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What To Expect From The NFC North: NFL Divisional Breakdown

We've previously published an article series analyzing and grading all the NFL defenses, division by division. Now we're going to look at the strength of schedules of each NFL team, division by division, to help you identify players with the best matchups vs. the league's weakest defenses. Today we look at the NFC North.

Today we provide NFC North strength of schedule analysis. For each team, we will identify players that we like and don't like. You will see four categories: players to target, players to avoid, players to buy and players to sell. Let's get to it.

Editor’s Note: Be sure to read more about fantasy football strength of schedule (SOS) analysis, broken down by division and team, to prepare for your drafts and dominate your leagues. 


Chicago Bears 

This offseason saw the Bears trade away Jay Cutler’s good buddy, Brandon Marshall. Cutler gets very little respect around the league, but I still remain on the Cutler bandwagon. He has such a strong arm, but he needs to control his gunslinger mentality and must avoid putting his team in jeopardy to be successful. New offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who was the OC for Peyton Manning the past two years, will have a huge challenge coaching Cutler up.

The Bears open with the Packers and Cardinals at home followed by a trip to Seattle. That will be a rough three weeks to open up with and may cause headaches for Bears’ owners. You could be able to get Jeffery and maybe even Forte relatively cheap.

The Bears play home against Washington in week 14, which figures to be high scoring thanks to the hole-filled defense the Redskins field. In week 15, the Bears travel to take on division rival Minnesota. They then finish the fantasy season with Tampa Bay in week 16 which should also be high scoring. The fantasy football playoffs for the Bears players seem to be toward the easier side. 

Players to Reach For

With Brandon Marshall out of town, Alshon Jeffery will be the clear-cut number one receiver and a top fantasy option.

Players to Avoid

Matt Forte will lose many receptions with Marc Trestman gone from his throne at head coach. Forte has accrued so many hits over his seven-year career with all his involvement in the running and passing game. The Bears want to play a “smash-mouth” type of football, which doesn't really fit with Forte's finesse game.

Players to Look to Buy Low

The first several weeks will be tough, so if Jeffery gets off to a slow start, you might want to check in with his owner.

Players to Look to Sell High

Bennett has gotten off to really strong starts the past two seasons, but then tailed off. If Bennett gets off to a hot start again, you should look to move him.


Detroit Lions

The Lions offense didn’t go through any big changeover this offseason. Calvin Johnson will be ready to roll as long as he stays healthy. Ameer Abdullah has looked terrific in training camp and in his preseason debut against the Jets.

The Lions open up the season with two road games in San Diego and Minnesota. Detroit’s home opener is on Sunday Night Football in week 3 against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Lions’ players will have modest numbers after those first three games, but don't expect a torrid start.

The Lions play in St. Louis week 14, a tough matchup, but have friendly matchups in week 15 against the Saints and week 16 against the 49ers. All in all, the playoff schedule seems to be friendly for the Lions, so definitely keep that in mind.

Players to Reach For

Golden Tate had a great season last year, and is could be due for another one. Megatron eating coverages should be helpful to Tate, even if it wasn't last year, and given his recent injury woes there's always the chance Tate returns to the #1 spot at some point this season for the Lions.

Players to Avoid

Matt Stafford’s numbers regressed last year and should be around the same this year, as the Lions don’t air it out as much as they did under previous head coach Jim Schwartz (two years of 660+ attempts vs last years 602). There are more intriguing quarterback options than Stafford.

Players to Look to Buy Low

Either of Golden Tate or Calvin Johnson could start the year slow as they face formidable defensive backs in their early weeks between the Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett, and Eric Weddle led Chargers, the Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith led Vikings, and Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr, and TJ Ward on the backend. Either player could be looking at a buy low opportunity, especially Tate who most owners will be quick to fault if he starts badly.

