NFL 2018 – NFC North Jimmy McGinty Season Preview

NFL 2018 - NFC North Jimmy McGinty Season Preview.

 NFC North 

Minnesota Vikings 

2017: (13-3) A clear winner of the NFC North. But the Bears were desperate and GB lost Rodgers so that wasn’t hard last year. But they also beat the Rams, Falcons and Saints so were deserving of a home playoff game. They really could’ve made the Super Bowl. The distraction of a possible home Super Bowl cost them perhaps.  

Their defense will be a league leader again (added Sheldon Richardson from Seattle) and with Dalvin Cook back from injury the run game should be stronger as well. The QB has been upgraded from Keenum to Cousins and starting receivers Diggs, Thielen and Rudolph all return. This team looks stronger than last year and as a result will take some stopping.  

My worries for the Vikings include – A new OC, John DeFilippo, may need time to learn the role. Their defensive players missed very few games through injury last year; that was fortunate and is unlikely to be the case again. The offensive line is really bad. And despite Cousins being a step up on the usual/average Case Keenum – Keenum was superb last year so the upgrade won’t be massive. Letting Jerick McKinnon and Teddy Bridgewater go may be a mistake if anything happens Cousins or Cook.   

In the first 5 weeks they face trips to Green Bay, LA Rams and Philadelphia. That’s nasty. The 3 game stretch of @ CHI, GB, @ NE is also tricky. Despite the quality roster I can’t see the Vikings getting 13 wins again. I like them talent wise, but on this schedule, and with improvement in all 3 divisional rivals, I think 10 or 11 wins is more accurate.  

Best bet: 

They’ll be good but not good enough; don’t see a bet. Happy to take ATL and LAR in the NFC betting instead. 

Green Bay Packers 

2017: (7-9) They were 4-1 when Aaron Rodgers went down in week 6 so the 7-9 season obviously isn’t an accurate reflection of how good they were. However the 4 wins did come against non-playoff bound opponents so I don’t believe they were going to top the NFC with a 13-3 record! 

Rodgers aside, the running backs, tight-ends and even the receiving team don’t appeal as a talented enough bunch to go deep into the playoffs. That may be a little harsh; Jimmy Graham might turn out to be a terrific signing. Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are all young so may be open to more improvement this year. But for now I’m down on the Packers skill positions (outside of QB obviously). Based on last season in Seattle; Graham is a red-zone target but could offer very little further out the field. Randall Cobb has had a few down years now.  

Rodgers likes to throw in the red-zone and not having a decent running back only adds to the case. With Jordy Nelson gone (OAK), Rodgers has Jimmy Graham and Davante Adams as his red-zone targets of choice. Both are in contention to lead the league in receiving TDs. I prefer Adams. 

Line-backer Jake Ryan just tore his ACL – he was a definite starter so that’s a bad start to preseason. The offensive line struggled to stay fit last year, and it hurt the team. They’ll want the starters on the field more in 2018. The secondary has improved on paper but two starting rookie cornerbacks might take a while to get to NFL level. 

Facing the AFC East (Bills, Jets, Fins) and NFC West (Seattle, San Fran, Cardinals) means there are many winnable games on the schedule. They’ve won 10+ in 7 of the last 8 seasons. As such I don’t want to bet unders on their winning total but I want to be against them so the approach is not to make the playoffs. We’re banking on them not topping the division and the strong sides in the NFC South getting 10+ wins (just like last season).   

I’m sweet on Bears and Lions so having a small play on them to finish last in the Division as well. 

Best bet:  

2pts Not to make the playoffs 6/4 - Ladbrokes 

0.5pt To finish 4th in NFC North 20/1 - Coral  

Detroit Lions 

2017: (9-7) and 2nd in NFC North. The Lions were 3-4 after seven weeks and the four losses all came against playoff bound sides. Three of the losses by 5 points or less. This was a good side on a tough schedule last year. 

Stafford is a top10 QB (just about) and now he has a great OL to work with. They used their first-round pick on a guard and get some talent back that missed time last year. Left tackle Taylor Decker missed eight games whilst T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner missed three games each. Having them all fit would make a massive difference. A trio of talented receivers (Tate, Jones & Golladay) and potentially better running game should make it easier for Stafford to rack up the yards and scores. Kerryon Johnson was a 2nd round pick at running-back. LeGarrette Blount was a smart addition as well. He’s one of the League’s top short yardage and goal-line running-backs. And Theo Riddick offers a 3rd pass catching option. The Lions could be a top 5 offense in 2018. 

The Lions ranked 27th on defense last year but bringing in the Patriots DC as head coach will definitely help on that side of the ball. Having one of the league’s best cornerbacks in Darrius Slay obviously helps as well. 

Just like the other teams in the Division (obviously) they face both the AFC East (Bills, Jets, Fins) and NFC West (Seattle, San Fran, Cardinals). Which means there are many winnable games on the slate. The Lions also have CAR and @ DAL on their schedule; two teams I’m against in 2018. Having Rams and Pats at home gives them a great chance of at least 1 win where 2 loses would have been more likely. If the Lions play, and I think they will, well they’ll win 9+ games.  

Best bet:  

4pts Over 8 total wins 11/8 - Betfair 

1pt To make playoffs 3/1 - Boylesports 

2pts Stafford most passing yards 12/1 – William Hill (see separate preview) 

0.25pt Stafford MVP 40/1 – Coral (see separate preview) 

Chicago Bears 

2017: (5-11) There’s not much point in analysing the Bears last year. They started with a terrible QB. After a 1-3 start (they beat PIT and could’ve beat ATL mind you) they installed a rookie QB but gave him no decent weapons to throw too. Nor did they actually allow him to throw. A bad roster badly coached. The heart of the defense Danny Trevathan missed 4 games which didn’t help either. In fact, the whole roster ranked 2nd in games lost through injury; that made things difficult. They also went 2-4 in close games. Loads of reasons to expect more success in 2018 

Mitch Trubisky did show glimpses last year despite the Bears ranking 32nd in pass attempts. And he showed plenty in college to suggest he can take the next step. Now he has receiving options (Allen Robinson, Tyler Gabriel and Trey Burton are all talented guys signed in free agency) and a head coach who was responsible for a hot Kansas City offense. Matt Nagy got a lot of credit for turning Alex Smith’s career around. He should help Tarik Cohen also as the Bears get more creative with run play options and jet sweeps; something they seemed allergic to last year. Using Cohen more/correctly and developing a passing game (Kendall Wright was last year’s no.1 receiver ffs) should help open lanes for top running back Jordan Howard. The only negative move is losing Josh Sitton to the Bengals, he’s a loss from the offensive line.  

The defense was top 10 last season and return 10 starters, including its entire secondary who made a few big plays, along with a first round draft pick line-backer. Getting Roquan Smith on the field soon is imperative. There may be a lack of a pass rush if we’re being critical but this is yet again a top 10 defense.  

The opener in Lambeau is tough but the following 3 games should be good opportunities SEA, @ ARI, TB. Post-bye they encounter Dolphins, Jets, Bills, Giants and 49ers so there will be plenty of soft-ish opportunities if the Bears are performing. Getting the Vikings in wk17 may be a touch as well, they might be playing reserves by then. 7-9 wins look possible, which will be a good step forward on last year. Hard to get too excited about playoff football though as they’re still probably the worst team in their division.   

Best bet: 2pts over 6.5 season wins 4/5 - SkyBet  

NFC North 2018 predictions: 

Vikings (11-5) 

Lions (10-6) 

Packers (10-6) 

Bears (8-8)