NFC North Divisional Podcast Recap for 2023 (Fantasy Football)
Jumping across the aisle, the Ballers enter the land of the NFC, starting off in what used to be Aaron Rodgers’ division, the NFC North. As a quick reminder, this is only an overview of the teams heading into the 2023 season. Andy, Mike, and Jason discuss off-season changes to remember for each team (players, rookies, and coaches) and how that could affect the fantasy pieces for the upcoming season.
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Let’s Get Divisional – NFC North
Minnesota Vikings (13-4)
The worst best team of all time! They won thirteen games and yet still had a negative points differential. That means the Vikings were outscored by their opponents over the season, despite them winning 13 games! They finished 11-0 in one-score games, the best in NFL history. Had the Vikings’ games ended in the 3rd quarter, they would have been 7-10. Fortunately for Minnesota, Football is a four-quarter sport.
Although the Vikings well over-performed their nine projected wins last year, Vegas has lowered their expected win total. The belief is that the Vikings got lucky last year in those close games, all of them to be exact, and the idea of that repeating is nearly impossible despite Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, and Kevin O’Connell all coming back this season.
The question is, will this team be boring for fantasy players this year? Cousins was a late draft pick and yet led the NFL in total air yards and 3rd down touchdowns; thank you, Justin Jefferson. Now the Vikings have added Jordan Addison in the first round, who is a dynamic WR and likely upgrade to Adam Thielen. Addison ran a wide range of routes and styles of offense while playing at Pitt and USC in college. Thielen ran the 2nd most routes in the NFL last year, and while KJ Osborn could inherit some of those targets, the most likely recipient of the target share is Addison. Making him an already intriguing player for fantasy managers. Addison has been dealing with an undisclosed injury that held him out of rookie camp and OTAs. The hope is that when the teams report for the actual start of the preseason program, he will be healthy and able to get on the practice field.
The offense is primarily intact, but the most significant offseason storyline is Alexander Mattison taking over the lead role from Dalvin Cook. In the eight games where Mattison had 15+ opportunities, he averaged 16.9 fantasy points per game. Most of those games came when Cook was injured. This history should say that Mattison should now dominate as he takes over the lead role, but can he sustain that level of work for an entire season? Also, he has not had those same metrics when he plays without those opportunities. So, who is he? Also, can he sustain a lead-back workload? Even though we have never seen him carry the ball full-time for the season, Mattison has the body type of a lead-back. Can he be used in the passing game? Or do the Vikings use one of their unproven players behind Mattison to fill that role?
Mattison’s ADP is RB24 right now. The Ballers have him ranked as the RB21 overall, with Mike being the highest at RB17. With the depth chart in Minnesota, Mattison will see work, and if he stays healthy, it will be difficult for him not to return on the lowest RB2 draft price you have to pay. The volume he will have alone can make him valuable for fantasy, even if he is not very good.
The other important thing to remember in Minnesota is that their defense will not be very good. They will have to play very fast at the end of games because they will likely be in shootouts or down in the fourth quarter. That is what happened last year when they had to score 169 fourth-quarter points, the fifth most in the previous 30 years. Because they were down, and they had to keep up. That makes excellent opportunities for the offensive pieces as a whole because more scoring in actual football means more scoring in fantasy.
That should make Mattison more dependable because if he sees a lowly 60% of the carries and has the goal line work, Mattison will not even need the passing game work to stay relevant in fantasy. Other options exist in Ty Chandler, Kene Nwangwu, and Dewayne McBride, but most of the work should go to Mattison.
You can’t talk about the Vikings without mentioning Justin Jefferson. He was the WR1 last year, despite busting 29% of the time last year. Regardless, he is already ranked 6th in the most receiving yards all-time. He has the most targets through a player’s first three seasons. Jefferson was held under 50 receiving yards seven times last season. Still, draft him. He is worth the first overall pick, and you should just draft him.
Last year KJ Osborn stepped up big, finishing the end of the season as the WR2, 71, 12, and 13 over the last month. Add him in with Jefferson and Addison, making a dangerous triple-threat receiving core for Cousins to throw to.
