Projecting the NFC North: QB Wins Metric and QB Narratives
Today we continue discussing where the NFL is going in 2022 with a look at the NFC North. Our NFL projections are based on a forecast of team performance and a subjective assessment of each team’s quarterback’s storylines. Also streaming on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher. The preview is intentionally QB centric. These players disproportionately drive on-field success, fan interest, and salary cap issues. The NFL is the dominant sports league across just about every demographic group, and the QBs are the stars. We will publish a new division each week. See last week's NFC East division preview here. NFC North 1. Green Bay Packers & Aaron Rodgers Rodgers is playing for his legacy. In addition to being an elite (the elite?) QB talent, Rodgers also has elite marketing skills. His State Farm commercials and Jeopardy hosting appearances reveal genuine in-front-of-the-camera talent. Rodgers is also an independent thinker that attracts controversy. A controversial, rebellious, funny, and ultra-talented athlete playing for legacy would usually be the top “fan” narrative, but this is the era of Tom Brady. The Packers are one of the NFL's top brands, so for the Pack to grow its fan base (and nationally is the only way to go), the team needs Super Bowl victories. Can Rodgers get them 1 or 2? That’s a pretty good storyline from now until Rodgers retires. Beyond the marketing and media side, Aaron Rodgers has the highest QB Win score of active players. The Packers are forecasted to win 11.2 games, with Rodgers worth 3.5 games. This is the highest forecast in the NFC, so Rodgers could again be playing for home-field advantage. Packers’ Forecast: 11.2 wins Packers’ Fan Base Ranking: #1 Media Narrative Grade: A 2. Minnesota Vikings & Kirk Cousins Cousins got a lot of press with the guaranteed money on his last contract (2018). Cousins has never been considered one of the elite QBs, so when he set a new standard for guaranteed money and was also the highest paid player in the NFL in 2020, it turned heads. Given Cousins career success (59-59), Cousins earnings have surprised many fans. Cousins is probably best viewed as an unlikely beneficiary of how the NFL QB market works. An elite QB is needed to win Super Bowls, and there is always an acute shortage of those players. So teams have to take chances. I believe that the top NFL QBs are underpaid while the above-average guys are vastly overpaid. Cousins is statistically a solid QB with an average QB win score of 1.4. Last year Cousins was at positive 1.64 wins while the Vikings were 8 and 9. The Vikings are likely locked into being an average team for the next few years—minimal national storyline coming out of Minneapolis. Vikings Forecast: 8.1 wins Vikings’ Fan Base Rankings: Media Grade: C 3. Chicago Bears & Justin Fields The Bears ranked #9 on the NFL brand rankings. While a top ten finish is impressive, the Bears have all the ingredients to be a top 5 brand. A lack of titles and QBs has pushed the Bears downward. The Bears will make headlines this year, but not in a good way. The Bears finally have a high-profile QB, but the (limited) data says he is more hype than substance. Fields has always been a media magnet. A high school Netflix show, a quick exit from UGA, an advocate for playing during COVID at tOSU, significant media attention leading up to and during the draft, and a tumultuous first season ending with his coach fired. The media loves Fields and seems invested in him being an elite quarterback. On the QB Win metric Fields was a dismal performer at -5. Will Fields step up and become what the Bears need? Or will we hear about how Fields is struggling as he is on his 3rd OC in the last three years? The Fields situation of a struggling young QB isn’t unique; what makes Fields interesting is how much media attention he always attracts. With a favorable schedule and some improvement from Fields, I project the Bears to be a 7.2 win team. Bears Forecast: 7.2 Wins Bears’ Fan Base Ranking: #9 Media Narrative Grade: A 4. Lions & Jared Goff The Lions are an NFL afterthought, ranking #23 on the branding scale. The Lions seem trapped into being one of those organizations that never get to the next level. Because the Lions never get their share of the limelight, I pulled up a bunch of data on the team while writing this entry. The Lions’ last NFC Central championship was 29 years ago. In the time since, they have had eight playoff games without a single victory. The Lions have two Hall of Fame QBs – Dutch Clark (retired 1938) and Bobby Layne (retired 1958). Winning and QBs create fandom, and the Lions are short of both. Goff is a breakeven player on the QB Wins metric. His three-year average from 2019 to 2021 was -.01 wins per year. It’s tough to find a compelling narrative in Detroit. Goff is at the point where his salary will begin to escalate. This could make for an interesting local story. Average QBs now command really large salaries. Locking in an average or slightly above average guy might be the right option if you are trying to get to 500, but it can make becoming elite impossible. Lions Forecast: 6.2 wins Lions’ Fan Base Ranking: #23 Media Narrative Grade: D NFC North Summary: As long as Aaron Rodgers is with the Packers the NFC North will be an interesting place. Based on the QB Wins metric Rodgers is the best QB in the league. He also works on the side as a game show host, is a great pitchman, has strong political opinions, and talks trash to Bears fans. He is the perfect NFL quarterback in 2022. Justin Fields is a magnet for media attention. Fields ranked very low in 2021 in limited action, but the Fields stories should be easy. Either the new coach has figured out how to bring out Fields’ talent, or the Bears have continued to cripple Fields’ development by asking him to learn another new system. The Kirk Cousin Vikings and Jared Goff Lions don’t start the season with any exceptionally compelling national storylines. While the quality of the storylines varies across the division, in some ways, the NFC North is the perfect QB microcosm. The division includes a brash superstar, a hyped-up but struggling young player, the veteran journeyman, and a former star relegated to a brand that gets little attention. I love this division. Check out our other divisional projections here: All Divisional Projections Stream the podcast discussion of the projections on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.