Players to Look to Sell High

On the opposite spectrum, the Lions start off with a low impact run schedule minus the Broncos. If the first two weeks go too well, you can sell Ameer Abdullah and his insane hype high if the price is right. Maybe even Joique Bell gets overvalued.


Green Bay Packers

Even with the fantasy implications of Jordy Nelson being out for the year, the Packers offense still contains the best Quarterback in the league with Aaron Rodgers so it's safe to assume they'll survive. Randall Cobb now moves into the featured receiving role on the offense, even if that spot remains in the sl0t- while Davante Adams will be given a chance to make his mark taking over Nelson's outside role. Either way, while the receivers get figured out Eddie Lacy remains a top option and might even has his stock increase as he becomes the best redzone option the team now has.

The Pack have a difficult first three games to maneuver. They play rival Chicago in week 1 at Soldier Field, followed by home games against Seattle and Kansas City. Eddie Lacy may struggle again to start the season for the second year in a row, and so may the offense as they get use to a year without Jordy Nelson. Not to worry though, the offense will be exceptional again, but give it some time.

The Packers open the fantasy football playoffs at home against the Cowboys in week 14, followed by trips to Oakland and Arizona. That's almost as easy as it can get, with only Arizona fielding a formidable defense.

Players to Reach For

Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb, and now Adams are all top fantasy options. You may have to reach for them in the draft.

Players to Avoid

This will be one of the best offenses in football, you want to own as many Packers as you can.

Players to Look to Buy Low

Eddie Lacy struggled to open the season last year and he was a buy low candidate. I expect the same to happen this year.

Players to Look to Sell High

It'll be hard to let go of any players in this offense, but a too strong start for either of Cobb or Adams could net you huge returns.


Minnesota Vikings

This is the surprise team of the NFL. I absolutely love the Vikes team this year and expect them to be huge playoff contenders. Adrian Peterson did not play last year and is reportedly in great shape after his return from suspension. It is also being reported that Peterson will catch upwards of 40 balls this season, a meager number amongst featured RBs that could easily be exceeded in Norv Turner's offense. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be working to take the next step forward in an improving offense filled with underrated talent and an excellent coaching staff. Bridgewater’s looming success will be great news for newly acquired wide receiver Mike Wallace and wide receiver Charles Johnson, as well as Kyle Rudolph and even Peterson.

The Vikings open in San Francisco on Monday Night Football, followed by home stands against the Lions and Chargers. The former two defenses stand to be significantly weaker against the run than last year following the departure of huge talents (like Suh, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and the likes) while the Chargers were already amongst the leagues worst run defenders. Peterson looks like he'll be eating early.

The Vikings have a difficult ending stretch starting with week 13 versus Seattle, week 14 in Arizona, week 15 and 16 at home versus Chicago and the Giants. Only Chicago stands out as a significantly weak defense, with the others being middling or great.

Players to Reach For

Kyle Rudolph’s breakout campaign will finally occur this season. In the Preseason Teddy Bridgewater has already spent much time going through his progressions only to find an open Rudolph to throw to, and Rudolph looks as healthy as ever making lateral moves and running up the field.

Players to Avoid

The only player that looks untouchable is Cordarrelle Patterson. There's been little to no chatter of him this offseason, but in case you're still thinking of a turnaround consider that he's currently 4th on the depth chart and that the Vikings went out of their way to trade for a player to replace him and followed that up by drafting another WR that's currently ahead of him.

Players to Look to Buy Low

Early in the year the Vikings face some potentially tough secondaries that could lead to one or both of Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson becoming much cheaper than they should be. The Chargers, Lions, and 49ers are also teams that could be amongst the top in TE coverage with the set of players they have to cover them (hey, Bowman didn't retire). Rudolph could be an easy snag from the owner.

Players to Look to Sell High

Bridgewater has a chance for a hot start just because of how much defenses will work to stop Adrian Peterson instead of him. Although selling him might be a mistake because of how good this team could be, if you've got better options at starter, he's worth putting on the market.


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