Last year, the NFC North was clearly the Chicago Bears' to win. Now, with the top three teams going through significant coaching overhaul, the division is wide-open.
The Bears are still atop the oddsboards - though barely - with bookmakers showing less faith in Chicago than any other division favorite. The NFC North is the only division to feature three teams shorter than 5-2 to win, thanks to expected improvements from the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.
Even the last-place Detroit Lions received the second-shortest odds of any division bottom-feeder. Translation? There's value across the board in the NFC North.
Here are our best bets, value plays, and picks to avoid in the wide-open division:
|TEAM||WIN TOTAL||NFC NORTH ODDS||MAKE PLAYOFFS|
Vikings to make the playoffs (5-4)
The Bears, Vikings, and Packers feature identical win totals (nine, over -110), and Minnesota has been given the second-shortest division-title odds. So why are the Vikes the odd ones out when it comes to making the playoffs?
Minnesota boasted the NFL's best record in 2017 and was one win away from the playoffs in 2018, which was, by most accounts, a disastrous year in Minneapolis. Still, the Vikings won seven games despite mediocre QB play, a rash of injuries along the offensive line, and a step back from their dominant 2017 defense.
Retained offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski - who righted the ship late last year - and fabled offensive mind Gary Kubiak should get Minnesota's offense humming in 2018, with elite skill position players and a healthier offensive line powering the unit. The defense also keeps the core identity of a unit that fared well statistically in 2018, including star linebacker Anthony Barr.
There aren't six rosters in the NFC that are better than Minnesota's, and the coaching staff is built to make the most out of this group. With the top of this division wide-open, play the plus-money value.
Green Bay Packers under 9 wins (-110)
The 2019 iteration of the Packers is littered with "Are we sure?" questions without concrete answers.
Are we sure Aaron Rodgers is healthy after playing nearly the entire 2018 season through knee, leg, and head injuries? Are we sure Aaron Jones is the bona fide workhorse that fantasy owners seem convinced he'll become? Are we sure the defense is better than below average, which is where it ranked in nearly every category last year?
There are questions surrounding new pieces, too. Are we sure Matt LaFleur is a good head coach? LaFleur parlayed his reputation as an offensive genius into a head coaching role despite failing with the Titans in 2018, which was his second stint as an offensive coordinator after guiding Sean McVay's Rams in 2017.
LaFleur could be the next McVay. Jones could be the next Ahman Green, and Rodgers has already proven himself as a generational talent. The 2019 Packers have the ingredients for success. But they come with risk, too, leaving value on a mediocre season in a tough division.
Bears to win the NFC North (9-5)
I know, I know. Fading the division favorite in a tight division is nothing new. Yet it can be hard to stay away from a plus-money favorite coming off a 12-win season.
And it's the smart play here. There are real questions about how the Bears' defense will fare without Vic Fangio's leadership, and that unit engineered the team's success last year. Despite all the praise Matt Nagy gets as an offensive guru, Pro Football Focus ranked the Bears' offense 23rd in 2018, which includes 27th in passing and 28th in rushing.
The Bears' strength of schedule is tied for the fifth-toughest in 2019 as the incumbent first-place team. A massive leap for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky could be enough to stave off regression if you're willing to bet on his progress and the defense's continued dominance. Otherwise, stay away.