The NFC North likely will go through the Green Bay Packers who are currently lined at -200 to win the division. Minnesota at +365, Detroit at +625 and Chicago at +2250 all sit far behind in the futures market to take the North crown.
I don’t have any real strong betting opinions on win totals or futures on any of these teams. Green Bay will once again have a very good offense led by one of the top QB’s in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers. The offensive line is good and the receiving corps if they stay healthy will be an improved group.
On defense, the Packers should also experience an uptick with their secondary. Morgan Burnett and HaHa Clinton-Dix are back and both are solid players and they drafted a very promising CB in the draft in Kevin King. I didn’t like what I saw from the Detroit Lions starters on both sides of the ball in the preseason and the fact they enter the campaign with cluster injuries along both the OL and DL is a concern.
The Minnesota Vikings should be very good defensively but offense remains their question mark. The offensive line is supposed to be improved but that unit still had its share of struggles here in the preseason both in terms of run blocking and pass protection. Of all teams in the NFC North with the lowest expectations but perhaps the highest ceiling, it actually could be the Chicago Bears whose season win total is currently at 5.5 wins.
Chicago’s defense was extremely impressive in their preseason dress rehearsal games shutting down what is expected to be a very good Tennessee offense. The offense is the area of concern with Mike Glennon being the starting QB for Week 1 after a rather poor preseason for him and making matters worse is the Bears already thin receiving corps took a huge hit on Sunday when Cameron Meredith suffered a season ending torn ACL injury in the Bears preseason walkthrough.
There is now a limited amount of depth at that position for Chicago behind the likes of Kevin White, Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz. Having said that, they have a solid enough offensive line and Jordan Howard has potential at the RB position to carry the load for this team and their defense was sharp for much of August. The betting markets and talking heads will be very negative about Chicago heading in to the season which can open the door for some potential pointspread value in this team on a week-by-week basis.
PAC 12 scene
USC and Washington are the respective favorites to emerge from the South and North Divisions. Both teams are loaded on both sides of the football.
Washington returns 13 starters from last year’s PAC-12 title and playoff bound team including QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin. They also feature a very stout defensive front which has the ability to inflict problems on opposing QB’s. USC has a Heisman hopeful returning for them at QB in Sam Darnold who was terrific after assuming the starting role early last season. He has a bunch of weapons for him to work with.
The offensive line does have to replace three starters from last season but they have recruited fairly well at that position and the defense should be much improved too. However, the common thread with USC and Washington is that the betting markets are likely to overvalue both of these teams from a pointspread perspective this season and that is clearly evidenced by the fact the Trojans and Huskies are both more than 3 TD favorites in their first game.
Washington State, Stanford and Oregon are three squads that have it in them to at least make things more difficult for Washington to claim the PAC-12 North and it wouldn’t surprise me to see winning ATS seasons for the Cougars, Cardinal and Ducks. Oregon is a team that is currently sitting at 120-to-1 to win the national championship and I do not think it is crazy to snag a small flyer on them at that price.
Everything that could go wrong for Oregon did in 2016. Oregon stumbled to a dismal 4-8 record last season but injuries, a weakened offense and a woeful defense were their demise. Oregon was also criticized for being a soft and physically weak team for the last few years. That is something that new Ducks head coach Willie Taggart (who comes to Oregon after being South Florida HC) has gone the extra mile to try and fix putting his players through intense camps to get them physically tougher and mentally stronger for the upcoming season.
Taggart made some real solid hires in his coaching staff namely Jim Leavitt who takes over as defensive coordinator after spending two seasons in Colorado in which he molded and transformed the Buffaloes leaky defense into one of the better stop units in each of the last two seasons. Oregon losing some defensive personnel doesn’t bother me as much as it would some other teams.
First of all, Oregon’s defense was brutal last season and can only get better. Second of all, Leavitt is bringing in a 3-4 defense with the Ducks after they operated under a 4-3 scheme for former DC Brady Hoke last season so having some new faces isn’t necessarily a bad thing since everyone must learn the same new system and terminology on that side of the football. It is worth noting Oregon lost three games by exactly 3 points last season so things could have ended up better for them than it turned out.
Oregon has been totally devalued in the betting markets after last year’s tough season and that opens up a buy low opportunity on the Ducks here in 2017. Over 8 wins is worth a look too for this squad.