It’s finally time to kick the pre-season into overdrive and start going through the divisions. I usually start with the AFC North, make my way around the AFC and then onto the North, but with the Bengals losing a player to injury every week I think I’ll leave the AFC for a while and get on to the NFC.
If you missed reading them last year, it’s a fairly simple and largely opinion based (with a few stats mixed in) preview by myself, starting with looking back to last year and finishing with a few choice bets at the end of each piece.
I probably shouldn’t have started with the NFC North though, I put out a poll on twitter recently and the masses (about 100 people) declared that the NFC North is the hardest division to call from top to bottom, so I guess at least it should get easier from here?
Last year the Bears romped to the title mostly on the back of their defense, which was one of the best in the league, and their terrific home record going 7-1 at Soldier Field. It was brilliant work from first year HC Matt Nagy. The Vikings stuttered their way to second, Kirk Cousins being unable to do it against the best teams cost them dearly. The Packers finished in third, consecutive down years for them now, but changes were abound in the off season in the hope of turning things around quickly there, and the Lions propped them all up just half a game behind the Pack and look to have a change in philosophy over the summer.
Early word of note here, I won’t be putting any money, or advising anyone to put money on any team to win this division, I can’t choose between them.
(there was a far more detailed preview – HERE – which I don’t mind people reading, but felt it was more than was needed from this site specifically)
- Last year – 8-7-1
- Superbowl odds – 28/1 (Various)
- Divisional odds – 9/4 (Sky/WillHill/SportingBet)
- O/U line – 9 (over 13/15, under 10/11)
Now I’ve got to admit I’ve got a soft-spot for the Vikings, I rate them highly as a team. They’ve got a good head coach in Mike Zimmer, a top 10 defense, a decent QB and arguably the best WR duo in the league, they also welcome back Dalvin Cook this year who has looked like a top tier running back in the small bits we’ve seen of him on the field so far.
The down points for the Vikings revolve around the offensive line and the QB, the line has improved and will give more protection, but Cousins seemingly has issues against teams with a winning record, and with them being in this division he could face at least 2 of them twice this season. Zimmer and Cousins also seem to struggle outside against teams with a winning record, this year they face the Bears, Packers, Chiefs, Chargers and Seahawks all of whom are expected to have a winning record. (From Warren Sharps excellent 2019 season preview, @warrensharp on twitter)
Adam Thielen started last year with EIGHT 100 yard games in a row last year before evening off and finishing the season with 1,373 yards, it was a weird year, but they only faced 1 divisional rival in that first half of the season (he topped 100 yards both times vs the Packers) whereas the most he got vs the Lions and Bears was 80 in week 16. The opposite side to him is Stefon Diggs, more of a big play threat and more of a TD threat for the team, he had a few big games, 13 from 18 targets against the Bears being the most notable of them last season and on his day is one of the best in the league to watch, together they form a very good partnership. WR3 sounds like it could be Chad Bebbe as they seem to have finally given up on Laquon Treadwell who has been a big disappointment after being drafted in the 1st round a couple of years ago.
If he’s fit then the running game will be pretty much entirely Dalvin Cook, he looked great in the spells we saw him last year and has had a decent amount of time to get healthy, add to that the change at offensive co-ordinator at the end of last year and Mike Zimmer wanted his team to go more run heavy and I think Cook is a decent outside shout for most rushing yards in the league this year (33/1 on Skybet now). There’s not a lot behind him, the rookie Alex Mattison seems like the most likely second choice.
The decision is whether I ignore/choose to believe things will change the historical records, or whether I follow them to the letter. – I think they’ve got what’s needed to win the division, but I won’t be touching that bet.
Green Bay Packers
- Last year – 6-9-1
- Superbowl odds – 20/1 (Various)
- Divisional odds – 2/1 (Sky/WillHill,Betway)
- O/U line – 9 (5/6 over, 1/1 under)
The last 2 years have been a bit of a nightmare for the Packers, Rodgers was injured a couple of years back and the blame for last year seems to have fallen almost entirely on departing head coach Mike (not Mick) McCarthy, there was a lot of reports of the relationship between he and Rodgers deteriorating, so him being replaced by Matt LeFluer should be an instant positive for the QB and his team, as such everyone seems to think he’ll be in ‘Fuck you mode’ to prove that he wasn’t to blame for them being distinctly average.
They’ve got a decent WR corps, Davante Adams had more redzone targets than any other player in the league and finished 7th in yards received and 2nd in TDs last year, he’s Rodgers trusted target and he’ll get his again this year. WR2 here is between Marquez Valdes-Scantling (MVS) and Geronimo Allison, there’s some bloody weird names in GB at the moment, with Equanimeous St. Brown another in contention for looks. It looks like Allison will be in the slot and MVS the WR2 outside, to me that makes MVS a decent one to aim for week to week for TDs.
After LeFluer’s performance in Tennessee where he failed to just give the ball to Henry 400 times, it remains to be seen whether he’ll give Aaron Jones most of the carries or split him with Jamaal Williams or even Dexter Williams. Jones should get most of the work having led the league in yards per carry last year at 5.5.
