2018 NFC North Outright Odds, Preview and Prediction
NFC North Preview and Predictions
Two teams should dominate the NFC North in 2018, with the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers each presenting strong arguments they can win the Division (and maybe even the Super Bowl). While the Vikings have won two of the last three NFC North titles, if Aaron Rodgers remains healthy throughout the season, it is difficult to bet against the former MVP.
NFC North Outright Winner Odds
NFL sportsbooks feel the same sentiment that the race for top spot in the NFC North is almost too close to call. The Vikings have a slight edge over the Packers, mainly due to their ability to compete without relying on just the health and productivity of their quarterback.
*Odds as of July 25, 2018, from Sports Interaction
There are plenty of people abuzz about the Chicago Bears going into the season. However, people should temper their expectations. While the Bears have some good young players, expecting them to be this year’s version of the 2017 Rams is a bit much. The Rams’ Division was ripe for the picking last season, while the NFC North is full of talent. The Bears could challenge the Lions (who have not won a Division title since 1993) for third place.
NFC North Team Previews
If quarterback meant everything in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers would win the NFC North every year. However, the NFL is about the 22 players on offence and defence and the quality of head coach, which is why the Minnesota Vikings are favourites over the Packers to win the Division.
Chicago has excellent upside in 2018 but is unlikely to improve enough from 2017 to have a chance at knocking off the Packers and Vikings. The Lions are competitive, but changing from an offensive head coach to a defensive one could bog down the team for a season.
While the Green Bay Packers have the best quarterback in the NFC North Division, the Minnesota Vikings are the best team overall. The Vikings have talent everywhere on the field. After a 13-3 season and an NFC Championship game appearance, the Vikings made a splash last offseason signing quarterback Kirk Cousins and will have a healthy Dalvin Cook in the backfield.
Kirk Cousins is an upgrade at quarterback over Case Keenum and Sam Bradford. The only thing with Cousins is he has not won a playoff game in his career. That is not entirely the fault of Cousins, as the Redskins teams he played with the last few seasons have not been anything special. He is surrounded by much more consistent offensive talent which should help him improve in 2018.
While the Vikings offseason is quite good, their defence is excellent. The Vikings have one of the three best defensive units in the NFL. They are superb at stopping the run and forcing turnovers. They also have one more underappreciated pass-rushers in the NFL in Everson Griffen.
If the defence play as well as it did last season and Kirk Cousins is even just a bit better than Case Keenum, the Minnesota Vikings are a serious threat to win, not just the NFC North, but to represent the Conference in the Super Bowl.
Green Bay Packers
As long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy enough to play an entire season of football, the Green Packers always have a chance at winning the NFC North. The problem for the Packers is Aaron Rodgers has missed time in two of the previous five seasons (including nine games in 2017). Expectations are for Aaron Rodgers to be fully healthy in 2018, but unlike past years, the cast surrounding Rodgers is not quite as good or as familiar.
The Packers said goodbye to wide receiver Jordy Nelson this offseason. While Nelson is getting up there in years, he was Rodgers favourite target for much of his prime. Now the Packers move Davante Adams into the number one spot. Adams looks like he has the chops to be a number one receiver. However, he has yet to crack 1000 yards receiving in his first four seasons. The Packers added Pro Bowl tight end, Jimmy Graham. Graham is still an excellent red zone target but struggles in other aspects of the game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers are nothing special. They have a few notable players such as safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, but overall have significantly less talent than some of the other elite teams in the NFC (Vikings, Rams and Eagles). If Rodgers is hurt, the Packers are destined for a second-straight year missing the playoffs (after making it eight straight seasons).
There seems to be a lot of money getting laid on the Chicago Bears coming into the 2018 NFL season. While the Bears have some exciting young pieces and their new head coach, Matt Nagy, will help in the development of Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears are still at least a season away from competing in a loaded NFC North Division.
Many expect the Bears to show similar improvements to the Rams last season. While the Bears should improve, they face much stiffer competition in the Vikings, Packers and Lions, than the Rams did last season. They also lack a real difference maker. The Rams have Todd Gurley, who finished runner-up in the MVP race last season. The Bears have talent in the backfield with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. However, neither is nearly as good as Gurley.
Similar to the Bears offence, the Bears defence is young and talented, yet still unproven. While switching to an offensive minded, quarterback-centric coach should not stop their progression, it is difficult to see the group taking a big enough stride to where they need to be for the Bears to honestly have a shot at the NFC North title. Overall, the future is bright for the Chicago Bears, just not the very near future (i.e. the 2018 NFL season).
The Detroit Lions are one of the tougher teams to gauge appropriately entering the 2018 NFL season. They have the pieces to compete in 2018 (great quarterback, a few offensive weapons and a ball-hungry defence), just not enough parts to give bettors confidence they have a realistic chance of being better than both the Vikings and Packers.
Stafford is a high-calibre starting quarterback. He is in the midst of his prime, setting a career high in quarterback rating last season at 99.3 and matching a career-low ten interceptions. The Lions surround Stafford with some very underappreciated talent. Wide receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate do not get the respect they deserve. Each surpassed 1000 receiving yards in 2017 while offering the Lions very different skillsets.
The Lions backfield is still a problem. The Detroit Lions have only a single thousand yard rusher over the last 13 seasons (Reggie Bush 1006 yards in 2013). Entering the 2018 season, it does not look like the Lions have a solution to their backfield woes.
Where the Lions make their money is at forcing turnovers. The Lions defence ranked third in takeaways last season (ahead of the Eagles, Vikings and Rams) with 32. Darius Slay led the team (and NFL) with eight interceptions. If he can come close to that number again in 2018 then the Lions have one of the better secondaries in the NFC. The Lions problem is stopping the run.
They allowed 18 rushing touchdowns last season, second-most in the NFL. The Lions new head coach, Matt Patricia, should help the group improve, although not enough to move the Lions into the conversation for best team in the NFC North.
NFC North Winner Predictions
Even if Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL, it is hard to bet against the Minnesota Vikings. They have such a deep roster, they can withstand much more adversity (such as injuries) than the Packers. Also, outside of Rodgers, the Vikings offence is better than the Packers.
Rodgers is good enough, by himself, to lead the Packers back to the playoffs. He has also shown he can win on the road in January, meaning home-field advantage is not as important to the Packers as it is for some other teams.
Both the Bears and Lions will need to wait another year for their chance at the NFC North crown. The two teams should improve under their new head coaches, just not enough to reach the 12-win mark needed to win the NFC North in 2018.
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