Packers lead the betting for the NFC North.
Following our verdict on the NFC West, we figured it’d be best to follow with the division containing another of tonight’s opening fixture teams. With the Packers visiting the Seahawks in a little under three hours’ time, we’d like to get our verdict on record before the play gets underway!
The NFC North features high-flying passing attacks and bruising running games. Defense is sometimes optional in this division.
Each of the teams in the NFC North know each other well which sometime creates unpredictable results; let’s start with the pick of the bunch..
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers were well on their way to big things in 2013 when the unthinkable happened—quarterback Aaron Rodgers got hurt. Without him, the Packers had to rely on different players offensively and their defense got exposed repeatedly.
They wrestled the division on the last day of the regular season from their rival Chicago Bears, but couldn’t outlast San Francisco in the wildcard game.
In 2014, the Packers, the offense particularly, looks poised to return with a vengeance. They now have a physical 1,000-yard rusher in Eddie Lacy who runs like a young Marshawn Lynch; a full season of receiver Randall Cobb and most importantly, Aaron Rodgers back.
The defense in 2013 was not nearly up to Green Bay’s standards dropping to 25th in the league and was unable to stop big plays or create turnovers.
The defensive line went missing for long stretches, a big no-no in a division with pass happy Detroit and Chicago.
In 2014, the Packers will need big plays from their defensive line, and added DE Julius Peppers to aid the cause.
He’ll need to, since their big run-stuffer B.J. Raji is out with a season ending biceps injury. Rookie free safety HaHa Clinton-Dix will need to make big plays on an opportunistic defense.
Overall, the Packers should return to being one of the top NFL teams in 2014. They’ve got plenty of ways to attack opposing defenses and should benefit from a healthy Aaron Rodgers.
Anything less than 10 wins is cause for disappointment.
The BetBright Verdict
10-6 (1st in NFC North) – We have them priced at 6/1 for the NFC conference, making them third favourites overall.
Packers’ opening game: Green Bay Packers vs Seattle Seahawks at 1:30am on Friday September 5th at the CenturyLink Field
The Chicago Bears, after years and years of dominant defenses and mediocre offenses, flipped the script in 2013 with an attack that put up nearly 400 yards of offense on game day.
They averaged 27.8 points a game, a franchise all-time record. The bad news is only the Vikings and Cowboys were worse on defense, with the Bears giving up an unheard of 394.6 yards per game.
The Bears couldn’t stop the run or pass, really, and lost to Green Bay on the final game of the regular season in dramatic fashion, finishing 8-8.
The Bears’ coach, Marc Trestman proved to the world he was indeed a quarterback guru improving statistically both quarterback Jay Cutler and backup quarterback Josh McCown in one year at the helm.
Tall receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery became the league’s best wideout tandem and that won’t change.
The running game was led by a rejuvenated Matt Forte and the offensive line protected and opened holes with equal aplomb. They added Santonio Holmes, the ex-Jet to round out an impressive trio of pass catchers, not including underused tight end Martellus Bennett.
Their offense is about as close to a sure thing as there is in the NFL.
But there’s bad news; All of the defensive might the Bears have been known for has disappeared. Their defensive line was repeatedly pushed off the ball and their run defense was embarrassed on all levels in 2013.
To reload some sorely needed talent and respect on the defensive line, Chicago added veterans Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. The secondary, led by Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, is aging and the safeties are all newcomers, but should be better this year.
The Bears will be in a lot of high-scoring affairs.
Overall, the Bears could see a regression if Jay Cutler doesn’t move the ball as effectively as the since-departed Josh McCown did.
If the defense steps up this could be a ten win squad, but they are one or two impact players away on that side of the ball.
The BetBright Verdict
9-7 (2nd in NFC North) – We have them priced as sixth favourites in the betting for the NFC conference at 15/1.
Bears’ opening game: Chicago Bears vs Buffalo Bills at 6pm on Sunday September 7th at Soldier Field.
The Detroit Lions, like much of their divisional brethren, have a prolific offense and a suspect defense.
In 2013, the Lions gained ranked sixth on offense and sixteenth on defense, but inexplicably lost a slew of close games at the end of the year to fall out of playoff contention with a 7-9 record.
That record and overall lack of discipline got fiery coach Jim Schwartz fired and former Colts coach Jim Caldwell brought in. Caldwell should have a calming influence on quarterback Matthew Stafford, a real gunslinger, but most importantly fix a defense that is talented on paper.
On offense, the Lions could have the most dangerous set of weapons in the NFL. Matthew Stafford has the strongest, albeit somewhat erratic arm in the league, bar none.
They drafted a Vernon Davis-esque tight end in Eric Ebron and added agile WR Golden Tate from Seattle. Opposing secondaries now have to think twice about double and triple-teaming the best wide receiver in the league, Calvin Johnson.
The running game has thunder and lightning in the form of power back Joique Bell and speedster Reggie Bush and both are adept at catching the ball. Offense won’t be the issue in the Motor City.
Defensively, the Lions still sport one of the worst secondaries in football. If their star-studded defensive pass rushers, led by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, don’t get to the quarterback there will still be nerve-racking shootouts for Lions fans.
The run defense was quietly the sixth best in football and Detroit will need to maintain that in a division with backs Eddie Lacy, Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson.
Overall, the Lions will be plenty entertaining but don’t have the playmakers in the defensive backfield to prevent big plays aerially.
The BetBright Verdict
7-9 (3rd in NFC North) – We have the Lions priced as tenth favourites in the betting for the NFC conference at 20/1.
Lions’ opening game: Detroit Lions vs New York Giants at 12:10am on Tuesday September 9th at Ford Field.
The once-proud Vikings have fallen on tough times lately, mainly due to a declining defense and a bevy of bad quarterback play, look to resuscitate their chances of making the playoffs.
Insert coach Mike Zimmer, the hard-nosed defensive coordinator from Cincinnati who drafted Teddy Bridgewater to eventually lead the offense. There’s very much a sense in Minnesota of not wanting to waste Adrian Peterson’s peak years so the pressure is on Zimmer.
The offense surprisingly ranked 14th in 2013 and has some great pieces in Adrian Peterson, tight end Kyle Rudolph and speedster wideout Cordarelle Patterson. The question mark is, however, the production for the latter two has yet to meet potential.
To help bring that potential out, the Vikings enlisted new offensive coordinator Norv Turner who has a strong track record with tight ends, especially.
Matt Cassel has won the quarterback job, beating out Bridgewater, but it may not be long before we see the Louisville product because… on defense, the Vikings are a mess.
The only team that surrendered more yardage was the Dallas Cowboys. Unlike years past, this group doesn’t really have much in the front seven, which leaves their secondary, led by youngsters Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith out in coverage for way too long.
Playing quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler twice a year with issues in your secondary is problematic.
Perhaps young defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd can do his best John Randle impersonation and the duo of Bryan Robison and Everson Griffen can replace Jared Allen’s past rush—but call us pessimistic.
Overall, the Vikings will be better on both sides of the ball and the win-loss might not reflect it. Their defense just isn’t going to match up well enough against the juggernauts in their own division to give their own offense enough opportunities.
The BetBright Verdict
5-11 (4th in NFC North) – We have them priced as sixteenth favourites in the betting for the NFC conference at 45/1.
Vikings’ opening game: Minnesota Vikings v St. Louis Rams at 6pm on Sunday September 7th at the Edward Jones Dome.
In tomorrow’s NFL preview features, we’ll look at the remain NFC divisions, East and South, as well as turning our attention to the AFC divisions, covering each of the teams ahead of their opening games of what promises to be another action-packed American Football season Stateside.