Their defense has improved greatly in the last few years and should be an area of strength this year, Jaire Alexander looks good coming into his second year, they improved their secondary more with Darnell Savage in the draft and now, on paper at least are one of the quickest units in the league.
This all depends on whether I think Rodgers is the king of all football or not, I guess realistically they should probably be my pick for the division, but I just can’t do it.
- Last year – 12-4
- Superbowl odds – 20/1 (Various)
- Divisional odds – 15/8 (Betfair)
- O/U line – 9.5 (5/4 over, 4/5 under)
So, the Bears, as stated they had a brilliant defense last year, leading the league allowing the fewest points per game in the league and providing an amazing 27 interceptions. It was on the strength of this Vic Fanggio defense that they took the division. Turnovers are statistically something that aren’t repeatable so I’d expect that to regress to the mean a little this year, and without Fanggio calling the plays there I can see it being a little more of a drop-off that it would have been otherwise.
Now that’s an issue for me because I just don’t believe in Mitchell Trubisky. He’s just not very good. The question for me is whether the brilliance that we saw from HC Matt Nagy last year can be repeated to help Mitch provide them with a decent season again, I mean he had a 6 TD game last year, that’s something that very few QBs in the league can boast. Joint 14th in TDs thrown, 24:12 TD:INT ratio. It’s not great, and there’s already been talk that they’re having to simplify the offense still for him which is never a good thing.
Running back is interesting for them, it seems by all reports that rookie David Montgomery will be taking the Jordan Howard role, he had 250 carries last year, without adding a passing threat, Montgomery is adept in the passing game as well, so I’d expect probably around 280-300 carries this year from the rookie. Add alongside him the ‘human joystick’ Tairk Cohen, one of the most exciting players in the league to watch and they look like they’ve got a decent one-two punch. Mike Davis is there too.
Allen Robinson is the WR1 in this team, he’s had one good season a few years back for the Jags, he’s a big target and should do OK in this team, but it hasn’t been seen yet. Anthony Miller is a very good slot receiver who played through a lot of injuries last year, if he’s fit (he seems to be) I like him to have a good season this year, he actually had a similar year to John Ross at the Bengals with 7 TDs from just 33 receptions. Taylor Gabriel is a pacy kid, he was second among their WRs in yards last year. They brought in Riley Ridley, relation of Atlantas Calvin Ridley in the draft, he will add competition to Miller for slot work this year, and then there’s Cordarelle Patterson. Scat player.
Based on the defense regressing and my lack of belief in Trubisky and the offense. I actually like the unders on their win total this year, and I don’t believe they’ll make the play-offs this year either.
- Last year – 8-7-1
- Superbowl odds – 100/1 (CoraLadbrokes, 150/1 on Blacktype)
- Divisional odds – 14/1 (RedZone)
- O/U line – 6.5 (13/10 over, 8/11 under)
Good luck trying to figure out this team. Known to myself and myself only as the Bengals of the NFC. No-one cares about them, they’re not going anywhere or doing anything…. Is the general consensus. Admittedly it’s not one that I drift too far from to be honest. They’ve got a decent roster, a fairly solid defense, and a head coach with a plan.
That plan seems to be to run the ball, a lot, which means that now Theo Riddick has been released, a lot of work for sophomore Kerryon Johnson who was actually a touch behind Aaron Jones in YPC last year at 5.4. He looked really good in the limited work he got and the hype train left the station long ago on him having a good year. Equally adept in the passing game as well as rushing, he looks like he could be on for a big year. Behind him they brought in CJ Anderson who performed well down the stretch for the Rams, and may well vulture carries and TDs from Kerryon. Oh, and don’t forgot ZZ there, Zach Zenner always seems to play well when given the chance!
The passing game fell apart last year, but it’s been revealed that Matthew (not Matt, or Matty) Stafford played most of the second half of the season on a broken back, add to that Marvin Jones missing a lot of the year and it’s a fairly valid reason for that area of the game not being the best. Jones will be back and I think he’ll have a decent year, he’s a reliable receiver, but the hype all off-season has been for Kenny Golladay who had several highlight plays last year and with another year under his belt looks set to be threatening the top 10 WRs in the league after topping 1,000 yards for the first time last year. They also added Danny Amendola who had a poor year in Miami, but proved himself solid in the slot for the Patriots and obviously knows HC Matt Patricia well from their time together in New England. They improved at tight end as well, signing reliable Jesse James from the Steelers and picking up the highest rated TE in the draft, TJ Hockenson. He’s a good blocker and receiver so they’ll hope he helps out as well.
There’s always at least 1 team per year who goes from worst to first. Do I think it will be the Lions? Probably not, I think they’ll probably prop up the division again, however it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world to me to see them challenging for the playoffs.
Now the tough bit, finding some value.
Chicago Bears under 9.5 wins – 5/6 (1.83) – 4 points
- Scratch that, it’s better odds The Bears to not make the playoffs on Skybet – 11/10 (2.10) – 3 points
- David Montgomery o765.5 rushing yards – 4/5 (1.80) on 365 – 5 points.
(featured pic from quityourbenching.com)