The Minnesota Vikings ran away with the NFC North in 2017. It was somewhat surprising considering they had to start backup quarterback Case Keenum basically the entire season and were just 8-8 the year before. However, the Vikes’ very good defense turned dominant and the offense complemented it perfectly.
The rest of the division (the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears) had somewhat disappointing years. None of them came within four wins of the Vikings.
Will there be a bit more competition for the NFC North crown in 2018? Let’s check it out and conclude with our NFC North predictions and this preview’s picks.
Minnesota Vikings (2017 record: 13-3, No. 1 in NFC North, Lost in NFC Championship Game)
Defense was the name of the game for the Vikings last season. Minnesota ranked first in points (15.8) and yards (275.9) allowed per game and rode that and a low-turnover offense to an amazing regular season.
In the postseason, though, the squad’s stopping unit showed some cracks. The Vikings just squeaked by the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round, allowing 24 second-half points. Minnesota then surrendered 38 points to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.
The Vikings also only had three missed games due to injury on the defensive side of the ball last season, which was very fortunate. It’s likely that the squad will see some regression on defense in 2018.
However, the offense’s ceiling got raised with the addition of quarterback Kirk Cousins in the offseason to replace journeyman starter Case Keenum. Second-year running back Dalvin Cook and veteran backup halfback Latavius Murray are much healthier this campaign. There is a new offensive coordinator in town, John DeFilippo, but he doesn’t plan to change much with a scoring unit that was a pleasant surprise last season.
- Record Prediction: 11-5
- Best Odds To Win NFC North: +120 at 5Dimes.
Green Bay Packers (2017 record: 7-9, No. 3 in NFC North)
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers might be the most valuable player in the NFL. Green Bay went 4-3 with him last year and 3-6 when he was out with a shoulder injury. Green Bay’s offense produced 7.8 points per contest fewer when he was on the sidelines.
Rodgers will likely be more healthy in 2018. However, this Packers team has many flaws. They have weak depth at wide receiver after the loss of Jordy Nelson and there’s no real proven No. 1 running back.
On defense, Green Bay will likely fare better than the 26th ranking in points allowed that it had last season. The Packers improved a miserable passing defense by nabbing defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and then rookie cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson early in the draft.
However, this is still a team without major advantages at any position outside of quarterback. Green Bay could do as well as 10-6 or 11-5 if Rodgers puts together an amazing season, but there’s a chance the squad does much worse.
- Record Prediction: 9-7
- Best Odds: +160 at 5Dimes.
Detroit Lions (2017 record: 9-7, No. 2 in NFC North)
The Lions are entering the Matt Patricia era in 2018. Former head coach Jim Caldwell was fired in the offseason in favor of the former New England Patriots defensive coordinator. The Lions will use more 3-4 defensive fronts, as opposed to the 4-3 that the team is used to employing.
Detroit’s strength is passing the ball. Quarterback Matthew Stafford posted a career high in passer rating (99.3) last season and has a deep cast of pass catchers to target. The Lions ranked last in rushing yards per game (76.3) last year but they still had the seventh-most points in the NFL.
The Lions’ defense was below average last season, but it could have been much worse if it weren’t for their 32 takeaways, compared to 14 the season before. Despite a very lackluster pass rush, Detroit repeatedly created defensive turnovers at very key points of games.
Stafford is borderline elite and the running game should get a little bit better with additions of LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson. Patricia should make the Lions’ defense fundamentally sound, even if it is still below average. However the one-dimensional offense won’t be quite as successful in 2018 with fewer turnovers created by its defense.
- Record Prediction: 7-9
- Best Odds: +675 at 5Dimes.
Chicago Bears (2017 record: 5-11, No. 4 in NFC North)
The Bears have lost this division in four straight seasons, winning six or fewer games in each of those years. Like the Lions, they fired their head coach (John Fox) for a new one (Matt Nagy). Nagy was the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016 and 2017.
Chicago is still years away from contention. Second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky looked decent in his rookie year, but he is not likely going to be a star down the line. He has better receivers this year, including 2015 All-Pro Allen Robinson. Considering Trubisky’s youth and unlikelihood of developing into a star, the Bears will need huge performances from other position groups to win this division.
The Bears have an above-average defense that has few stars, but many good players. The offensive line and running back situations are average. But Trubisky’s youth and no real dominant unit will mean another tough season in Chicago.
- Record Prediction: 6-10
- Best Odds: +1050 at Bovada.
Our Preview’s NFC North Picks & Betting Predictions Verdict
The Vikings are clearly the best bet with the USA sports betting sites here, considering the team’s very few real weaknesses. I predicted them to win 11 games above, but I was on the fence between 11 and 12. Last year was a dream season for them that probably won’t quite be replicated, but they are still a very talented team that will contend for an NFC title.
The Lions will have a lot of transitions to make in 2018 and their talent on defense and in the running back group is not division-winning caliber. Chicago is clearly in a rebuilding situation and doesn’t have the experience or talent to contend with Minnesota or Green Bay.
Green Bay does have a shot to win the NFC North, but its supporting cast around Aaron Rodgers isn’t what it was several years ago. With his injury last season and his age (34 years old), the Packers have a chance at another lost season. Plus, making up the six-game difference between them and the Vikings last season will be tough.
- So our prediction and advice is to pick the Minnesota Vikings @ +120 with 5Dimes to win the NFC North.