Previewing the NFC North from a Betting Perspective
One of the strongest divisions in the NFL top to bottom, the NFC North features three teams currently lined with a regular season win total of 9. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from all four squads from a betting perspective in 2019.
NFC North Division Odds: Regular Season Wins
Chicago Bears +185; 9un-115
Detroit Lions +900; 6.5ov-120
Green Bay Packers +220; 9
Minnesota Vikings +200; 9
Last season was obviously the optimal time to take advantage of this team’s improvement. They reminded me a lot of the 2017 Los Angeles Rams in that you had a young, up and coming coach in Matt Nagy inherit a talented team running an outdated offensive system. The offense under Nagy, while not elite (20th DVOA), made positive strides. But the story line was of course the defense which finished first and DVOA and recorded a league-high 27 interceptions (23 the previous three seasons combined!) which led to a +12 turnover margin. They also made it through the season relatively unscathed from an injury standpoint. Great unit but it’ll be hard to duplicate that this season. They do make a change at the coordinator position with Vic Fangio now the head coach of the Denver Broncos and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano taking over. I was a big fan of Fangio who essentially just lined up the defense and let their immense talent take over. Pagano is expected to be more aggressive with his schemes. If Chicago is going to offer any betting value, the offense needs to improve. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky took a step forward last season but still tends to disappear at times. He’s got the ability to be a top 10 signal caller and coupled with Nagy, who I like, there’s the potential for a top 15 DVOA finish. Also note the schedule’s increased difficulty after winning the division a year ago. Last year’s slate was one of the NFL’s weakest. This year’s, at least on paper, is top 5. There’s a decent chance at a 5-0 start but the back-half is a murderers’ row of Super Bowl contenders.
Despite all the bad vibes the Lions carried throughout the season, it speaks to how “public” the NFL is that this squad went 9-7 ATS. What really set the table for that record was Week 1’s embarrassing loss to the New York Jets who after the game bragged that they knew everything the Lions were running offensively before the ball was snapped. After that loss, Detroit went on to cover five straight games. This year comes down to whether or not they buy in to second-year head coach Matt Patricia. Once again we have a former New England coach attempting to go against the league’s grain. No surprise to see Detroit pick up a handful of ex-Patriots including Trey Flowers. I think the overall talent of this team was upgraded but a lot could come down to chemistry or lack thereof. Offensively, its an intriguing mix with Patricia, new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and quarterback Matthew Stafford. It’s clear that by bringing in Bevell, Patricia has someone who sees eye-to-eye with his desire to play power football. That doesn’t necessarily fit with Stafford, who when healthy, has proven to be an upper-tier passer. Running back Kerryon Johnson has a chance to be special and is projected to be a big part of the offensive game plan. Overall, and this may sound cliche, but I really believe Detroit’s season hinges on the “buy in” factor. Will Patricia’s philosophies be embraced by the team? It didn’t look to be the case last season which was a big reason why they finished 6-10.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers have the potential for the widest range of results in the division. There’s talk of them contending for a Super Bowl while others feel the recent regression is here to stay. I tend to think the window is closed somewhat but the timing was obviously right to get rid of Mike McCarthy and bring in some fresh blood. The problem is I’m not sure Matt LaFleur was the right hire. Aaron Rodgers is still an elite-level quarterback and yet here we have a suspect former offensive coordinator whose “best” attribute is having come from the Sean McVay coaching tree. We all know the issues Rodgers had with McCarthy. I could see a similar situation occurring with LaFleur. I do like that there’s a desire to be more of a running, play action type of team but there’s not a lot of talent surrounding Rodgers. Amazingly, despite all the issues, the offense still finished in the top 10 from a DVOA perspective and Rodgers wasn’t even close to being healthy for much of the season. Defensively there’s nowhere to go but up. It was one of the league’s worst units last year, one that was absolutely hammered by injuries. I do have respect for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and the organization was uncharacteristically aggressive in bringing in better talent including Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. What’s interesting is Green Bay has gone the route of relying on its secondary to help assist in stopping the run which is becoming a more common approach in the NFL. It’ll be fascinating to watch how that plays out in a division with three offenses that essentially want to be “power running” units.
Everything had gone right and some for the Vikings under head coach Mike Zimmer heading into last season. This was especially true for its backers as Zimmer boasted a 44-23 ATS record. Zimmer is a great coach but you no doubt need to experience some breaks to perform at such a high level from a betting perspective. Last year, they still managed to go 8-7-1 ATS but there were some issues, most notably on the offensive side of the ball. I didn’t like the hire of offensive coordinator John DeFilippo who was clearly not on the same page as Zimmer. Kirk Cousins didn’t perform all that bad but the lack of a true identity and a porous offensive line really hurt this unit. New OC Kevin Stefanski, who took over late last season, is a much better fit for what Zimmer wants. I also like the hires of offensive assistants Rick Dennison and Gary Kubiak who have a strong history with zone blocking schemes. Defensively, they really don’t lose anyone from the unit’s core. They’ve been together for multiple years and have and should continue to perform at a top 5 level. I’ve heard reports that the offense has been ahead of the defensive during training camp which to me is a positive. So much so that the Vikings will likely start the regular season as my top power rated team in the division.
Veteran pro sports bettor Erin Rynning has a long history of success in the NFL. Since 2012, he’s delivered 57% documented winners including 59% last season. ER’s full season subscription is available here.