NFC North Predictions and NFL Odds for Super Bowl
by Robert Ferringo - 8/25/2011
The NFC North is the perfect example of the changing face of the NFL. Long the roughest, toughest division in football – The Black-and-Blue Division – the teams in the North were renowned for their bruising brand of football. However, as rule changes have softened the sport and created les incentive for physicality, the North has altered its preferred style.
So because the North has acquiesced to the new pass-happy NFL, it won’t be a surprise when the four teams in this division end up in the standings in the same order as an NFL handicapper would rate their quarterbacks: Green Bay, Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit.
With that in mind, here are my NFC North predictions and NFL betting odds for Super Bowl, conference and division:
Green Bay Packers Predictions
2010 Record: 10-6 (7-1 home, 3-5 road)
2010 Against the Spread: 9-7 ATS, 6-10 vs. Total
2010 Rankings: 9th offense (5th pass, 24th rush); 5th overall (5th pass, 18th rush)
2011 Odds: 7/1 to win SB, 4/1 to win NFC, 1/2 to win NFC North, 11.5 wins O/U
Offense: Devastating. That is really the only way to describe Green Bay’s attack. Forget about the regular season rankings; this team could light people up last season and could be even better this time around. Aaron Rodgers is an elite signal caller with total control over this offense. He welcomes back Green Bay’s top four receivers, gets freakish tight end Jermichael Finley back from injury, and adds explosive rookie Randall Cobb into the mix. If they face an opponent with secondary issues there is simply no way to stop The Pack. That said, their offensive line is still, in my opinion, a lower-tier group. And at some point they will need to be able to run the ball. But about the top 15 or 18 guys are back on a unit that pumped in 31 points against Pittsburgh’s incredible defense, so I wouldn’t expect much of a drop-off...as long as they avoid turnovers.
Defense: As long as nothing happens to Casey Matthews or Charles Woodson this will remain a top defense. The Packers have been +34 in turnover margin over the course of the past two years in large part because of their ability to create big plays on defense. They are solid in the secondary – the best in the division, by far – and it really starts there for this group. I do worry a little about the depth of their front seven. Green Bay’s starters form a wall. But losses of impact guys like Nick Barnett and Cullen Jenkins have to weaken a defense. With Dom Capers calling the shots, though, this will remain an aggressive, attacking unit.
Skinny: I know it is unbelievable, but, statistically speaking, Green Bay underachieved last season. By the numbers, they should have gone 13-3 in the regular season, and when you consider that all six of their losses were by a touchdown or less then it is not a stretch to say that this team was just a few plays away from a perfect regular season. But we have seen good – nay, great – teams fall victim to the Super Bowl hangover. The Green Bay Packers schedule is tricky and they are in a division loaded with experience. Green Bay is still the champs, though, until someone knocks them off. I think this team will make a return trip to the postseason. But the holes will start to show for a team that was, realistically, one quarter away from missing last year’s playoffs.
Chicago Bears Predictions
2010 Record: 11-5 (5-3 home, 6-2 road)
2010 Against the Spread: 9-6-1 ATS; 7-9 vs. Total
2010 Rankings: 30th offense (28th pass, 22nd rush); 9th defense (20th pass, 2nd rush)
2011 Odds: 25/1 to win SB, 14/1 to win NFC, 5/1 to win NFC North, 8.5 wins O/U
Offense: For all the undeserved hype that Jay Cutler and Mike Martz get as being offensive forces, they joined forces to produce the league’s No. 30 offense last year. The Bears offense likely won’t improve much this year because their offensive line, already among the worst in football, may have actually gotten worse this offseason. It all starts up front. And Chicago’s poor run blocking and pathetic pass protection will lead to either A) Cutler throwing another 25 interceptions or B) Cutler getting hurt. Either of those scenarios will punish this team. The Bears have a quiet, workmanlike group of skill players that can move the ball. But they don’t have any top-end talents or any individual game breakers. I do expect them to improve, at least statistically, but until they get serious about their o-line this offense will be spinning its wheels.
Defense: I will admit: I was very much against the addition of Julius Peppers last offseason. I ate my words, as Peppers dominated the point of attack and helped rejuvenate Chicago’s Cover-2. The Bears are a system defense that relies on exceptional players like Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to go out and make game-changing plays. Last year they did just that and their bend-but-don’t break style showed toughness the Bears had been lacking the two years prior. Safety Chris Harris captains an underrated secondary. Again, it is all about the system with this group. And as long as they enjoy good health this unit should remain the core of the team.
