by Rob Weintraub
Nearly forty percent of every team's schedule is made up of division games. Every coach and player talks about the importance of winning games against division foes. Schemes and personnel are very often tailored to matching up with division opponents. Yet when it comes to naming the best players at season's end, we never classify them by division. Where are the All-Division teams? This has always mystified me. Colleges name All-Conference teams, why not do likewise for the professional ranks?
Well rest easy, I've done it for you, this time with the NFC North. Naturally, this being Football Outsiders, our stats are used to justify selections whenever necessary.
QB: Aaron Rodgers, GB
Mitchell Trubisky: 18th in DYAR, 20th in DVOA, but third in QBR? What does ESPN know that we don't? His running ability was a factor, clearly, but hard to believe it made that much of a difference. No NFC North quarterback particularly distinguished himself this season in our numbers, but Rodgers was well ahead of the other three despite playing with injuries. In a real game against the other All-Division teams, you'd pick him first, right?
Cohen's value comes almost entirely as a receiver, where he was fourth in DYAR with 184, compared to -18 while carrying the ball. It was still enough to get him on the All-Div squad over a spotty group of backs. Kerryon Johnson's injury opened the door for Jones, who was dependable despite toting it more than 15 times in just three games.
Thielen didn't have the top-ten season he put up a year ago but was still comfortably the best wideout in the division. He didn't fall nearly as far as Stefon Diggs, however, who went from 295 DYAR, ninth overall, and fifth in DVOA to just 8 DYAR, 64th overall, and 66th in DVOA. (Diggs didn't fall so much as he HALO jumped.) Golladay put up a virtually identical DYAR to Adams in 50 fewer targets (only Julio Jones had more balls thrown his way in 2018 than Adams). There was no real competition for Rudolph at tight end.
The Vikings, Bears, and Lions lines all were top-12 in adjusted sack rate, while the far more accomplished Packers line was 21st. But that doesn't mean anyone on Minnesota's front played well this year, and Detroit wasn't much better. Daniels makes the squad on promise and flash plays more than consistency. Bakhtiari may have been the best lineman in the league.
Akiem Hicks was so good he should count for both defensive tackle spots, but Goldman did a lot of dirty work that helped make his teammates look good. Damon "Snacks" Harrison was every bit the run-stuffing mastodon Detroit traded for, but with only a half a season in the division, it's hard to justify putting him on the squad.
Mack's entry into the division solidified an already strong NFC North linebacker group, one that will likely feature Smith for the foreseeable future, quite possibly for longer than his more ballyhooed teammate in Chicago.
Six Bears make the NFC North defense, and yet it feels low. Prince Amukamara, edged out by the tough competition at the corner spot, and Danny Trevathan, edged out by his own teammate, had arguments for the team.
Prater edges out Mason Crosby based on his PAT perfection (he and Brandon McManus of Denver were the only kickers with 20 or more extra points not to miss at least one) and his excellent touchdown pass on a fake field goal in Lambeau in the season finale. Not making the squad: Cody Parkey. Marcus Sherels of Minnesota pushed the Vikes slightly higher than the Bears in punt return points, but Cohen had ten more returns, not to mention 1,169 yards from scrimmage.