2017 NFL preview: Packers poised to rule the roost in the NFC North

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Updated: July 26, 2017

After returning a staggering profit of almost 100 units in 2016, our NFL expert James Potter is back for 2017. ‘Big Jim’ has just about completed his pre-season and kicks-off his look at all 32 teams with the NFC North, comprising the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings.

 

Green Bay Packers

It was a tough year for the Pack last year and they still ended up playing in the NFC Championship game. If Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. when it comes to QBs then Aaron Rodgers is clearly the second best in the game today, if not the second best of all time. A healthy, hungry and happy Rodgers means Green Bay can go all the way and they are my number one Super Bowl bet at the very attractive price of $13.

Adding tight end Martellus Bennett was a stroke of recruiting brilliance. They may have paid him too much but the former Patriot might prove to be the missing link in a passing game that can be the best in the NFL. The million-dollar question on offense is their running game. It can only improve from last season and showing Eddie Lacy the door was the right move. If coach Mike McCarthy leaves it to Rodgers and doesn’t interfere too much this offence can be beyond sexy.

The defense must improve. Their secondary was woeful at times last year and they can’t simply rely on Clay Mathews. Mathews is a gun but he started to become a tired and predictable one-man band on the pass rush last year. If their defence can be reasonable then they are going to be super hard to beat. Barring injuries to Rodgers then I think they win the division. Lambeau Field in the middle of winter come playoff time is the last place on earth any other team wants to travel.

 

Schedule: Having to travel to Atlanta, Dallas and Minnesota in the first six weeks is tough but if they do the job on the Seahawks in week 1 then they should be 5-2 by the time they get their bye in week 8. Even at 4-3 alarm bells shouldn’t be ringing as their run home is nice.

To win the Super Bowl ($13.00): Anything can go wrong but at their current price, they are my clear top pick this year. The Pats remain the obvious choice to win it all but I am getting better than double the odds on a team that has the credentials to challenge Atlanta as the best offense in the NFL.

To win the division ($1.57): This just looks like a moral to me. I think the Vikings are on the slide and the Bears are at least a couple of years away. Save on Detroit if you think things can turn pear shaped in Cheese Land.

Total games won: (10 at $1.88): Love the over here. Just too good a side not to rack up the games. It is always scary when backing a big over like this as you are gambling on the QB to stay healthy.

Overall assessment: Get on them to across the board. They are probably the team that is the most reliant on any one man although none of the big chances this year can withstand an injury to their starting QB.

 

Detroit Lions

The Lions had a super year in 2016. They lost Calvin “Megatron” Johnson but gained a serious top 10 quarterback. Matt Stafford finally lived up to the hype and played the kind of football that he had threatened for several years. Once Megatron packed his bags, Stafford was forced to become a more multi-dimensional player – with him at the helm this team should be looking to push GB in the division.

At the very least they should be aiming to make it back to the play-offs by securing one of the two NFC Wild Card spots. The other surprising and encouraging sign for the Lions was their improvement on defense. It now appears that the departure of Ndamukong Suh is well and truly behind them. You can only be encouraged by a team that showed marked improvement on both sides of the fence last year.

The biggest problem the Lions face is that they are going to struggle to beat Green Bay for the divisional race. They are also going to have to play even better than they did last year to secure a wild card with the NFC South being so strong. It’s not beyond the Lions but they had the rub of the green last year in a few games so you would think that they are going to have to make their own luck this year.

Schedule: Like the Packers they have a horribly hard start to the year. Might be one of those teams to back mid-season. Even if they start 3:5 I wouldn’t be writing the season off. Opening round against the Cardinals and then a road trip to face the Giants will tell us a lot in two very short weeks. Must win at least one of these.

To win the Super Bowl ($34.00): That’s a big price for a good team. Would turn into an awesome bet if Rodgers went down in Green Bay.

To win the division ($6.00): I will be having them go around for break even. Clearly the second best in the division.

Total games won: (8 at $2.50): Like the over here and would love it at 7.5. Four games against the Bears and the Vikings is a good start.

Overall assessment: The Lions represent reasonable value as a Super Bowl smoky. They will have learned a lot from making the playoffs last year and Stafford is now a top shelf player under center. If something was to happen to Rodgers then, the Lions would be in a very nice position.

 

Minnesota Vikings

Showing controversial running back Adrian Peterson the door was the right move. It might have been hard for the Viking faithful to swallow but remains the right move regardless. The second half of last season really magnified the one-dimensional limitations of the Vikings. If their defence doesn’t dominate a game, their offence can’t keep pace.

Their defence is going to be good again this year, but good won’t be enough. This defence is going to have to deal with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford four times and I can’t see them stopping a quality offense. Containing on defence is only good if your offence can produce something and that is a huge problem for the Vikings. This offence could be really limited again.

It was a very short window the Vikings gambled on last year and I don’t blame them for signing Sam Bradford. It worked well for a period but teams quickly solved the maligned QB. Unless a miracle arrives on the offensive side then it appears that window will be slammed shut. With so much more upside for the Pack and Lions, that makes the job at hand for the Vikings nearly impossible.

Schedule: The Vikings get blessed with a great start to the season. The problem – are they good enough to take advantage of it? They would want to be 5-2 to have any chance of making the play-offs. Road trips to Washington, Detroit, Atlanta, Carolina and Green Bay do not bode well for the second half of the season.

To win the Super Bowl ($26.00): I don’t think a team with so many limitations on one side of the fence can win a Super Bowl.

To win the division ($4.00): I can’t believe they are second favourites in front of the Lions. Don’t be fooled by a good early start as they will come back to the “Pack” very quickly.

Total games won (8.5 at $1.88): On the ‘under’ here although the price is skinny considering they are very short in Super Bowl and divisional markets. Just think this team is on the slide. I can see a similar scenario to last year with a horrible end to their campaign and, if anything, I can see the slide starting a lot earlier.

Overall assessment: I am going to be on the total games ‘under’ here as I will effectively be laying them to “not win” the division. I can’t see this team getting to a .500 record. The Vikings aren’t going to be putrid but they sure as hell are not going to be great.

 

Chicago Bears

Bears fans might suffer more than any other fans in the NFL. The Chicago faithful are going to be excited over the departure of Jay Cutler and will believe that Mitch Trubisky is the man who is going to deliver them out of the wilderness but they are going to be disappointed at least in the short term. It will be interesting to see if the young gun starts in week 1 or if new coach John Fox goes with Mike Glennon.

When you blood a high pick rookie quarterback you need the two Ps – patience and protection. The Bucs and the Titans have done this well in recent seasons but it’s harder for big franchises that demand immediate success. Fox is a good coach and is the right fit for the Bears, they must give him some time. Compete and protect their acquisition, then there is plenty of light at the end of the tunnel.

It really is a wait and see season for the Bears. They are either going to be surprisingly OK or really bad. It’s always a tough decision to take a step back so you have to admire the Bears for making the tough call prior to hitting rock bottom. Who knows? In three years’ time they could be the shining light of the NFC North.

Schedule: Not really relevant. They are going to start 90 per cent of games as underdogs.

To win the Super Bowl ($67.00): Not for me.

To win the division ($21.00): No thanks.

Total games won (5 at $1.88): This is pretty tight but appears to be around the right mark. I am always scared when it comes to a rookie QB that is going to have to start and carry the weight from the get go.

Overall assessment: Stay well clear in regard to anything that resembles postseason play. The total games won is an interesting one but seems on the money. I will probably steer away from this market too as there are just too many variables that only time will address.

 

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