Then, of course, there is T.J. Hockenson. Who, once traded, saw 22% target share, 8.6 targets, six receptions, and 52 receiving yards per game. He had two monster performances, occurring in Weeks 4 and 16. He is being drafted really early, and because of that, Mike thinks he is a major bust candidate this season. He was the TE2 last year but the lowest-scoring TE2 over the previous seven years. Some of that is Hockenson only caught two touchdowns last year once getting to Minnesota. He was on pace for 102 receptions heading into the last game of the season, where he played very little and only had one target and one reception. He was on pace for more targets than Travis Kelce and 111 receptions without that outlier game. If that stays the same, and the touchdowns go up, Hockenson could actually be a steal in the draft.
Vegas Projected Win Total: 8.5
Detroit Lions (9-8)
Player Additions: RB David Montgomery; WR Marvin Jones Jr.
Player Subtractions: RB Jamaal Williams; RB D’Andre Swift
Offensive Rookies: RB Jahmyr Gibbs; TE Sam LaPorta; QB Hendon Hooker; WR Antoine Green
For the last 34 games, the Lions have been underdogs in 31 of them. Now the tables have turned as they are favored in 12 of their 17 games. However, the new hotness on the NFL field is not always a darling for fantasy football. We still need to use wisdom as we sort through who to put in our fantasy lineups and rosters.
The Lions ranked fifth in points per game last year. Jared Goff helped produce enormous points for the team last year when they were home in Detroit. However, when he was on the road, Goff was a huge disappointment. His fantasy points per game splits last year were 21.3 points at home and 11.5 points on the road. It came down to whether it was a good streaming matchup and whether the Lions were at home to determine if you could play Goff or not.
St. Brown has been a bonified stud since entering the league. He is tied for the most receptions through a player’s first two years in NFL history with 196. While you would think that makes him super consistent in half-PPR scoring, he only scored in the top 24 six times. He was similar to Goff; if he was at home, he averaged 17.5 fantasy points per game, and on the road, he averaged 9.3. These statistics make sense if your QB plays badly; scoring tons of points as a receiver is hard. It does bring up the question, is he worth his ADP of WR9? He was the WR8 last year and only scored six touchdowns, a slight positive regression, and he could actually finish even higher.
Jameson Williams will be suspended for the first six weeks of the season, making him unrosterable unless you are in leagues with massive benches. He was a first-round pick last year, despite coming off a severe injury at the end of the college football season, and he never really got back to being himself last year. There were plenty of hopes that this season would be a fresh start for Williams, but now he is again stuck on the sidelines for a significant time.
The Lions drafted Sam LaPorta this year, and he will have opportunities to be a part of the passing game. We know rookie TEs don’t produce big numbers, so LaPorta is probably a name to avoid this season.
With all of that, is Jared Goff being undervalued? The Ballers don’t think so. He can be a good best-ball option because he could have some blow-up weeks here and there, but expecting consistency from Goff is a fool’s errand. He has never been a huge touchdown passing guy, and in the red zone, the Lions lean on their running game.
Last year the Lions had seventeen touchdowns from the now-departed Jamaal Williams, who had 30 rushing attempts inside the five-yard line last year. Why? Because they have a great offensive line, and trust them to get the ball in for touchdowns. It is one of the reasons the Ballers are so high on David Montgomery this year. He is inhabiting that role for the team this year, and he should be able to score similarly to Williams, which makes him very fantasy relevant.
There is, of course, a chance of touchdown variance, where instead of so many opportunities inside the five-yard line, receivers score touchdowns, and Goff could jump up in consistency. Especially when Jameson Williams gets back because of his ability to catch long passes and take them in for scores. That could bring Montgomery down, but when the threshold is 17, even if he goes down to 10, that is still an excellent season for the current ADP RB30.
Then there is Jahmyr Gibbs, who had 44 receptions last year, the second most ever for an Alabama running back. He led all RBs over the last three seasons with 25 receptions of 15+ yards. He is a pass-catching weapon as much as a running back, and Jared Goff loves to check the ball down. Gibbs and Montgomery are both excellent pass-catchers, and there is a good chance that the running game becomes more of a running attack through the air. Gibbs could have a massive workload and, in PPR scoring, may not need substantial touchdown numbers to return on the RB15 investment you must pay for him. Plus, he can take a check down for a 40-yard touchdown. That makes Gibbs have a considerable ceiling even in his rookie year.
