NFC North Predictions and Futures Odds with Betting Picks
by Robert Ferringo - 8/2/2013
The NFC North was the best division in football in 2012. Teams in the North combined to go 23-17 against the rest of the league last year. Those 23 wins were tied with the NFC West for the most in the NFL, but the North was the only division to produce three teams with 10 or more wins.
We’ll see if they are capable of an encore.
Divisional games in the NFC North are difficult to handicap because there is such a diverse array of styles in this division. Detroit and Green Bay both have explosive passing games and only a passing interest in defense. Minnesota relies on a powerful running game and likes to grind teams down to the nub. The Bears are the most balanced team of the bunch but are under new management and represent the division’s least predictable squad.
Green Bay Packers Predictions
2012 Record: 11-5 (7-1 home, 4-4 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 9-7 ATS, 8-8 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 13th offense (9th pass, 20th rush); 11th overall (11th pass, 17th rush)
2013 Odds: 8.5/1 to win Super Bowl, 5/1 to win NFC, 1/2 to win NFC North, 10.0 wins “Over/Under”
Offense: As long as Aaron Rodgers is working his magic, the Packers will score a load of points. But I don’t think that Green Bay is necessarily a better offense going into this season. They lost some key contributors, they still don’t really have a running game, and they are primed for a regression after back-to-back seasons with anomalous yards per point figures.
Greg Jennings is gone. That means that Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones better stay healthy – far from a given – because with Donald Driver’s retirement, depth is now an issue for this group.
Green Bay’s offensive line is perfectly mediocre. Rodgers’ mobility can compensate for that in the passing game. But that, as much as a lack of running back talent, is a big reason why the Packers have struggled running the ball the past few years. The Pack drafted a pair of talented running backs. But rookie rushers are notoriously unreliable.
Defense: Somehow Green Bay finished No. 11 in the league in defense last year. Really, this unit is Clay Matthews and just a bunch of other guys. And other than B.J. Raji and Morgan Burnett, there aren’t any top-tier talents on this side of the ball. Instead, the Packers defense simply benefits from the game pressure that the outstanding offense can create on opponents.
Green Bay will miss Charles Woodson’s experience and leadership in the secondary. But more than that they will miss his playmaking. Besides Matthews, who is an absolute beast, Green Bay’s other three starting linebackers combined for just four sacks, zero interceptions and zero fumble recoveries.
It is kind of a mixed bag in the secondary. Corners Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have been all over the map. M.D. Jennings is average at best at strong safety. And that will put a lot of pressure on free safety Burnett to hold down the back line.
Skinny: Green Bay looks like a poor man’s New England these days. As long as both teams have their superstar quarterbacks and their exceptional head coaches, they are going to be on the short list of teams vying for their respective conference titles.
But even though I had them ranked No. 5 in my preseason NFL power rankings, I’m actually not high on Green Bay’s prospects for winning another title. Free agency, injury and age have siphoned off some offensive talent. And defensively they still have major question marks beyond Matthews. Is this team better than last year’s 11-5 squad? I don’t know that it is.
Also, the Packers have one of the most difficult schedules in all of football. It is absolutely relentless. Four of their first five games are against 2012 playoff teams. Three of those games are on the road. They also play the Vikings, Giants, Lions and Bears on the road and they host the Steelers and Falcons. There is no margin for error with these guys. They may be good enough to take another division crown. But it should be much more of a struggle than in past seasons, and I don’t think there is any way they surpass last year’s win total.
Chicago Bears Predictions
2012 Record: 10-6 (5-3 home, 5-3 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 7-9 ATS; 9-7 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 28th offense (29th pass, 10th rush); 5th defense (8th pass, 8th rush)
2013 Odds: 35/1 to win SB, 15/1 to win NFC, 3.5/1 to win NFC North, 8.5 wins O/U
Offense: I am not sure anyone knows what the Bears offense is going to look like under new coach Marc Trestman and new OC Aaron Kromer. The Bears will be running a version of the West Coast offense, and it will certainly be a more cerebral approach than the smashmouth football that they used under Mike Tice. But how effective their skill players will be in the new attack remains to be seen.