Skinny: Chicago kind of slid its way into hosting the NFC Championship Game last year. And there is no way that they are one of the top two or three teams in the conference entering this season. They had the fewest starts in the league lost to injury last year (11) and they benefitted from six close wins. Also, Chicago was actually outgained last season. There is simply too much on this team that can go wrong. And while other teams around them, in the division and the NFC, got better this offseason, I would say the Bears stayed pretty much the same. And in this league you are either improving or you are dying. Look for an 8-8 year out of this group.
Detroit Lions Predictions
2010 Record: 6-10 (4-4 home, 2-6 road)
2010 Against the Spread: 12-4 ATS, 10-5-1 vs. Total
2010 Rankings: 17th offense (12th pass, 23rd rush); 21st defense (16th pass, 24th rush)
2011 Odds: 30/1 to win SB, 16/1 to win NFC, 4.5/1 to win NFC North, 7.5 wins O/U
Offense: Despite starting three quarterbacks for at least three games, the Lions offense was surprisingly spry last year. I know that everyone believes this team will take off if Matt Stafford stays healthy. First, he hasn’t proven that he can so I don’t know why we would think he would. And second, I’m not sold on Stafford as a franchise quarterback. The same health questions are plaguing Jahvid Best and the running game. Also, I don’t understand why this team wasn’t more aggressive in going after offensive linemen this offseason. All told, there is some nice individual talent on this side of the ball. But they don’t have a lot of chemistry and they all seem to be made of glass.
Defense: Detroit’s front four will rumble with any offensive line in football. Kong Suh is an absolute grizzly bear and the anchor of what this unit is doing. But he was a little suspect in run defense and both he and his compadres in the front seven will need to improve. Detroit went out and finally – FINALLY – got some linebackers. But they are still a bit short on overall talent in that arena. Their linebackers are better in run support than they are in coverage or pass rush, and the Lions will need all the help they can get for a secondary that let opponents complete 64 percent of their passes.
Skinny: I love the direction that the Lions are going and I love the fact that they are building their team on a foundation of toughness on the offensive and defensive lines. I love it. But Detroit enters the season as “Everyone’s Sleeper Team”. And as we saw last year with San Francisco and for several years with Houston, “Everyone’s Sleeper Team” doesn’t actually end up sneaking up on anyone and they are usually a huge disappointment. The Lions still have issues, and one excellent December can’t erase the fact that they were 4-40 in their previous 44 games. Don’t believe the hype; this team needs to show me a quarterback, running game and secondary before I buy in.
Minnesota Vikings Predictions
2010 Record: 6-10 (4-4 home, 2-6 road)
2010 Against the Spread: 5-11 ATS, 7-9 vs. Total
2010 Rankings: 23rd offense (26th pass, 10th rush); 8th defense (10th pass, 9th rush)
2011 Odds: 35/1 to win SB, 15/1 to win NFC, 10/1 to win NFC North, 7.0 wins O/U
Offense: It is back to the drawing board for a group that sold its soul to Brett Favre for two seasons. Minnesota shifted its attack away from the ground-heavy assault that Adrian Peterson spearheaded in 2007 and 2008 and went to a pass-wacky attack favored by Favre. Now they are stuck with the overweight shadow of Donovan McNabb (it’s a bit like watching Eddie Murphy in “Metro”) or a rookie (Christian Ponder) that was taken about three rounds too early. Minnesota’s biggest issue actually isn’t at quarterback. When they were dominating people it was because the left side of their line, Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie, were one of the best tandems in football. McKinnie ate his way out of town and Hutchinson looks washed up. If they don’t get better there, it won’t matter who is throwing, catching or running.
Defense: Minnesota’s defense was still among the best in football last year, but I think that they may backslide this season for the same reason that the offense is on the skids: they are no longer dominating the point of attack. They will miss Ray Edwards. And swapping Remi Ayodele for Pat Williams is not an upgrade. The Vikings linebackers have seen their production decrease over the course of the past three years. And although the secondary should perform much better than it has, the production hasn’t met the talent of this group. The Vikings still have a salty group and they won’t fall down among the league’s wet-paper groups. But the Vikings are not as rock solid as the group that took them to the cusp of the Super Bowl two years ago.
Skinny: These guys are the leftovers. The past coaching regime is gone. Favre is gone. Key players like Sidney Rice, McKinnie, Edwards, Williams, etc. are gone. What is left is a team caught in between wanting to rebuild and trying to hold on to the fleeting hope that they are just a player away from making it back to the mountaintop. Minnesota is still going to be a tough win for the opposition. But this group can’t be considered a real threat in this division unless McNabb goes bonkers in his third offense and third team in three years.
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports and NFL handicapper for Doc’s Sports. In 2009 his NFL picks brought home +62.5 Units for his clients and in 2010 he managed another profitable overall football season (college and NFL). He guarantees a winning football season this year or he will work for free until you turn a profit. You can sign up for his college football and NFL picks and get more information here.
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