2023 Vegas Projected Win Total: 9.5
Green Bay Packers (8-9)
Player Additions: —————-
Player Subtractions: QB Aaron Rodgers; WR Allen Lazard; QB Randall Cobb; TE Robert Tonyan
Rookies: TE Luke Musgrave; WR Jayden Reed; TE Tucker Kraft; QB Sean Clifford; WR Dontayvion Wicks
Bye-bye, Aaron Rodgers. Hello, the season of Love. Last year was not so good for the Packers. There was no Davante Adams, and Rodgers struggled. They scored 13 fewer touchdowns than the year before and were dead last in pace of play. Maybe Love can be a better pace of play guy, and while not being as efficient as Aaron Rodgers, he can get more plays run in the game.
There is a lot of uncertainty around the Packers between their new QB, their young pass catchers, and the fact that Aaron Jones is getting up there in age. So, where is the opportunity for fantasy players?
Matt LeFleur has led the team to division title after division title, but now he faces his first season without Rodgers under center. Can they be a sneaky good NFL team?
Here is what we know, Love has precisely one more NFL start than Brooks so far. He has only thrown 83 attempts in the NFL. So Love is entirely unproven. Also, he wasn’t much of a runner in college. People think he is a more mobile QB, but that isn’t what his college tape shows. LaFleur has to rework his playbook to include non-Rodgers lingo for a young team. So what we know about Love is that we don’t know very much. That is why he is the QB21. Even in deep two-QB leagues, he is a player few teams are willing to bank their season on because the unknown is scary in fantasy.
There is a chance that the highly drafted Love comes out and shows all that he learned under Rodgers, having total command of the offense, and looking like the player he was drafted to be. If so, the Packers can be a good NFL and fantasy football team.
As for his weapons? Christian Watson tore the NFL up last year once he got going. He had five weeks as a top 15 WR, and all the other weeks, he was WR37 or worse. It all started in Week 10. From there, he averaged a 22% target share, 16.9 yards per catch, and almost a touchdown per game. Again, the question arises: Is Jordan Love good or not bad? If he is only not bad, then the ceiling for Watson is low. He is so fast, and he can just beat people so easily; he can always give you a big game out of nowhere, but his QB has to be able to throw him the ball.
Romeo Doubs is an offseason hype machine. He was the talk of the offseason last year, and the reports coming out of camp again are just glowing about how good Doubs is and how well he is doing with Love. Doubs started off looking good last year to his credit. He looked like he had the trust of Rodgers and had flashes of the talent we heard about, but injuries and the emergence of Watson faded Doubs as the season went on until he was kind of unheard of at the end of the year.
The Packers drafted Jayden Reed this year to join the receiving room, and while he showed plenty of talent in college reports, he has only returned kicks in OTAs. We will see as the preseason gets underway, but as of right now, don’t bank on Reed being a significant contributor.
The Packers did address their TE situation in the draft. They took two of them on the same day. Luke Musgrave was a second-round pick, and Tucker Kraft was a third-round pick. What do we know about rookie TEs? They do not produce for fantasy. While both of these guys might have significant opportunities to show off their talent, they are not players you should be banking on unless you are in some crazy multi-TE league with unique scoring for the position.
That brings us to Aaron Jones. He is the only guy we know can get the job done. Jones has been a top-12 fantasy RB for the last four years. He is being drafted as the RB16 right now, and unless the team is just bad, Jones should outperform that ADP. Last year he was targeted on 22.8% of his routes, a career-best. Now is where the fact about Jordan Love not being a mobile QB comes into play. Jones could be perfect for fantasy if he learned from Rodgers and utilizes the check down. Especially if the Packers are a good team, and he scores touchdowns like we know he can do.
A.J. Dillon is in a contract year and needs to prove he can be a consistent player for an NFL team. He has handled 60% of the team’s goal-to-go carries over the last two years and had over 200+ touches in those seasons. He finished as the RB23 and RB25 in those seasons. That might be Dillon’s ceiling with the Packers because of the talent of Aaron Jones. Dillon could have the chance to get more work if Jones were injured or lost a step, but from what we have seen, Dillon is capped at that low RB2 ceiling right now.
