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Minnesota or Green Bay? The Battle in the NFC North

After touching on the AFC East division last week and outlining some possible longshot scenarios for New England to be dethroned for the first time in years, it's time to go back to the NFC and take a look at the North division.

A few weeks ago it was the NFC South that I broke down, and while that division does appear to be pretty wide open, the NFC North looks to be a two-team race between Minnesota and Green Bay. These two organizations have alternated between division championships the last four years, so in 2018, who you got?

Odds to Win NFC North - per
Minnesota Vikings (+140)
Green Bay Packers (+150)
Chicago Bears (+600)
Detroit Lions (+600)

For starters, all four of these NFC North teams have to deal with the AFC East and NFC West on their schedules and those eight games in themselves could end up bringing a lot of drama in terms of who is crowned division champion. Both of those divisions have some very “easy” games in there and the NFC North team that slips up in those contests is going to have to make up ground elsewhere. Keep that in mind when you are deciding between what should be a play between the Vikings and Packers.

Regarding Chicago and Detroit, both franchises appear to be in the up-and-coming stages in terms of roster reconstruction and becoming competitive again. The Lions are probably further along than the Bears in that regard as Detroit still has QB Matthew Stafford at the helm while Chicago is in Year 2 of the Mitchell Trubisky era, and they could each be “sneaky” underdog picks in particular games – most likely at home – the entire year.

Yet, with the respective win totals for Detroit and Chicago being set at 7.5 and 6.5, oddsmakers agree that neither of these organizations will compete for this division title.

Minnesota's season win total is set at 10.5 (Over +120) as the defending division champs look to build on last year's success. Everyone knew they were in the QB market this off-season and they seemingly got their man in Kirk Cousins, but I'm not sure he's that significant of an upgrade that Minnesota was really gunning for.

This is still a defensive-minded team that doesn't need to ask Cousins to do much at times, but he does bring a bit more upside to the table than Case Keenum did a season ago and Vikings fans have to be happy with that.

But more offensive upside tends to bring with it a few more turnovers, and Cousins is known to be loose with the ball at times. As good as this Vikings defense is, routinely putting them in bad spots with short fields to defend will wear thin in the meeting rooms during the week. That's not conducive to success and given the Vikings were one win away from playing in the Super Bowl in their own stadium, it's really on Cousins to step up and prove he's worth all that money and the risk.

Sadly for Vikings fans, I'm not sure the end result with Cousins in the mix will play out how they want. I mean, what has Cousins really achieved during his three years as a full-time starter in Washington? He never had a year with double digit victories, he only got to the playoffs once (and lost to Green Bay), and kind of talked his way out of town in DC and made that the bigger story then his mediocre numbers.

Also, in the history of the NFL, I don't think there are too many teams who were a win or two away from a Super Bowl title that had the need to “upgrade” at QB and just continued on the same trajectory as the year before.

Simply put, Under 10.5 wins for Minnesota this year is a season total wager I love, and unless Aaron Rodgers gets hurt again this year, 10 or fewer wins ain't likely to cut it for a division crown.

Which leaves us with the Green Bay Packers who've got one of the best QB's in the game and some question marks on both sides of the ball themselves. But as we've seen with the Patriots and Tom Brady in recent years, an upper-echelon QB tends to make all the difference in the world in the NFL and Green Bay's already got that piece in place.

Secondly, the Packers schedule actually sets up rather well for them to seize control of the NFC North from the outset and not look back. Green Bay begins the year with home games against Chicago and Minnesota (in a huge Week 2 game) and then they follow those contests up with a road game in Washington, hosting Buffalo, and visiting Detroit. That has all the makings of a 4-1 or 5-0 SU start for Green Bay if everything goes well.

Things get a bit tougher for Green Bay after that through mid-October and November, but by the time their trip to Minnesota rolls around in late November they'll have a great idea where they stand within the division. That game in Minnesota kicks off Green Bay's final six games of the year, and with Arizona (likely starting rookie QB Josh Rosen by that time), Chicago, the New York Jets, and Detroit all opponents during that final run, the wins could pile up late for Green Bay as well.

So Packers fans out there, know that I'm on your side this year at least in terms of a division future bet. That might be where you want to stop though with Green Bay futures wagers this year though as since realignment in 2002, no NFC North champion has gone on to win the Super Bowl, and only one of them – the 2006 Chicago Bears – even made it to the big game.

Obviously we can recalibrate things and perspectives for the playoffs once they are much closer, but a +150 ticket for the Green Bay Packers to claim the NFC North in 2018 is a wager I'm happy to make.

Odds per -

Best Bet: Green Bay to win NFC North

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