Overall: For the second straight season there is a change in head coaches in the division.
The Lions (Matt Patricia) and Bears (Matt Nagy) hired new head coaches in 2018. This year it was the Packers’ turn, and they hired Matt LaFleur, most recently offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.
The Packers’ hiring might be the most interesting of the three because of the scrutiny of LaFleur’s relationship with future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The division race has been wide open since 2014, when the Packers won for the fourth straight season.
The fact that the Vikings went from third to first in 2015 and 2017, and the Bears finished last four straight years – with a best record of 6-10 in 2015 – before winning the North shows that fortunes can change fast.
Three takeaways, Lions-Bears:
Defense, step up: The Bears went from a good defense that was ranked 10th in 2017 to a great defense that was No. 3 overall in 2018 and first in the league with 27 interceptions and 36 takeaways.
The Lions went from a bad defense that was 27th overall in 2017 to a good one that was 10th overall in 2018. However, the Lions declined from 32 takeaways in 2017 to 14 in 2018.
The Lions are moving in the right direction, but have more steps to take.
Quarterback/offense: Mitchell Trubisky’s play stepped up over his rookie season – from seven TD passes vs. seven interceptions to a 24-12 ratio. He added a solid performance in the playoff loss. Matthew Stafford had one of his worst seasons, with 21 TD passes and 11 interceptions in an offense that regressed everywhere except in the run game, which improved substantially.
Look ahead: The Bears paid heavily to get linebacker Khalil Mack in a trade with the Raiders, but winning the North was worth it. In addition to a hefty contract extension, it cost them their first-round draft pick this year and next.
Either in the draft or free agency, the Lions need to add a playmaker on offense and a pass rusher on defense to close the gap on the Bears. And they were swept by the Bears in 2018, ending their seven-game winning streak. That’s a sign of how the power has changed in the North.