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NFC North Outlook

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NFC East · NFC North · NFC South · NFC West
Why The Packers Aren’t The Best Bet
 
For the past three years, the Green Bay Packers have set the benchmark in the NFC North futures and for good reason. They’re the pace setters in a division that’s littered with serious talent. The reigning MVP in Minnesota, a strong offensive trio in Chicago and a dynamic attack in Detroit will make this division a ruthless gauntlet run in 2013. There’s no doubt that Green Bay is the team to beat, but at least two of these teams are interesting fringe plays to upset Green Bay.
 
Green Bay Packers (11-5 SU and 9-7 ATS in 2012)
Odds To Win NFC North: -160
NFC Championship: +600
Regular Season Wins: 10.5 Games
 
I’ve always been curious about the Packers because of how they manage their roster. I’m not necessarily talking about the strange departures of salary cap victims like Charles Woodson, an irreplaceable veteran leader who is already making a positive impact back Oakland, or the migration of Greg Jennings to division rival Minnesota. More so, I’ve always been curious as to why the Green Bay Packers never added a solid running back option.
 
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When Marshawn Lynch became available during his time in Buffalo, I said that Green Bay was the most logical destination for him. Same thing this summer when Steven Jackson was floating around on the market. The Packers haven’t had a reliable marquee back since Ahman Green. Trust me, I rode the Alex “Hahaha You Think I’m Gonna Score Touchdowns?” Green fantasy train last year. It wasn’t worth the price of admission.
 
That’s why the drafting of stud running back Eddie Lacy is an exciting addition to an already sturdy NFC North futures bet. Lacy is another Alabama back who has exploded on to the NFL and though he hasn’t been a triumph at camp, I’m sure that he’ll slip in and upgrade a position of desperate need for Green Bay. Don’t be surprised if the Packers offence is munching up the clock with surgeon like precision next year as Cobb, Rodgers, Lacy and the rest of the Packers slice up defensive opponents.
 
The Packers are a mortal lock in this division because they have Aaron Rodgers, who will always do enough to get you a win. They should’ve been 12-5 SU last year if not for that blown call in Seattle, which we’ve all heard enough about. Though they’ve experienced some major losses on the defensive side, the Packers have usually sold their players at the right time and are still a strong team with a manageable payroll. That’s all pretty remarkable.
 
I’m not saying that they’re perfect because they’re not. We still haven’t seen what Lacy looks like on an NFL field, but as long as Rodgers and Clay Matthews are around, this is their division to lose. The Packers aren’t as indestructible as everyone believes, but they are the best NFC East futures bet and one of the better NFC Championship teams to invest in over the haul of the season. But you already knew that.
 
Minnesota Vikings (10-6 SU and 8-7-1 ATS in 2012)
Odds To Win NFC North: +600
NFC Championship: +3500
Regular Season Wins: 7.5 Games
 
Where do you start with the freaking Vikings? They have the reigning MVP in Adrian Peterson, recently imported Greg Jennings from their arch-rivals and the butter churning dynamo, Jared Allen. After that there’s not a whole lot to be thrilled about. In fact, I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice are combining forces in Seattle again.
 
Minnesota and Seattle have always had a weird relationship in terms of trading personnel. There was the Nate Burleson for Steve Hutchinson “trade” (where the Seahawks bitterly overpaid Burleson after Hutchinson bolted town) and now the future of what could have been Minnesota’s offense is making Seattle a homerun threat.
 
There’s not much difference between Seattle and Minnesota except degrees. Seattle’s defense and Minnesota’s are both relatively fierce, though the Vikings became a mid-level threat in terms of yards allowed (16th) and points surrendered (12th). The Seahawks have disenchanted ex-Vikings Harvin and Rice catching passes, along with a dynamic backfield threat with Lynch and Russell Wilson which is where the major difference between the two, eerily related teams diverge greatly.
 
What the hell do you make of Christian Ponder? The former FSU prospect enters his third year in the league after being drafted 12th overall in 2011. Over the course of those two seasons, we’ve seen an average quarterback at best. Last season, Ponder had 2,935 yards and 18 touchdowns to go along with 19 total turnovers (12 interceptions, 7 fumbles). He’ll be throwing to a “reliable” receiver in Greg Jennings for the first time in his career, but I don’t think you can get too overexcited about the former Packer considering his last team let him leave so easily.
 
