In a conference full of Super Bowl contenders, the NFC North will likely have two of its own by the end of the regular season.
The division winner from a season ago shouldn’t change, but there’s also a new quarterback in town who’s looking to steal the show from another who’s made winning the conference look easy.
Here are my over/under win-total picks for the NFC North:
Pick: Over 10 wins -130 (BetOnline)
As if a 13-3 record, an NFC North title, and a trip to the conference championship game weren’t good enough, Minnesota grabbed another victory in the offseason by winning the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes.
It’s not every day that a hugely successful team can swap in a new quarterback and continue to contend, but that should be the case with the Vikings in 2018. Some suggest Cousins isn’t really an upgrade over Case Keenum, but I’m not sure it matters, as long as he isn’t a downgrade. And for once, Cousins will be backed by a top-five defense while throwing to one of the best receiving tandems in the league in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
Minnesota is set to play the eighth-toughest schedule in 2018 after having one of the easiest slates last year. The team will travel to face the Eagles, Rams, Patriots, and Seahawks – but that’s where coach Mike Zimmer comes into play. After going 14 years without compiling a winning record on the road, the Vikings have done it twice in the last three seasons under Zimmer.
Fending off Green Bay for the division title could come down to how the Vikings fare on the road. I’m guessing they’ll do just fine.
Green Bay Packers
Pick: Over 10 -103 (Bookmaker)
I watched Aaron Rodgers mow through the Dallas Cowboys’ defense in under a minute last season and learned to never bet against this man.
Meanwhile, the Packers’ offense should be exciting to watch again this season despite coordinator changes that, in essence, shouldn’t affect how the annual Pro Bowler goes about his business.
In fact, there isn’t an offensive coordinator whose job is less important than Green Bay’s. By Week 6, Rodgers should have total freedom to call his own plays in the huddle, drawing up routes for his receivers as if he’s playing in the backyard. Defensively, coordinator Dom Capers and his stagnant game plan are gone, and the Packers still boast plenty of young talent.
No team has a tougher schedule than Green Bay based on last season’s records, but it’s much easier on the eyes when skimming the list. Road games against the Seahawks, Rams, and Patriots will certainly be tough, but the rest of the ledger is winnable. Green Bay could very well lock down half its win total by Week 6 with games against the Bears, Vikings, Redskins, Bills, Lions, and 49ers – especially considering just two of those will come on the road.
Pick: Under 7.5 wins +105 (BetOnline)
The Lions are hoping to hit the jackpot after poaching a three-time Super Bowl-winning coach from the Bill Belichick tree in Matt Patricia.
Perhaps Patricia can find a way to invigorate a running attack that hasn’t produced a single-game 100-yard rusher in nearly five years. To help break out of the slump, the Lions also brought in 31-year-old bruiser LeGarrette Blount and drafted rookie tailback Kerryon Johnson out of Auburn. Quarterback Matt Stafford only needs decent production from that department as he still has a pair of receivers – Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate – who are capable of topping the 1,000-yard mark in any given season.
Still, in a tougher division and with games against New England, Seattle, Carolina, Dallas, and the Rams, I’m recommending the under in Patricia’s first season.
Pick: Under 7 wins +123 (Bookmaker)
If you can’t contend, be fun. And the Bears are built for the latter.
An offseason overhaul on offense saw the Bears land wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton in free agency. All three should be integral parts of new head coach Matt Nagy’s system and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s Year 2 leap.
The Bears also landed former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack near the end of the preseason, fleecing the Raiders in the process.
I’m certainly excited for a fresh start in Chicago, but I’m not ready to buy in yet.
The Bears will undoubtedly improve following John Fox’s tenure and have more talent on the roster than in years past. Still, we should pump the brakes on Trubisky until he plays a few games this season and shows what he can do. And while the acquisition of Mack is a huge positive, it won’t get Chicago to the seven-win mark on its own.
In my eyes, Chicago is still a middling team that needs another year to develop its new offensive system before playing up to its competition. I’ll sell high on the public darling with the win total at its peak.
Alex Kolodziej is theScore’s betting writer. He’s a graduate of Eastern Illinois who has been involved in the sports betting industry for 11 years. He can quote every line from ‘Rounders’ and appreciates franchises that regularly wear alternate jerseys. Find him on Twitter @AlexKoIodziej.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)