The bottom line is that betting on a team to win the Super Bowl is really difficult. If you narrow your choices down to one of four teams to earn a division crown, the potential payout goes down, but the likelihood of winning goes up. Last week, I started our look around NFL divisions from a betting perspective with the NFC West. Today, we focus on the NFC North.
The central question in the North remains as it ever was, and ever shall be until Aaron Rodgers and his laser-sighted bionic arm retire: can anyone beat the Green Bay Packers?
Saying that the Packers are the class of the North is like saying that LaVar Ball is a loud-mouthed buffoon: anyone who’s been paying the least bit of attention already knows. The Packers have gone to the playoffs in eight straight seasons, won at least 10 games in seven of those campaigns, and earned the division crown five times in the past six years.
The Packers are coming off a 10-6 season that saw the offense — well, Aaron Rodgers anyway — get back on track, scoring the fourth-most points in the league despite a mediocre running attack. They won six straight games to close out the regular season and reached the NFC title game, falling in Atlanta 44-21.
No moves aside from mid and late-round picks were used to address the running game, and they’ll head into the year with converted receiver Ty Montgomery and fourth-round rookie Jamal Williams at the top of the depth chart. Throw in an offensive line that was suspect last year and lost T.J. Lang this off-season, and the ground game is going to be up-and-down again, at best.
In lieu of fixing the running game, the team opted to focus on defense in the offseason, spending its first four draft picks on that side of the ball. They also brought in free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett, who could be a big weapon for Aaron Rodgers, if the O-line can keep him upright.
Following an 11-5 season in 2015, the Vikings shot out of the gate at 5-0 last season. The hot start came despite trading for quarterback Sam Bradford late in training camp following a season-ending injury to Teddy Bridgewater. In reality, it was virtuoso performances from the defense that had Minny undefeated over the first five weeks, and when the D suffered some injuries and came back to earth, the results followed. Minnesota won just three games the rest of the way and had the worst rushing attack in the league, even when Adrian Peterson was in the lineup. A suspect (at best) offensive line was a problem throughout the campaign.
While Peterson, often injured tackle Matt Kalil, and corner Captain Munnerlyn are all gone, there’s reason for optimism heading into 2017. Management made big efforts to improve the run game, drafting Dalvin Cook in the first round and signing free agent Latavius Murray. They’ll only be able to stack up yardage if the line play improves, of course. That means the recently signed Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers, and third-round draft pick Pat Elfein will need to step in and provide stability up front. If Minny has any semblance of an offense, the D is good enough to not only keep them in games, but win them a few over the course of the year.
This ain’t your dad’s Lions. After going more than a decade without making the postseason, the days of Detroit being a laughing stock are over. Their 9-7 mark last season got them in the playoffs for a second time in three years, and a third time in the past six seasons. Like Green Bay and Minnesota, the Lion struggled to run the ball in 2016, relying heavily on the arm of Matt Stafford. The limited attack led to a mediocre 21.5 points a game, 20th in the NFL. Chalk part of that up to injury. The ground game would have been more potent if second-year back Ameer Abdullah hadn’t gone down in Week 1. With TJ Lang and Rick Wagner coming in to replace Riley Reiff and Larry Warford on the line, the rushing attack has a decent chance to be considerably better if the key pieces can stay on the field.
The defense was above average last year and features some intriguing new faces. Two University of Florida products, linebacker Jarrad Davis and corner Teez Tabor, were drafted early. Linebacker Paul Worrilow, pass rusher Cornelius Washington, and corner DJ Hayden were also brought in. If you believe quarterback Matt Stafford finally came into his own last year, the Lions are seemingly improved around him.
The Bears haven’t had a winning season since Lovie Smith’s final year in Chicago and enter 2017 in rebuild mode. Head coach John Fox, who once said “a punt is not a bad play,” has struggled without his type of players, going 9-23 the last two years. Instead of Jay Cutler, Fox now has no. 2-overall pick Mitch Trubisky to work with at QB, plus free agent acquisition Mike Glennon. Whether either one can improve on what Cutler offered is dubious, at least for next season. Bank on the offense being awful again. They don’t even have Alshon Jeffery or Eddie Royal anymore, and second-round tight end Adam Shadeen is not a panacea. Neither are new targets Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton are new targets in the passing game.
The defensive prospects are a little brighter. The team added Prince Amukamara and Quintin Demps to help the secondary, and Leonard Floyd is a budding star at edge rusher. Chicago is probably better than they were last year, and there is reason for optimism going forward with a good, young QB to develop, but they aren’t ready to contend for a division title.
It’s easy to assume the Packers will win the division again. But don’t forget the Lions were dismissed last season after Calvin Johnson retired. They responded with a playoff season, and got better in the offseason. Though Green Bay dominates the North, on the whole, they are 4-3 against Detroit recently. The Lions at 27/4 are a good value and worthy of a small play.
Photo Credit: By kdoebler [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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