Minnesota Vikings

NFL Power Rankings 2020: Post COVID-19 opt-out edition

NFL Power Rankings 2020: Post COVID-19 opt-out edition

It's been an unusal sports season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports are playing in bubbles, others have altered their schedules to overcome the hurdles.

And across all sports, players have had to determine whether they wanted to compete or opt-out of the season.

The deadline for the 2020 NFL season was Thursday, and some noteworthy players opted out in what's already been an unpredictable first week for NFL training camps.

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Since it’s been a few months since our post-NFL Draft power rankings, we thought we'd see how the opt-outs impacted the NFL landscape.

Here's how the 32 NFL teams rank after the deadline.


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NFC North: Vikings' Mike Zimmer, Rick Spielman will be around for a while

NFC North: Vikings' Mike Zimmer, Rick Spielman will be around for a while

Remember back in 2018, when Bears GM Ryan Pace and first-year coach Matt Nagy looked like a match made in football heaven? A pair of young stars in their respective positions with Nagy taking home the NFL's Coach of the Year Award for winning 12 games and an NFC North championship.

Now, just two seasons later, both appear to be on the hot seat.

The shine has worn off of Nagy after the Bears regressed to 8-8 in 2019 thanks in large part to his offense playing like one of the most out-of-sync in the NFL. And Pace's talent evaluations haven't fared much better. Failed first-rounders and free-agent busts finally caught up to Chicago last season. Time appears to be running out on the two most important people in Halas Hall.

That isn't the case in Minnesota, however, as the Vikings have locked up coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman to matching three-year extensions.

Zimmer got his deal earlier this offseason. Spielman's just became official.

“We are excited to have Coach Zimmer continue to lead the Minnesota Vikings this season and beyond,” Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf said on July 24 via Vikings.com. “We strongly believe in his leadership and the team culture he’s fostered. We look forward to him furthering the team’s success of the previous six seasons and leading us to our ultimate goal of bringing a Super Bowl Championship to Minnesota.”

Zimmer owns a 6-6 record against the Bears but has lost the last four games in the rivalry.

Spielman has played a big part in the Vikings' return to respectability. Some of his notable draft picks include Harrison Smith, Dalvin Cook, Xavier Rhodes, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, and Eric Kendricks.

Why Bears aren't best team in NFC North, but can still contend for playoffs

Why Bears aren't best team in NFC North, but can still contend for playoffs

The Bears are not the most talented, nor the most well-coached, team in the NFC North. The Minnesota Vikings are (to both). 

Right now, on paper, that’s where the NFC North stands. The Vikings should be the favorites, with the Bears and Green Bay Packers neck-and-neck for second/third, and the Lions still at the bottom (despite being improved from last year’s three-win disaster).

But as we look ahead toward the 2020 season, consider this a quick primer on where the Bears stand, unit-by-unit, among their NFC North peers. The good news: It wouldn’t take much for the Bears to wind up as the most talented team in the NFC North; the bad news is it also wouldn’t take much for the gulf between them and the Vikings to be wide.

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Anyways, here’s my stab at these rankings:

Quarterback

1. Packers
2. Vikings
3. Lions
4. Bears

The gap between Aaron Rodgers-Kirk Cousins-Matthew Stafford is awfully narrow, and then there’s a gulf between the Lions and the Bears here. In short: The Bears are far and away the worst in the division at quarterback. 

Running back

1. Vikings
2. Packers
3. Bears
4. Lions

If Dalvin Cook actually holds out, the Aaron Jones-led Packers would vault to the top here. The difference between the Vikings/Packers and Bears/Lions is significant, even though David Montgomery and De’Andre Swift have good upside. Tarik Cohen gives the Bears the edge over the Lions here. 

Wide receiver

1. Lions
2. Bears
3. Vikings
4. Packers

Hear me out: Kenny Golladay is awesome, and a healthy Marvin Jones is the best No. 2 receiver in the division. The Packers’ weapons around Davante Adams – the best receiver in the NFC North, in my mind – are sub-par, and while Vikings first-round pick Reggie Jefferson has upside, he’s probably not going to replace Stefon Diggs’ production in 2020. Allen Robinson is great, and I’ll take Anthony Miller’s Year 3 potential to push the Bears over the Vikings here.

Tight end

1. Vikings
2. Lions
3. Bears
4. Packers

The Kyle Rudolph-Irv Smith combo is easily the best in the division, and T.J. Hockenson’s Year 2 upside should be pretty high. The Packers seem to be betting on 2019 third rounder Jace Sternberger – who only played in three regular season games last year – as a solution, and while Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet have some questions, they’re ahead of Green Bay here.

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Offensive line

1. Packers
2. Vikings
3. Lions
4. Bears

While there were some notable departures here (Bryan Bulaga, Graham Glasgow) the Bears’ lack of notable additions sticks them at the bottom of the division.

Defensive line

1. Bears
2. Packers
3. Vikings
4. Lions

There’s no question a healthy Akiem Hicks, paired with Eddie Goldman and good depth, gives the Bears the best defensive line in the NFC North. A quick mention here should go to the perennially-overlooked Kenny Clark, who's a big part of a menacing front seven in Green Bay. 

Edge rushers

1. Bears
2. Packers
3. Vikings
4. Lions

There’s not as big a gap between the Bears (Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn) and the Packers (Za’Darious Smith, Preston Smith) as you might think. If the Bears didn’t swap Leonard Floyd for Quinn in March, the Packers would top this list. 

Inside linebackers

1. Vikings
2. Bears
3. Packers
4. Lions

Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr have been a tremendous combo for years, though if Roquan Smith makes good on his potential in Year 3, the Bears could end 2020 with the best group of inside ‘backers in their division.

Cornerbacks

1. Packers
2. Bears
3. Lions
4. Vikings

There’s a lot of young talent in this group, from Jaire Alexander to Jeff Okudah to Mike Hughes. I’m not sure there’s much separation here with the variability of those recent high draft picks, but the Bears also still have the best corner in the division in Kyle Fuller.  

MORE: Who might the Bears need to cut in 2021's salary cap crunch?

Safeties

1. Vikings
2. Bears
3. Packers
4. Lions

Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris is an incredible combination the Vikings seem ready to enjoy for one more year before Harris hits free agency. Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are a solid combination in Green Bay, but the presence of Eddie Jackson gives the Bears the edge for the second spot here.

Special teams

1. Lions
2. Bears
3. Vikings
4. Packers

Matt Prater is the best kicker in the division and Jamal Agnew is an explosive returner. The Bears’ special teams – led by Cordarrelle Patterson’s return and coverage contributions – aren’t all that far behind, even if Eddy Pineiro is a question mark.

Coaching

1. Vikings
2. Packers
3. Bears
4. Lions

There’s not a whole lot between the Packers and Bears here, and those could easily flip as Matt LaFleur enters Year 2. But Mike Zimmer is the best coach in the NFC North, full stop.

For what it's worth, each team's average ranking here: Vikings (2.1), Bears (2.4), Packers (2.4), Lions (3.1). So that tracks with my initial thought on the division, and with there being a much wider valley between the Bears/Packers and Lions than the Vikings and Bears/Packers. 

When it's time for season predictions (sometime in early September, probably), I'll probaly take the Vikings to win the NFC North. But as long as the Bears can navigate a difficult division, they should be right there in playoff contention in 2020, too. 

 

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