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NFC North Breakdown
Editor’s Note: Gary Bart joins the VegasInsider.com pro football handicapping roster this season. Don’t miss out on his selections on VI. Click to win!

The Green Bay Packers are the best team in the NFC North and should win their fifth consecutive North Division title without being challenged. The intrigue should come from the other three teams in the division as a result of key changes to the Bears and Lions and the controversy surrounding the Minnesota Vikings.

History

Odds to win NFC North - per Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
Green Bay Packers 1/4
Detroit Lions 11/2
Minnesota Vikings 8/1
Chicago Bears 12/1

NFC North Win Totals - per Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
Green Bay Packers - 11 (Over +110, Under -130)
Detroit Lions - 8.5 (Over +120, Under -140)
Minnesota Vikings - 7.5 (Over -145, Under -125)
Chicago Bears - 7 (Over +130, Under -150)

Odds Subject to Change – Updated 7.31.15

Listed below are my notes on all four teams and predicted order of finish.

1) Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers were 12-4 last season and just missed out on a trip to the Super Bowl. They had a commanding 19-7 lead with approximately four minutes remaining in the NFC Championship against Seattle before unravelling and eventually losing in overtime. The Packers will have a chance to avenge that loss in Week 2 from Lambeau Field.

The Packers were a respectable sixth in the league in total offense. They ranked 15th in the league on defense and 23rd against the run. Their inability to stop the run was Green Bay’s Achilles heel in that game against the Seahawks. They allowed Seattle to run for 194 yards with Marshawn Lynch picking up 157 yards on 25 carries. The unit took a hit when they lost nose tackle B.J. Raji for the season but he’s expected to be fully healthy this fall.

The Packers upgraded their defense by picking cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins with their first two picks and added linebacker Jake Ryan in the fourth round. They are hoping these additions along with last year’s number one pick safety Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix will improve their overall defense.

There is no question the Packers are Super Bowl contenders. Quarterback Aaron Rogers may be the best gun slinger in the league. Green Bay can beat you in the air and on the ground. General Manager Ted Thompson is one of the best in the business and he’s done a great job addressing some of the Packers weaknesses on defense this off-season and made a great selection in the third round by adding Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery to a potent group of receivers.

The Packers led the league in scoring last season averaging 30.4 points per game. If the additions they made with their high draft picks the past two seasons develop this team has a very good chance of winning the Super Bowl. They open with four of their first six games at home. If Green Bay can win their first two games on the road against the Bears and at home against the Seahawks they have a great chance to start the season with a 6-0 record.

2) Chicago Bears

The Marc Trestman era was short lived in Chicago. Chicago fired the second-year coach after Trestman guided the team to a 5-11 record last season. The Bears went in a completely different direction this time by hiring veteran coach John Fox. They made a smart move grabbing Fox after four successful seasons in Denver. Fox is a detailed oriented coach that looks at all aspects of his team’s preparation.

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QB Jay Cutler returns for his seventh season in Chicago and he was ranked 23rd in QBR ratings in 2014. His ability to make the right decision at the right time is non-existent. Many believe it will be a miracle if Fox is able to get this team into contention for a playoff spot with Cutler at the helm.

First year GM Ryan Pace quickly put his stamp on this franchise by trading All-Pro wide receiver Brandon Marshall in a surprise move. The Bears replaced Marshall by using their first round pick to select exceptional wide receiver Kevin White out of West Virginia. Chicago also added running back Jeremy Langford with their fourth round selection to compliment stud running back Matt Forte. They also solved a long-term problem at safety by signing free agent Antrel Rolle from the New York Giants.

Chicago definitely upgraded their talent in this year’s draft and through free agency. They selected athletic players in the draft in an effort to turn this franchise around. All six picks were from elite NCAA programs. Pace gets an “A” grade from me in his first NFL draft.

Fox will have this team playing better all-around football and you can count on them being well prepared for each game. If they can find a way to run the football and keep Cutler’s passing game to a minimum this team has a solid chance to improve on their 5-11 record. Look for this team to be ready for their opener at home against the Packers.

3) Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings are coming off a difficult year after running back Adrian Peterson was suspended for most of last season. Peterson recently agreed to return to the team despite what he felt was a lack of support from the Vikings during his legal problems. It will be interesting to see if he can regain his form at the advanced age of 30.

Minnesota improved to 7-9 last season after winning just five games in 2013. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is getting a lot of positive attention because of his improved completion rating at the end of last season. The numbers may not tell the whole storey because Bridgewater faced three teams that missed the playoffs during that stretch and threw for only 138 yards in a game against the Panthers. He is improving, but let’s see what happens against good teams in meaningful games.

I like what the Vikings did in the first three rounds of this year’s draft with the addition of three defensive players to an improving defense. They selected speedy cornerback Trae Waynes with their first pick linebacker Eric Kendricks to play with last year’s number one pick linebacker Anthony Barr in the second round and added defensive end Danielle Hunter with their third selection.

The Vikings spent a lot of high draft picks trying to build a dominant defense that will eventually put them into contention for a run at the Super Bowl. I am not sure if Bridgewater will ever be an elite quarterback, but if the defensive talent develops the way I think it should this team could contend for a playoff spot despite having the 12th most difficult schedule. The return of Peterson should help Bridgewater develop plus the acquisition of WR Mike Wallace from the Dolphins could help stretch the field.

4) Detroit Lions

Detroit made it to the playoffs last season and almost pulled off a first round upset against a very good Cowboys team. They took a big step backward when they were unable to resign Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

It is going to be difficult for the Lions to make the playoffs this season after overachieving in 2014. The Lions are talented on defense but lack a front line starting quarterback. I never felt that overrated Matt Stafford was an elite quarterback and that was confirmed last season with his 22rd quarterback ranking last among quarterbacks that made the 2014 playoffs.

The Lions drafted well this year. They stole Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah in the second round. Abdullah is a game breaker and a difference maker. They also drafted offensive guard Laken Tomlinson in the first round to fill a pressing need on the offensive line and selected defensive tackle Gabe Wright in the fourth round to help fill the void left by the departure of Suh. They improved themselves through free agency by adding second tier players.

This team won 11 games last season. The Lions will be hard pressed to go 8-8 with their lack of production at the quarterback position and the huge loss of Suh. They start the season with three out of four games on the road and play the Broncos in their only home game during that stretch. I have seen over/under win totals of eight at some sportsbooks and it’s fair to say the oddsmakers seem to agree with my assessment of the Motor City club.

 

 

  
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