Three-team race for first place
The NFC North is going to be an interesting three-team race in 2017. Green Bay continues to search for a running game to take pressure off Aaron Rodgers while Minnesota hopes rookie Dalvin Cook can make people forget about Adrian Peterson.
Detroit is in the mix as well coming off of last season’s playoff appearance and Matthew Stafford is going to be motivated by money and his next contract. Chicago brings up the rear, but is doing the right thing in certain areas. It'll be a fun year in this division. Now let's take a look at the South Point Casino's win total.
Over 5 wins -130...Under 5 +110
40/1 to win the division
Offense: It was a weird offseason for the Bears’ quarterback position. First the team gave Tampa Bay backup Mike Glennon a three-year deal. Then Chicago turned around and gave up a lot of picks to move up one spot to take Mitchell Trubisky second overall in the draft. It looks like Glennon is going to be the starter and he'll have Jordan Howard in the backfield. If not for Ezekiel Elliott, Howard would have gotten a ton of publicity for what he did last year as a rookie. With Alshon Jeffery gone, Cam Meredith takes over as the No. 1 wide receiver, alongside the oft-injured Kevin White. Tight end Adam Shaheen was an interesting second-round pick out of Division II Ashland and the Bears hope his size (6-6) and good hands translate to the pros.
Defense: There were some upgrades on this side of the ball in free agent defensive backs Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper and Quintin Demps. Even though the Bears finished seventh against the pass last season, the secondary was considered a weak spot. I like the linebackers with Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman and Leonard Floyd leading the way, although they need to stay healthy. This unit should be better, but a tough schedule could stunt its growth.
Selection: The team is heading in the right direction but still needs to find the long-term answer at quarterback. Chicago alternates home and road games all the way until the Week 9 bye. After that the Bears play three of four at home followed by three of four on the road. Getting Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh and Green Bay is a tough way to start the season. I think the over is worth a look here although the public agrees big time. This team will be a pain in the butt all year long.
Over 7.5 wins +125...Under 7.5 -145
6/1 to win the division
Offense: Matthew Stafford is the next quarterback in line for a contract extension so his play will be under the microscope this season. Ameer Abdullah will get the first shot at being the lead running back, but Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner will still get their toches. Riddick is the third-down option while Zenner may vulture a touchdown or two because of his size. Letting go of veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin could be a mistake, but the hype train is heading towards third-round pick Kenny Golladay, whose size and speed has already been on display in training camp. The offensive line should be better after adding Rick Wagner and TJ Lang in free agency, but it must overcome the absence of starting left tackle Taylor Decker, who will miss at least the first month of the regular season because of a torn labrum, and could be out longer.
Defense: Darius Slay is one of the best cornerbacks in the league that probably doesn't get enough publicity. The problem has been the spot opposite him although the team selected Teez Tabor in the second round and signed 2013 first-round pick D.J. Hayden in free agency. First-round pick Jarrad Davis will probably start at middle linebacker. We'll see if A'Shawn Robinson can take the next step in year two at defensive tackle. The front seven has some talent, but consistency has been the issue. Detroit allowed 67.9 percent of opponents’ red zone possessions to result in touchdowns last year.
Selection: If Abdullah stands up to the workload expected as the feature back, then this offense will take off big time. Stafford is a better quarterback when he doesn't have to carry the offense with his arm. He's done it in the past, but that was with Calvin Johnson as his primary target. For the majority of the season, the Lions alternate home and road games until late December when they play two in a row away from Detroit. This is a very tough schedule overall with trips to New York (Giants), New Orleans, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati on tap. At this price, I'd consider the over as the Lions could finish 8-8.
Over 10 wins -130...Under 10 +110
-250 to win the division
Offense: Eddie Lacy has moved on, which means the lead running back will either be converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery or rookie Jamaal Williams out of BYU. Aaron Rodgers is more than capable of carrying the offense, but much like the Lions, balance always helps. Regardless, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb are back at wide receiver with free agent acquisition Martellus Bennett joining Richard Rodgers at tight end. Former All-Pro Jahri Evans was signed in free agency to replace T.J. Lang at guard while the offensive line remains solid at both tackles spots and center.
Defense: Second-round pick Kevin King could start at one cornerback spot while Davon House is back in Green Bay after two seasons with Jacksonville. Spotty cornerback play was one of the reasons why the Packers finished second to last against the pass in 2016. Tackle Ricky Jean Francois was the only other addition on this side of the ball in free agency, so the Packers are hoping improvement from veterans and some early contributions from rookies like Montravius Adams and Vince Biegel will be enough to produce better results.
Selection: Four of the Packers’ final six games are on the road. There's really no excuse to not get back to the playoffs as this team is the heavy favorite to win the NFC North yet again. The schedule isn't as friendly as it was in 2016. I think 10 is a good number for Green Bay so I'm not going to touch the win total. If the ground game gets going, it will only make this offense that much more dangerous.
Over 8.5 wins +110...Under 8.5 -130
13/5 to win the division
Offense: Sam Bradford has had a full offseason to become even more comfortable running this offense. Adrian Peterson is gone, but rookie Dalvin Cook and former Raider Latavius Murray should form a pretty potent duo. How the carries will be distributed will be worth watching considering Murray started training camp on the PUP list so he’s a little behind the curve with his new team. Wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen both took pretty big steps last year and are now viable targets. The offensive line should be better this season following the additions of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency.
Defense: The Vikings’ defense will continue to be a strength with all the talent that's there. Xavier Rhodes is a good cornerback with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Linval Joseph all playing their part on other levels of the unit. Rhodes will have his running mate Terence Newman back along with Trae Waynes. Getting lineman Datone Jones to come over from the Packers will help the depth up front too. This side of the ball will continue to hold its own.
Selection: Who says the NFL has no sense of humor? The Vikings host Adrian Peterson and the Saints in Week 1 on “Monday Night Football” no less. It's part of a tough start with a short week to prepare for the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Six of Minnesota’s first eight contests are either home or in London so that could help fuel a strong start. I think the over is a fantastic play and at this price, might be one of my favorites on the board. This offense has the pieces to be just as good as the defense already is. I'd also consider the price for the Vikings to win the division.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.