USA Today Images
Covers Expert Steve Merril breaks down the best ways to wager on the NFC North this upcoming NFL season.
Chicago Bears (2014: 5-11 SU, 7-9 ATS)
Odds to win division: +1550
Season win total: 7
Why bet the Bears: After going 5-11 in 2014, the Bears cleaned house and appear to be starting over. The Bears fired GM Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman, and traded WR Brandon Marshall to the Jets. Former Denver head coach John Fox takes over in the Windy City, so a new regime may be just what the Bears need. Fox is a conservative coach, and he’s made his career on the defensive side of the ball. The Bears have some decent parts to work with on defense, and it’s easy to assume that Chicago will try and play ball-control offense in order to keep competitive.
Why not bet the Bears: Unfortunately for Bears’ fans, quarterback Jay Cutler remains. Cutler is a maddening quarterback because he has the physical skills to succeed, but his mental game is atrocious. Chicago’s defense was putrid as they gave up 27.6 points per game last season. Even though the Bears will play a smarter brand of football under Fox, it may not translate into a better win/loss and pointspread record in 2015.
Season win total pick: Under 7
Detroit Lions (2014: 11-5 SU, 7-9 ATS)
Odds to win division: +615
Season win total: 8.5
Why bet the Lions: The Detroit Lions recorded their second-best record in franchise history by going 11-5 in 2014. The Lions played well in a playoff loss in Dallas, so they should continue to improve in Jim Caldwell’s second season. Caldwell’s specialty is quarterback development, so Matthew Stafford should play much better this year. Detroit went 7-1 SU at home last season, and some of their toughest out of division games this season will be played on their home turf.
Why not bet the Lions: Detroit’s offense was highly inconsistent throughout the 2014 season, and its lack of a running game made its play calling too predictable. If improvement doesn’t happen, the Lions won’t be as fortunate as last season. Detroit’s defense was ranked No. 1 for the majority of last year, but they lost Ndamukong Suh to the Dolphins. His absence has to hurt Detroit’s defense to some degree.
Season win total pick: Under 8.5
Green Bay Packers (2014: 12-4 SU, 9-6-1 ATS)
Odds to win division: -300
Season win total: 11
Why bet the Packers: Green Bay’s offense is explosive and one of the best in the league. As long as QB Aaron Rodgers is healthy and under center, the Packers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Green Bay has dominated the NFC North, going an incredible 20-4-1 SU against division opponents over the last four seasons. The Packers’ out of division road games are all easily winnable and, since they are 12-3-1 SU at home during the past two years, 2015 will be another terrific season for the Green Bay Packers.
Why not bet the Packers: Will the Packers suffer a hangover from their blown win in Seattle in the NFC Championship game or will they be able to rebound off that devastating defeat? If it’s the former, the Packers will struggle all season. Their defense needs more consistency, and the Packers need to play better on the road with all five of their losses came away from home last season. Jordy Nelson’s season-ending knee injury was a tough pill to swallow and it doesn’t look like other top WR Randall Cobb is 100 percent to start the season.
Season win total pick: Over 11
Minnesota Vikings (2014: 7-9 SU, 10-6 ATS)
Odds to win division: +700
Season win total: 7.5
Why bet the Vikings: Head coach Mike Zimmer is in his second year, and he showed his defensive chops by turning the Vikings’ defense around by 8.6 points per game from the year before. Minnesota has strong coaching minds on both sides of the ball (offensive coordinator is Norv Turner), so the players have the foundation to have another solid season. The future is bright for Minnesota, but they may be a year or two away from making the playoffs.
Why not bet the Vikings: The 2014 season has to be considered a success for the Vikings even though they only won seven games. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played well in his rookie season, so he’ll have to avoid a sophomore slump. The Vikings played 15 games without their best player, Adrian Peterson, so winning seven games was even more impressive. However, with Peterson back, the Vikings’ identity reverts to a run-based offense which makes them more predictable. It will be interesting to see how the team chemistry changes with the return of Peterson.
Season win total pick: Over 7.5