly there for a systemic implosion if things start to crumble.

Expectations/Takeaways::

My expectation for the 2023 Vikings is a similar season in terms of wild games and inconsistent performances, but a significantly worse record. For fantasy purposes, this could be a lot of fun. The trio of Jefferson, Addison, and Osborn at wide receiver should be electric and TJ Hockenson showed his ability to have massive spike weeks when given the opportunity. This offense should be extremely fun to stack in Best Ball this season, as Cousins is not a threat with his legs but is able to move the offense well, which funnels extra production to the rest of the skill players. This also creates a unique opportunity for team stacking without the quarterback. While Cousins has a relatively high floor and a solid weekly ceiling, his 8th-10th round draft cost is a bit steep. You can stack up pass catchers from this team without feeling the need to force Cousins along with them, but include him if you are able to get good value and it makes sense with the rest of your roster. All three of the WR’s are appropriately valued and provide some upside from their draft positions while maintaining relatively high floors. Hockenson should pay off his draft cost (4th-5th round), but seems unlikely to significantly beat those expectations – which makes him a fine pick but one that I actually prefer if you can get him at that 4/5 turn paired with Jefferson who you would have taken in the first round.

As for the backfield, both Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison feel like relative bargains as we enter May. Cook is going in the 5th-6th round range which would be a screaming bargain if he stays with the Vikings. If Cook leaves the Vikings, there is a wide range of outcomes as his offensive situation and role would be completely up in the air. If Cook does not stay with the Vikings, then Mattison (who is going in the late-9th to early-11th round range) is going to look like a great value. Basically, at this point it seems like a good strategy to try to get one of those players on your rosters but not both.