NFL Picks For The NFC North: A Division Up For Grabs
Last week we broke down NFL picks for the NFC East, and whether or not the Dallas Cowboys can win back to back division titles. This week, we stay in the NFC, as we look at NFL picks for the NFC North division.
With three teams projected to win at least nine games, the NFC North is up for grabs.
All lines are courtesy of William Hill at the time the article was published unless otherwise stated.
NFL Picks For The NFC North (Win Totals)
The Chicago Bears Over/Under 9 wins
NFC North Odds: +160
Who thought the Chicago Bears were going to win 12 games in 2018 and claim their first NFC North divisional title since 2010? Not oddsmakers, that’s for sure. Last season, sportsbooks set the Bears win total at a disrespectful 7.5 wins and made them +800 underdogs to win the division. A year later, and the Bears are pre-season favorites to win the NFC North for the first time since 2007, according to SportsOddsHistory.com.
Much of the Bears success can be attributed to first-year head coach Matt Nagy. Nagy, an offensive prodigy of Andy Reid, played a pivotal role in developing Trubisky and helped boost the Bears scoring offense from 29th to 9th in the NFL.
Under Nagy’s guidance, second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky led Chicago with 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and over 3,000 yards through 14 games. Trubisky added another 421 yards on the ground with three rushing touchdowns as the Bears were easily one of the most improved teams in the NFL.
While the Bears ended with a wild card loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago fans are confident they’ll be back to the playoffs. The Bears fanbase is starving for post-season success in 2019, as they haven’t seen a playoff win since 2019.
The Case for Over 9 Wins: While it might seem like the Bears are due for regression after ending up on the right side of injuries and turnovers (Chicago was +12 in turnover differential — third in the NFL), they won’t regress a full three games. Mitch Trubisky will continue to improve in year two of Nagy’s offense, while Khalil Mack pressures opposing quarterbacks and disrupts offenses.
The Case for Under 9 Wins: The Bears are 3-point favorites in their Week 1 game with the Green Bay Packers. They follow up with road trips to Denver and Washington. Then, the Bears stay in Chicago for a month as they host the Vikings, Raiders, Saints and Chargers. The Bears also travel to Philadelphia and Los Angeles. If they slip up early, they could find themselves in trouble. The last stretch of the season is especially tricky with home games against the Cowboys and Chiefs and road trips to Green Bay and Minnesota — four teams that have projected win totals of 9 or more. In total, 10 of Chicago’s games are against teams with win totals of at least 9 games.
Additionally, the Bears have to adjust to losses on the defensive side of the ball. They return most of their starters but lose safety Adrian Amos, who Pro Football Focus named on their 2017 All-Pro team. The Bears lost defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who left to take the head coaching job for the Denver Broncos.
The Green Bay Packers Over/Under 9 wins
NFC North Odds: Packers +200
The Green Bay Packers missed the playoffs for the second year in a row, making it the first time the franchise has missed consecutive postseasons since ’05 & ’06. The Packers were riddled with injuries, including Aaron Rodgers who suffered a leg injury against the Bears in Week 1, hindering his mobility for the rest of the season.
Despite the injuries, the Packers finally decided to part ways with long-time head coach Mike McCarthy. Sure, the Packers won a Super Bowl with McCarthy in 2011 and nearly went undefeated the following season. As a head coach-quarterback duo, Rodgers and McCarthy made the playoffs eight out of 11 years, winning five NFC North titles. But the resume looks better on paper.
Before 2017, the NFC North largely failed to provide legitimate challengers to the Packers. Since their Super Bowl, Green Bay is 5-6 in playoff games, reaching the NFC Championship just once.
The Packers and Rodgers try to find their way back to prominence under the leadership of new head coach Matt LaFleur. Like Chicago in 2019, the Packers hired a former offensive coordinator who has no head coaching experience. Packers fans can only hope the new hire will have a similar result in year one.
The Case for Over 9 Wins: A team led by Aaron Rodgers, no matter how deficient they are on defense or how much talent they lack in other skill positions, has a solid chance at winning 10 games. Green Bay has won at least 10 games in seven of 10 seasons when Rodgers as Green Bay’s leading passer. Most of the time, their defense was a liability. That’s not the case in 2019.
Green Bay’s defense improved in 2018 under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. LaFleur decided to retain Pettine. With the additions of former Bears safety Adrian Amos and pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, the defense should make its biggest stride yet in 2019.
The Case for Under 9 Wins: Chemistry issues will continue between Rodgers and the Packers head coach. Already, there’s been debate regarding how much freedom Rodgers has pre-snap. There are still questions with the offensive personnel, particularly among the receiving corps. Who will be Rodgers No. 2 target after Davante Adams?
The change from McCarthy to LaFleur isn’t something that will result in a four-win improvement. Not to mention the fact that two of their division rivals finished the 2018 season above .500 (a combined 20-11-11), making the road to 10 wins ever harder.
Minnesota Vikings Over/Under 9 Wins
NFC North Odds: +225
A year after competing in the NFC Championship, the Minnesota Vikings were favorites to win the NFC North in 2018. Seven losses and the resurgence of the Bears kept them from defending their division title.
Oddsmakers are still somewhat optimistic, setting the Vikings win total at 9 wins. If they want to win 10 games, they’ll need to find a way to revive their offense.
The Case for Over 9 Wins: Minnesota’s offensive woes were a product of a weak offensive line. The Vikings front office addressed the issue in free agency and the draft. If all goes as planned, Kirk Cousins will have more time to find two of the best receivers in the division, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, as Mike Zimmer coaches one of the best defenses in the conference.
The Case for Under 9 Wins: What if things don’t go as planned on the offensive line? With the Packers’ new pass rush, Cousins will face more pressure than he did in 2018. There are only so many wins to go around in the NFC North, and if Cousins can’t keep up with Rodgers, the Vikings are in trouble. It’s also a possibility that the Vikings simply overachieved with Keenum in 2017. Cousins is an upgrade talent wise, but Keenum’s season was an outlier and the Vikings are closer to a .500 team than a 10-win team, even with Cousins under center.
Detroit Lions Over/Under 6.5 Wins
NFC North Odds: +1000
The Detroit Lions thought hiring from the Bill Belicheck coaching tree would get them over the hump. But that wasn’t the case in 2018, as quarterback Matt Stafford had one of his worst seasons to date. The Lions won only six games and the uninspiring season has left a bad taste for many bettors.
The Case for Over 6.5 Wins: The Lions signed Trey Flowers and Justin Coleman to fill much-need holes on the defense. Their 2019 opponents combined for a 125-127-4 record in 2018 (T-19). That, coupled with a year of familiarity under Patricia’s system will be enough to get improve one game.
The Case for Under 6.5 Wins: The Lions made questionable moves on the offensive side of the ball, including the signing of aging veterans like Danny Amendola and C.J. Anderson., neither of which will likely improve a struggling offense. The Lions offensive personnel can’t compete in a division where all of their divisional opponents have solid defenses and strong quarterback play. Outside of the division, they face the Chargers, Eagles and the Chiefs all within the first four weeks. The could very well enter the bye week with just one win, forcing them to win half of their remaining games to hit the Over.
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(Top Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports)