Loaded for a run at their third consecutive NFC North this year, can the Chicago Bears shake the jinx of previous Super Bowl losers and repeat as NFC champions this season?
The Chicago Bears won their second straight NFC North Division title last year, going 13-3 straight up and 9-6-1 against the spread, and they won their first conference title in 20 years.
Chicago is the overwhelming favorite to win this division again this season, with a listing at some books of -265 to win the NFL North. The Bears are also the chalk to win the NFC at +465, and are given the best chance of any NFC team to win Super Bowl XLII in February in metro-Phoenix at +1285.
Now, we can sit here and talk all we want about Rex Grossman and his job security, or Tank Johnson and his off-field endeavors, or Lance Briggs (pictured) and his contract dispute. But the bottom line for Chicago this season is this: Since 2000, just one Super Bowl runner-up has made the playoffs the following season, and only two have even posted .500 records.
For reasons often beyond a coach or team's control -- such as injuries, bad luck, the inability to sneak up on opponents, the fact that you get everybody's best shot, whatever -- teams in recent times have had a very tough go of it the season following a Super Bowl loss. And the Bears do not look like a team strong enough to be considered immune to these trends. On the plus side, Chicago is 12-6 both straight up and against the spread within what has been a weak North Division in three seasons under coach Lovie Smith. So they'll give it a good shot.
The most recent history of Super Bowl losers is a bit skittish. In 2004, following a loss to New England in the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers went 7-9 straight up and missed the playoffs, but tallied a 10-6 mark against the spread. In '05, following a loss to the Patriots in the Big One, the Philadelphia Eagles went 6-10 SU, missing the playoffs, and 5-11 ATS. And last year, after their loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL, the Seattle Seahawks went 9-7 straight up, winning the NFC West, and 8-8 vs. the numbers.
The Minnesota Vikings are the second choice to win the North at +525. Minnesota is also listed at +4050 to win the NFC and +10550 to win the Super Bowl. The Vikes struggled to a 6-10 record last year (7-9 ATS), their first under head coach Brad Childress. Minnesota led the league in run defense, but ranked dead last vs. the pass. And this year the offense will likely be handed over to a first-year starter at quarterback.
Running back Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma) was a nice pickup with the seventh overall pick in the draft, and the Vikings should be able to run the ball. Hey, the combination of playing good defense and running the ball on O can be a winner. Last year Minnesota went 2-4 straight up but 4-2 vs. the spread in North divisional play. This team has a chance to be better this season, and could improve by at least a couple of games over last year.
The Green Bay Packers, who won this division three straight years from 2002-04, are listed at +545 to win the North this season, +2250 to win the conference and +6050 to win the Super Bowl. The hope in Packerland emanates from that four-game winning streak that capped off last year's 8-8 campaign.
But Green Bay faithful, and Packer financial backers, should be wary; the Green and Gold won exactly one game last year vs. a team with a winning record, and that came against a Bears team in the season finale that had already clinched the top seed in the NFC playoffs. Green Bay did manage to go 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS in the North last year, its first under head coach Mike McCarthy.
The Detroit Lions round out the bottom of the board at +1045 to win the North this year, +6050 to win the NFC and +14550 to win the Super Bowl, and with good reason. Six straight seasons of double-digit losses, and no end in sight. Last year, their first under new head coach Rod Marinelli, the Lions went 3-13 straight up, 6-10 against the spread, and 0-6 SU and 1-5 ATS in the North.
Is there hope? Well, if Detroit would field a defense and quit botching their drafts, there might be. Have they done that yet? No.