Jay Cutler had another perfectly average season at the helm for the Bears. Brandon Marshall had a monster season with 118 receptions for 1,508 yards. (Although he was still No. 2 in the league in drops.) And Matt Forte continues to be one of the best all-purpose backs in the league, despite his durability issues. Chicago could use some more out of Mike Bush, and they desperately need a No. 2 wideout to step up.
For years Chicago’s offense has been crippled by one of the worst offensive lines in football. But they signed All Pro Jermon Bushrod, picked up veteran Jets starter Matt Slauson and drafted rookie Kyle Long with their top pick. They are hoping the maneuvers will turn a massive weakness into a strength.
Defense: Chicago’s defense has consistently been one of the best in football. But they head into battle this year without leader Brian Urlacher and with a coordinator that will be looking to move them away from their trademark Cover-2 scheme. It’s tough to argue that the Bears should have made those changes after finishing 2012 in the Top 5 in points and yards.
But Chicago has a player at each level of the defense that is among the most elite at their position in the game. Julius Peppers is still a dominating defensive end and is among the active sack leaders. Lance Briggs is an incredible linebacker and on the short list among the top in the league. And Charles Tillman has been overlooked and underrated for nearly a decade despite being one of the best playmakers around.
D.J. Williams, a former stud in Denver, was brought in to replace Urlacher. (Although it is impossible to quantify what Urlacher meant to this entire locker room.) They also need a pass rusher to step up opposite Peppers. And safety hasn’t been a strength since Mike Brown left.
Skinny: I think Chicago is one of the most difficult teams in the league to get a read on. Just three years ago they were hosting the NFC Title Game. They were 7-3 in 2011 before injuries submarined their season. And the Bears opened 7-1 last year before a late slide left them home with 10 wins.
The talent is here. This is a veteran team, and the window on it is closing. Chicago has a ton of players finishing out their contracts, and the new front office appears desperate to put their own stamp on the team. The Bears are clearly in Win Now Mode.
I think the Bears will be a boom-or-bust team. If they take to Trestman’s systems, and if the offensive line comes together, then Chicago could be a major player in the NFC and one of the best teams in football. They open with four of six at home and need a fast start. But if things don’t click with the new taskmaster – who was replacing a very player-friendly coach in Lovie Smith – then the Bears’ unforgiving stretch to close the season could get ugly.
Detroit Lions Predictions
2012 Record: 4-12 (2-6 home, 2-6 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 6-10 ATS, 10-5-1 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 3rd offense (2nd pass, 23rd rush); 13th defense (14th pass, 16th rush)
2013 Odds: 45/1 to win SB, 20/1 to win NFC, 5/1 to win NFC North, 8.0 wins O/U
Offense: Detroit has been in the Top 5 in yards gained in back-to-back seasons. However, they were just No. 17 in scoring last year, and their 17.6 yards per point was No. 27 in the league. That number was also just 1.2 YPP better than Jacksonville and 1.4 YPP better than Oakland.
The reasons are pretty simple: Detroit really isn’t that good of an offensive team. They would fall behind early and then rack up stats when the opposing team was trying to sit on the lead. Don’t believe it? Detroit trailed at halftime in eight of their first nine games last year and were down double-digits at one point in seven of the first nine.
That’s their game. They get behind, they send Calvin Johnson flying down the field and they either just chuck it up to him or dump it underneath and pick up yard after yard. But it never goes anywhere. And if it weren’t for Johnson they wouldn’t be worth a damn.
Stafford is average. The offensive line is being reshuffled and is trending downward. Reggie Bush will give the running game some sizzle, but I guarantee he spends half the season injured. And they have no receiving threats outside of Johnson. Expect more garbage time stat-padding from the Lions this year.
Defense: The Lions have a ferocious front four laced with top draft picks. N’d Suh is the truth. And I think Nick Fairley will develop. But this team missed Kyle Vanden Bosch last year, and they don’t have any stand-up ends that can also get to the passer.
Detroit’s inability to get consistent pressure on the edges exacerbates their main problem: the secondary. The Lions have had one of the weakest back lines in the NFC over the past five years, and they simply can’t stop opposing passers. Hell, they made Blaine Gabbert AND Christian Ponder look viable last year.
I don’t expect much improvement this season. They haven’t upgraded their talent in the back seven at all, and they are still hoping – beyond all scientific evidence to the contrary – that Louis Delmas will stay healthy enough to settle the back end. Don’t expect improvement.
