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The Beast known as the NFC North

Football’s best division resides in the heart—and cold—of the Midwest. The Black and Blue division has returned.

NFL: SEP 05 Packers at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s still early enough in the 2019 NFL season to where making sweeping judgments would be somewhat irresponsible. Because of summer practice restrictions, September football is as much of an unofficial extension of the preseason as anyone would care to admit. But early returns on the overall quality of the NFC North are glowing. They speak to a group that’s not only clearly the best in its own conference, but perhaps the entire league.

Football Outsiders has released its latest DVOA efficiency ratings—not a gospel of a metric by any means, but as close as it gets—and the NFC North, the Norris Division, the Black and Blue division, whatever you want to appropriately designate it, has three teams featuring in the top 10.

The Bears check in at No. 8 after beginning the end of the Mike Zimmer era while continuing an impressive three-game win streak. Their rival, the Packers, follow not far behind at No. 9. And the upstart Lions, led by second-year coach Matt Patricia, round out the top 10. The only other NFL division with multiple teams in the top 10 in DVOA is the NFC East with the No. 3 Cowboys and No. 6 Eagles.

Each of these respective heavyweights can rest their laurels on a dynamic piece of their roster. The Bears have pro football’s arguable premiere defense at No. 3 overall. An Eagles’ shredding aside, Green Bay possesses one of the NFL’s bright young secondaries, a back end that bolsters the No. 7 defense. Meanwhile the Lions seem to be the most well-rounded of their competitors, as they rank no lower than No. 14; topped, of course, by a No. 7 special teams group.

There’s a long way to go—three months, in fact—but the last instance that saw three NFC North featured in the top 10 in DVOA by season’s end was in 1995. With the birth of the Internet and the start of Star Trek: Voyager (an underrated entry into Star Trek lore), 1995 was a beautiful year. The first note in the end of modern civilization and outstanding science fiction series aside, 1995 also saw the Packers and Lions earn postseason berths, while the Bears just barely missed out on the fun thanks to a 9-7 record. If history from almost a quarter century ago repeats itself, chances are one of these modern iterations will be kicking themselves after failing to sneak into meaningful match-ups this January.

One certain new wrinkle to watch for is the NFC North being the first division with three Matt’s (Nagy, LaFleur, Patricia) coach in the postseason. Having three head coaches—from one division, no less—share the same first name while coaching in January has to be a record. I would equate it to Emmitt Smith’s rushing yards benchmark in terms of significance. You are way out of line if you aren’t rooting for this to come to fruition, and also clearly don’t hold the name “Matt” in high regard.

Widespread inter-divisional play has not yet begun across the NFL. That’s typically reserved for the second half of the season for all-important “drama” and “suspense,” as if those matter. Come November, the NFC North is sure to morph into a bloodbath. Time will tell as to whether the Bears are left standing tall amidst the rubble and rampant chaos.

Robert appreciates many traditions: spooky movies in October, stuffing his face like a glutton in November, Christmas cheer in December, and Lions’ collapses by January.

Find Robert on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone.