Chicago Bears (2012: 10-6 SU, 7-9 ATS)
Odds to win division: +350
Season win total: 8.5
Chicago deserved to make the playoffs last season. They finished with a 10-6 record, and they ranked higher than 7 teams that made the playoffs in my power ratings. RB Matt Forte is solid, and the Bears’ defense returned to form last year. That combination will win games for Chicago this season, and if their offensive line comes together, the Bears should earn a playoff spot in 2013.
As mentioned above, the offensive line is key to Chicago’s success. The unit still has glaring needs, and it’s been that way for the last few years. The Bears’ offensive line needs stability to keep QB Jay Cutler upright. As with most quarterbacks in the NFL, time is of the essence. And it’s extremely critical for the slow-footed Cutler. The passing game suffered because of the line, and unless they improve, throwing downfield and winning games will be an issue once again.
Detroit Lions (2012: 4-12 SU, 6-10 ATS)
Odds to win division: +550
Season win total: 8.0
Detroit has a positive outlook for 2013 because they actually played more like .500 team last season. The Lions were only out-scored by just over 3 points per game relative to their opponents’ performances. QB Matthew Stafford has already proven he can play at a high level when healthy, and WR Calvin Johnson is one of the game’s best.
However, the Lions’ defense allowed too many points per game (27.3) last season and that put too much pressure on the offense to out-score teams every week. Detroit needs significant defensive improvement to be a winning team. The offensive line was in shambles in 2012, and concern is still there heading into 2013.
Green Bay Packers (2012: 11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS)
Odds to win division: -145
Season win total: 10.5
Green Bay is certainly a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2013. The Packers will once again be a formidable opponent for every team, especially with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The Packers have won 10 games or more in four consecutive seasons and in five of the last six seasons overall.
The Packers struggled early last season; they were just 2-3 after five games. Green Bay has shown a pattern of September sluggishness; the Packers have started with a 2-2 record or worse in four of the last five seasons. The slow starts have cost them to miss the playoffs just once (2008), but they cannot keep relying on getting hot down the stretch each and every year. That is especially true this season as they play my 8th-toughest schedule.
Minnesota Vikings (2012: 10-6 SU, 8-7-1 ATS)
Odds to win division: +700
Season win total: 7.5
Running back Adrian Peterson had a monster 2012 for Minnesota. Without him, the Vikings would have been one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Vikings ranked #2 in rushing the ball, and as long as AP stays on the field, Minnesota can be competitive and win ballgames.
However, Minnesota and quarterback Christian Ponder ranked #31 in passing the football. The Vikings’ defense was mediocre at best overall, but terrible in defending the pass. They were also fortunate as half of their wins (5 of 10) came by 7 points or less while their six losses came by 11.8 points per game. Look for a major regression from the Vikings in 2013, especially since they play in a tough division. Minnesota will be a good team to play-against, especially when they are laying points so keep that in mind when making your sports picks.
NFC North prediction:
The Packers appear to be the best team in this division and present value at -145, especially considering they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The best season wins NFL pick is the Vikings Under 7.5 as they were overrated last season and were a 3-13 SU team just two years ago.
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