Skinny: Last year I was one of the only football analysts in the country that was selling Detroit. Everyone saw them as some sort of young, up-and-coming group ready to build on a surprise postseason appearance. But they were exposed. And people ignored the fact that their run in 2011 was aided by several just incredible, ridiculous come-from-behind wins that would’ve been impossible to duplicate.
I still don’t like the Lions. They are undisciplined, sloppy and unreliable. Yes, Johnson and Suh are phenomenal. But the rest of this team is all over the map. They have enough physical talent to play with any team in the league. But they don’t do enough of the little things properly to be a team that you can bet on confidently.
This division crosses over with the NFC East and the NFC North. So there are no off weeks at all. The Lions play four of their first six away from home, and they have three sets of back-to-back road trips in the first 10 games. If they start slowly, the vultures will start to circle Jim Schwartz, and there aren’t enough leaders in this locker room to keep the team focused. I’m chalking up another losing season.
Minnesota Vikings Predictions
2012 Record: 10-6 (7-1 home, 3-5 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 8-7-1 ATS, 7-9 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 20th offense (31st pass, 2nd rush); 16th defense (24th pass, 11th rush)
2013 Odds: 50/1 to win SB, 20/1 to win NFC, 6.5/1 to win NFC North, 7.5 wins O/U
Offense: This one is simple: give it to Adrian Peterson and get out of the way. The Vikings gave Peterson the rock 348 times, and he turned it into nearly 2,100 yards. He is the best back in football ,and we can expect a lot more action for All Day.
The Vikings averaged 5.4 yards per rush and were No. 2 in the league in total attempts. Their offensive line is massive and one of the most underrated units in the game. Even though they paid out big money to Greg Jennings in free agency, this will remain a run-first team.
The pressure will be on third-year man Christian Ponder. Despite Ponder’s limitations, his numbers compared favorably to Cutler’s last year. The Vikes jettisoned playmaker Percy Harvin – who didn’t gel with Ponder – and picked up Jennings and rookie Cordy Patterson. I think those moves are an upgrade. The belief is that he now has the weapons he needs to either prove or disprove himself as a franchise guy.
Defense: Defensively the Vikings played a bit over their heads last year. They were perfectly average against both the run and the pass, and their opponents’ yards per point was 11th best in the league. Perfectly average.
The Vikings lean on a physical, tough front seven. Jared Allen is still one of the best players in the sport. Kevin Williams, Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway are veteran, Pro Bowl-caliber players as well. And young safety Hunter Smith looks like a keeper.
But depth is a problem. So is the age of some of those players. And the Vikings have at least one major question mark at each level of the D. Who will play left tackle next to Williams? Who will play weak side linebacker is Desmond Bishop doesn’t work out? How will they replace Antonio Winfield? They have more questions than answers at this point, and it will be up to their stars to cover the brush strokes.
Skinny: Last year at this time the Vikings were 275-to-1 to win the Super Bowl. So clearly they are stepping in the right direction. But they still have a long way to go, and the focus is squarely on Ponder’s shoulders.
Minnesota plays a very brutish, physical, specific style of football. The Vikings are an anvil. And they want to pound opponents into submission on both sides of the ball. They were one of the few teams in football that could out-physical San Francisco last year. But they also had a hard time against explosive passing offenses and didn’t play well from behind.
The Vikings have a brutal schedule. They open with two games on the road and have a trip to London to face Pittsburgh waiting in Week 4. The Vikings only have two teams on the docket – Cleveland and Philadelphia – that I don’t expect to be involved in their respective division races. Other than that, its one test after another, and it is going to be difficult for this squad to replicate their late-season magic.
Other stories in this series:
2013 AFC North Preview and Predictions
2013 AFC West Preview and Predictions
2013 NFC West Preview and Predictions
Robert Ferringo is a lead writer for Doc’s Sport and he has earned over $9,000 in football profit for his clients over the last 15 football months. He is looking forward to another amazing season on the gridiron and has banked five of six winning NFL seasons, two of three winning years and 27 of 39 winning football months. And this fall, for the first time ever, Robert will release selections from his incredible KING College Football Betting System. (Learn more HERE.) We are so confident that you will be amazed by this moneymaking system we are going to give you a free, no-strings-attached $60 credit to use toward a purchase of Robert’s football selections. CLICK HERE for $60 absolutely free!
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