2023 Vegas Projected Win Total: 7.5
Chicago Bears (3-14)
They executed the plan flawlessly. They put up good fantasy games from Justin Fields but lost their games and got the number one draft pick; thank you, Lovie Smith. They took that pick, made a big trade with the Panthers, acquired DJ Moore, and tried to improve their offensive line. So, what do we think of Da Bears?
The world has changed when it comes to where we draft fantasy QBs. Fields is the QB6 off the board, which is probably right where he should be, but that equates to him being the 4.08 in most drafts. That is fair, but a high price. He does have an ability with his legs that can break fantasy football. Fields averaged 24.8 fantasy points per game from Week 6 on because the team started using him on designed runs.
Fields now gets DJ Moore, who can be a difference maker for the efficiency of Justin Fields as a passer. This isn’t Stefon Diggs to the Bills or AJ Brown to the Eagles, but it is a massive upgrade compared to who Fields had last year catching his passes.
Fields experienced pressure on a league-leading 46% of his dropbacks, which led to a league-leading 55 (not the good 55) sacks. His sack rate was the highest of all time in the NFL. The Bears have to find a way to keep their QB upright. They brought in guard Nate Davis and drafted Darnell Wright in the first round to address that. The hope there is with an actual number one receiver in DJ Moore and the added talent to the offensive line that Fields can now grow as a passer and have more time to get his passes out to his weapons, making him a better QB overall.
The D.J. Moore hype is a little high, which has been his continual situation in his career. He is a very talented receiver who has never been in a case where his QB is capable enough to help him elevate in the fantasy landscape. In his last four years in Carolina, he has averaged 77 receptions, 1,103 yards, and 4.8 touchdowns. He is still only 26 years old, and if Fields takes a step forward, then maybe Moore can finally take the leap; but right now, he is the WR22, and his highest finish is WR18 in his career. So you have to draft him at what could be his ceiling, and those aren’t usually the kind of players that helps you win your league.
Darnell Mooney is in a contract year and gets to step into the role that probably fits him best as the number two receiver. He had flashes of his talent last year and the year before that but has never been able to have consistent enough QB play to be a fantasy difference-maker. He did break his ankle in Week 12 last year, so be on the lookout during training camp for how he is progressing and if he will be available to start the season.
Then the number 32 overall pick, Chase Claypool. No, he wasn’t just drafted. The Bears just traded that pick away to get Claypool. Which, in hindsight, was not a very smart idea. Claypool made minimal contribution to the team last year after the trade, and no one is projecting that he will do anything for the team this year. Is there a chance? Yes, we saw the talent his rookie year, but he thrives on contested catches, and Fields seems to like to throw to open guys, not guys who will catch passes despite coverage. Don’t get your hopes up for Mapletron.
The running back room is fascinating. David Montgomery, who had 200+ carries in four straight seasons, is gone, and the team now has Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, and rookie Roschon Johnson. The question is, will any of them emerge as the leader of the timeshare? Herbert showed his talent last year when he ranked first in rush yards over expectations and produced good games. Foreman also had multiple games with good performances, especially against the Falcons. The issue is there is no sound signal for who will be the number one guy for the team, except that Justin Fields is the number one guy.
In goal line situations, it is just as likely that Fields rushes a score in, and when a play breaks down, Fields will most likely call his own number and not check the ball down. Fields’ running ability makes the RB position already not very valuable for fantasy, and then you will split that into two or possibly three pieces with the timeshare. That situation is just not very desirable.
We can’t forget about Cole Kmet, also in a contract year. Interestingly enough, during the period when Justin Fields got better last year, so did Kmet. He scored as the TE4 from Week 8 and averaged 22% of the target share. The Bears only had 29 total red zone targets last year – of that, Kmet had 10. Travis Kelce had 30 red zone targets on his own last season. The team didn’t throw the ball in the red zone enough last year, and if the team gets better, there is a chance that he will catch more touchdowns, but he caught a lot to end the season. So it is doubtful that he will be a breakout candidate this year.
Robert Tonyan joins the TE room and is a very capable pass catcher. It is doubtful he is an impact player for your fantasy team, but he hurts the Kmet truthers because Tonyan will take targets from Kmet.
2023 Vegas Projected Win Total: 7.5
Andy: Vikings, Lions, Packers, Bears
Jason: Packers, Vikings, Lions, Bears
Mike: Packers, Vikings, Lions, Bears