The trending thought is that the hopes of the Vikings rest on Peterson, but he is merely the foundation, and a rock solid one at that. The real faith has to be placed in the quarterback’s hands, however, because Ponder is by far the worst of the bunch in the division, which is why the Vikings have such stretched out NFC North futures. There is a 50-50 chance that Peterson has another MVP caliber season, and if he falls short he will still have a remarkably above-average campaign. But do you really believe that Ponder is worth investing in long term?
 
I didn’t think so.
 
Chicago Bears (10-6 SU and 7-9 ATS in 2012)
Odds To Win NFC North: +400
NFC Championship: +1800
Regular Season Wins: 8.5 Games
 
Chicago has to be one of the most underwhelming winning teams of the last three years. You realize they’re 29-19 in their last three seasons right? To cut things short, I like everything about these guys and everything gets better now that Lovie Smith is gone. Smith was a great coach, but he simply couldn’t get this group over the hump and the high-flying mind of Marc Trestman (from the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes) could be one of the sneakiest head coach hires this past summer.
 
To cut things short, from Marshall to Cutler to Forte I love what the Bears have offensively. A new offensive line with guys like Mike Slauson, Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long will go a long way in overcoming the problems that Chicago had last season and the year before. Cutler is one of those quarterbacks that can be outstanding if he is given great protection, and this might be the best line he’s played behind in years.
 
This team slinked it’s way to a 10-6 SU season that most people ignored because Cutler was a sad sack about it and the Bears fell to just 7-9 ATS on the year. But when it comes to overall personnel, the Bears have the best chance of anyone at besting the Packers.
 
Don’t forget that this team is just two years away, and a healthy Jay Cutler, from potentially winning the NFC Championship and busting their way to the Super Bowl. This is not a team you should sleep on even though the vast majority of the public is. At 4-to-1 odds to win the NFC North futures market, they are an attractive play…depending on how you feel about Detroit.
 
Detroit Lions (4-12 SU and 6-10 ATS in 2012)
Odds To Win NFC North: +550
NFC Championship: +3000
Regular Season Wins: 7.5 Games
 
Finishing the year on an eight game losing streak is going to leave a sour taste in your mouth, but fans in Detroit are already used to swallowing bitter pills. But this year might be the year Detroit finally vaults in to contention like they’re supposed to. This is a better all around team than last year, and they experienced an excruciating amount of bad luck last season that caused them to plummet in to the dungeon.
 
Of their 12 losses last season, 8 were by a touchdown or less and three were by less than a field goal. Part of that is that Detroit could never manage the clock efficiently on offense because Mikel Leshoure wasn’t a reliable every down back and there was no depth behind him to begin with (and he didn’t play the entire season). Enter Reggie Bush, who may not be a bell-cow player but gives the Lions the diversity on offense that they expected to have until Jahvid Best took a few too many hits to the noggin’.
 
I wouldn’t write off the Lions. Every year there is a team that went from picking Top-10 in the draft to terrifying the playoff picture. Don’t the Lions seem like that team? They’ve lost a fair amount of talent because of the massive contracts that Stafford and Suh hold over from the previous CBA, but they’ve filled in the holes really nicely. Offensively, this could be a powder keg team. You realize that this team totaled the third most points in the league (only behind New Orleans and New England) but ranked 17th in points per game, right? A lot of that is because they couldn’t punch in the rock from close and Bush gives them a better ability to do that.
 
Their defense has come under fire for being an over hyped unit, but I really like the combination of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh on the interior. They have major issues in the secondary, but Luis Delmas is healthy (for now) and that will help. And again, last year’s defense wasn’t the problem. They ranked 13th and (gulp) 27th in scoring against last season, but the offense was also out of rhythm most of the time. Calvin Johnson simply didn’t have a ton of help and that prevented the Lions from managing the clock appropriately.
 
Gone is Titus Young and in comes a rejuvenated Nate Burleson returning from injury and second year receiver Ryan Broyles. With Bush in the backfield, and a restocked offensive line that should protect Stafford, I expect big things from Detroit. If they split their games where they lost by less than a touchdown, this team goes 8-8 SU and we’re not reading a eulogy from last season. The OVER in their regular season win total looks pretty attractive.
 
If there’s any team in the division poised to make a massive jump, it’s the Lions. They don’t have a passing defense worthy of pushing them to an NFC Championship appearance just yet, but they could surprise in this division if they don’t lay down like they did last season. I love a flier on them to win the NFC North futures race, but their regular season win total in the OVER is probably the best of the three bets presented here.

  
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