One of the more popular takes among experts prior to the 2020 NFL season was that the NFC North was up for grabs. Coming off of a season in which the Packers finished 13-3 but fell flat in the playoffs, that prediction seemed legitimate.
The Chicago Bears jumped out to a perfect 5-0 start, which would usually result in the rest of the league taking them seriously. However, anyone who took a closer look could easily conclude that the Bears winning streak was unsustainable.
Now that stellar start to the season seems like a distant memory. Meanwhile, Green Bay is the best team in the North, and the Lions and Vikings are struggling to keep up.
With a sizable portion of the regular season remaining, there’s still time for the Bears to put pressure on the Packers. But with each miserable offensive performance, that seems more and more and more unlikely.
In a division where dysfunction and inconsistency are second nature, it’s challenging to make smart bets. If you’re struggling to figure out the most perplexing division in football, here are six observations about the NFC North for NFL sports betting.
Packers Poised for a Playoff Run
Once again, the NFC is a weaker conference than the AFC. Through nine weeks, no one in the conference has asserted themselves as the frontrunner.
The Saints, Buccaneers, and the Seahawks are generally listed in the top-tier, but the NFC is wide open. However, the Packers are continuing to win games and fly under the radar.
Understandably, the Packers (-750) are listed as heavy favorites to win the division. While there isn’t any value in betting on Green Bay to win the North, it might be worth betting on them to win the NFC.
The Packers are currently listed at +450, behind both the Saints and Seahawks at +350. Both teams have looked inconsistent at times this season, indicating that there might not be as much of a gap as Vegas sportsbooks would indicate.
Chicago’s Quarterback Play Leaves Much to Be Desired
If the Chicago Bears had a serviceable quarterback on the roster, they would be among the NFC’s best teams. But, unfortunately for Chicago, they are stuck with Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky.
Chicago’s defense is among the best in the league and is probably the only reason the team is still hanging around in the North.
Head coach Matt Nagy opted to move on from Trubisky earlier this season, handing the starting role to former Super Bowl champion Nick Foles. Nagy hoped for a turnaround under the veteran, but if anything, Foles has been worse than Trubisky.
Chicago’s offensive efficiency ranks among the worst in the league. Much of the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the two quarterbacks.
The offensive line and running game certainly aren’t helping anything. But, if Chicago has any postseason aspirations remaining, the quarterback play must improve.
Unfortunately for Chicago, there doesn’t seem to be a clear resolution to their offensive woes.
The only safe bet with Chicago is the under, as Chicago has failed to hit the over in six of its nine games.
Vikings Must Continue to Lean on Cook
As the NFL continues to lean towards a pass-heavy offensive approach, the running back position can often be underrated.
It doesn’t help that massive contracts given to players like Ezekiel Elliot, Le’Veon Bell, and Todd Gurley have been colossal failures.
While it might be true that teams shouldn’t overpay for a running back, it’s nice to have world-class talent in the backfield.
The Vikings are experiencing a resurgence thanks in large part to Cook, as well as the defense. Head coach Mike Zimmer, who should still be regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, should continue to ride the hot hand.
It’s a foregone conclusion that the NFL MVP award will go to a quarterback once again, as it has for the last seven years. But, if you’re looking for a longshot MVP wager, Cook is currently listed at +4500.
If he continues his torrid pace and the Vikings somehow sneak into the playoffs, Cook might have an outside chance of capturing some votes.
Is Matt Patricia on His Way Out?
At this point, the utter ineptitude of the Detroit Lions is almost comical.
Franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford was dragged through the mud, forcing his wife to come to his defense on social media. As the starting quarterback for the Lions, Stafford will, unfortunately, continue to get his share of the blame.
However, the issues in Detroit seem to be systemic, starting at the top of the organization.
Through two and a half seasons as the head coach of the Lions, Matt Patricia is 12-25-1. That’s good for a dismal .329 winning percentage.
Under his direction, Detroit has finished in last place two years in a row and is in the driver’s seat to make it a three-peat. If the Lions are unable to pull off some magic in the second half of the season, Patricia will most likely be out of a job.
Patricia’s seat is heating up, and his name continues to pop up in the “next coach to be fired” conversation.
New York Jets coach Adam Gase is the clear favorite at -175, followed by the Jaguars’ Doug Marone at +325. Meanwhile, Patricia is listed at +550.
It’s unclear whether Detroit plans to make a move before the conclusion of the regular season. But with every loss, it becomes more likely that Patricia’s days in Detroit are numbered.
Rodgers Still Has Plenty Left in the Tank
An unfortunate reality when evaluating quarterbacks is the fact that their reign will come to an end at some point.
When the Packers drafted Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it seemed like they were selecting their quarterback of the future.
Rodgers’ tenure in Green Bay has been incredibly successful, albeit uneasy at times. He got his start under less than favorable circumstances by essentially forcing out fan-favorite Brett Favre.
When the organization opted to draft his heir apparent instead of help on offense, the message seemed clear. Rodgers’ time as the starting quarterback in Green Bay was drawing to a close.
Evidently, Aaron Rodgers didn’t get the message.
Rodgers is among the league leaders in most major statistics and among the favorites in MVP odds. Rodgers (+400) trails only Russell Wilson (+125) and Patrick Mahomes (+220).
In a season marked by several veteran quarterbacks noticeably losing a step or two, Rodgers continues to look like one of the top talents in the NFL.
Cousins is Best as Game Manager
It’s safe to say that pro NFL bettors have a large enough sample size to form an opinion about the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins. The $84 million man is a slightly above average quarterback, plain and simple.
At times Cousins might look like he’s worthy of the largest contract in NFL history. But, mostly, he seems like a decent starting quarterback.
The quality of Cousins’ play in 2020 is uninspiring at best. The quarterback has thrown nearly as many interceptions, 10, as touchdowns, 12. The Vikings few successes this season should be credited to running back Dalvin Cook.
The Vikings must win most of their games if they have any shot of making the playoffs. While the NFC is still wide open, there are a number of teams jockeying for position in the middle of the pack.
As I said earlier, the Vikings need to continue to feed Cook and keep the ball out of Cousins’ hands as much as possible. Cousins is at his best when he’s managing the offense instead of trying to be a gunslinger.
There are plenty of value bets to be made on the remainder of the NFL season. However, the NFC North, one of the more inconsistent divisions in football, continues to prove to be a challenge for gamblers.
It’s clear that the Packers are the best team in the division and should be in the conversation as the best in the entire NFC. There are still a number of divisional matchups remaining for Green Bay, providing them ample opportunity to prove themselves to the gambling public.
Despite getting off to a fast start, the Bears have dropped three games in a row and continue to struggle on offense. Until the quarterback situation improves, Chicago is a team to avoid.
At the bottom of the division, the Vikings and Lions are in a dog fight to keep their seasons alive. The stakes are somewhat higher in Detroit, as another sub .500 season could lead to Matt Patricia’s firing.