As a whole, NFC North teams collectively possess a 164-153-3 (.517) record over the last five seasons. The win percentages by team are as follows:
Vikings: 50-29-1 (.631)
Packers: 46-33-1 (.581)
Lions: 34-45-1 (.431)
Bears: 34-46 (.425)
More importantly, Green Bay has won four playoff contests, Minnesota has been victorious in two, and neither Detroit nor Chicago have won a playoff game. The Lions visited the postseason in 2016 only to be pummeled by the Seattle Seahawks, 26-6. The Bears infamously saw a gridiron suicide in their only playoff visit when kicker Cody Parkey missed a 43-yard field goal versus Philadelphia in 2018.
The Packers have won two NFC North titles, so have the Vikings. The Bears sneaked up to win the division in 2018. And, the Lions, of course, have not won a division title since 1993 — when Matthew Stafford was in preschool.
Since 2015, Minnesota leads the way with 30 Pro Bowl selections of its players. Green Bay has witnessed its players selected to Pro Bowls on 17 occasions. Rounding out the division is Chicago with 15 and Detroit with nine.
So, the Black and Blue division has been graced with a litany of stars passing through its ranks. An analysis of the five best players to play in the NFC North since 2015 is adjudicated not by career accolades but by longevity and impact within the division.
For example, Kirk Cousins and Aaron Jones did not make the cut. Cousins, although terrific in Washington, has been in the division for just two seasons. As for Aaron Jones, his first real flirtation with stardom occurred in 2019.
Based on cumulative performance for each team, there are the top-five NFC North players of the last five total seasons.
5. Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
A parting gift of sorts, here.
On August 12th, it was announced Everson Griffen would join the Dallas Cowboys. The Minnesota Vikings will subsequently audition a new EDGE rusher in Ifeadi Odenigbo.
A testament to his longevity, Griffen had been with the Vikings since 2010. In fact, the last football game Minnesota played sans Griffen on the roster was the ill-fated 2009 NFC Championship.
Aside from a bizarre hiatus from the team in 2018, Griffen was marvelous for the Vikings in the last half-decade. Since 2015, he has notched 45 sacks, placing him at ninth-most in the business.
Impressively, Griffen is the owner of more sacks than Justin Houston, Cameron Heyward, Frank Clark, Vic Beasley, and Preston Smith in the last five years. That is notable and muscular company.
What’s more, Griffen notched 114 quarterback hits in this time frame, outpacing his former teammate Danielle Hunter by 34 such hits. Hunter has recorded more sacks since 2015, Griffen has more pressures.
For 2020 purposes and beyond, Hunter is the more valuable commodity. But from 2015 to 2019, Griffen was in his prime whereas Hunter was carving out an illustrious name for himself.
Griffen also made four Pro Bowls to Danielle Hunter’s two in the last five seasons.
4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
It is a travesty than Matthew Stafford has appeared in just one postseason game since 2015 (and three total in his career). The man is just too prolific to have the word “winless” attached to his playoff reputation. Yet, much like Kirk Cousins with the Washington Football Team, this is the hand Stafford has been dealt.
Individually, Stafford’s performance is sparkling. Since 2015, he ranks eighth in the NFL in touchdown passes, ninth in passing yards, 12th in passer rating and second in game-winning drives. He is the type of quarterback that, if groomed by a winning franchise, could quite conceivably hoist a Lombardi trophy. Think New England or Pittsburgh.
On those individual accolades, Stafford has more touchdown throws in the last five years than Jameis Winston, more passing yards than Aaron Rodgers, fewer interceptions than Matt Ryan, and a better passer rating than Ben Roethlisberger.
The man deserves a seat at the table — both on this list and on a storied franchise.
3. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings
For starters, the aforementioned criteria for this analysis is “last five years.” Well, Harrison Smith has been a Pro Bowl safety for five consecutive seasons. How’s that for worthiness?
Smith even earned an All-Pro designation in 2017 when the Vikings made an NFC Championship appearance. Since his entry into the NFL in 2012, Smith has been a stalwart of consistency and violence.
He has mastered the art of delivering vicious hits in an increasingly non-vicious league. Smith has undoubtedly been the anchor of the Vikings secondary through thick and thin. Before head coach Mike Zimmer took over the franchise, Minnesota was abysmal defensively for a few years. Yet, he was a youthful gem.
Statistically, the 31-year-old has been stellar. Since 2015 among safeties, he ranks second in sacks, third in quarterback hits, sixth in tackles for loss, seventh in total tackles, ninth in interceptions, and 11th in passes defended. Truly Swiss-army knife stuff.
The Vikings will rely on his pass-coverage prowess even heavier in 2020 — the team has a slew of young cornerbacks to develop.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Had these rankings encompassed the full decade, Aaron Rodgers would have inarguably topped the list. But here is a painful reality for many that goes unannounced: Rodgers, like others, is slowing down a bit statistically as he inches toward his 40s. The 36-year-old is still an upper-echelon quarterback, but he is not the same performer that the NFL watched in 2014.
From 2008 to 2014, Rodgers owned the league’s top passer rating at 106.6. From 2015 to present, his passer rating has cratered slightly to 97.5, or ninth-best in the business. Therefore, Rodgers remains a very effective signal-caller. Put simply, he is not as otherworldly as he was at the turn of the decade.
A moderately-regressed Rodgers is nevertheless better than about 20 other starting quarterbacks in the league. In the last five seasons, he ranks fifth in touchdown passes, 10th in passing yards, 23rd in completion percentage, and overall tosses a diminutive amount of interceptions.
Green Bay drafted a new quarterback, Jordan Love, this offseason but Rodgers remains a staple of the NFC North, for now.
1. David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers
This mammoth machine, in part, is why Aaron Rodgers is so deadly. The seven-year tackle from the University of Colorado has made a living and reputation protecting Rodgers. And, he has done it mightily.
Bakhtiari has made two Pro Bowls, one in 2016, the other last season. If you need a good laugh, take a peek at the 2018 All-Pro honors. Bakhtiari was granted All-Pro honors in 2018 but was snubbed from Pro Bowl consideration. It is a paradox of the strangest variety.
In the recent NFL Top 100 rankings, voted on by fellow NFL players, Bakhtiari snatched the #62 spot. In the 2019 edition of the rankings, he came in at #43.
A healthy debate can ensue as to who is a better NFC North player — Rodgers or Bakhtiari. But has Rodgers winds down his career, Bakhtiari is ascending. He is only 28 years-old, and NFL life expectancy of offensive linemen can drift well into a man’s late-30s.
Bakhtiari will be around longer than Rodgers, and it is significantly more difficult to anchor the tackle position of an offensive line than it is to pluck a serviceable quarterback from the NFL draft. Rodgers has been very good in the last five years; Bakhtiari has been great.