The pressure is on Kirk Cousins to match what Case Keenum did for the Vikings a year ago. The defense should hold up its end of the bargain. The return of Aaron Rodgers is what makes things interesting in this division. Green Bay has a rebuilt secondary that will ultimately determine whether or not the team can get back on top. After years of Matthew Stafford shouldering the load, new head coach Matt Patricia will try to add some defense and a rushing attack to the mix in Detroit. The Bears continue to build up, but are probably at least one more year away from a run toward the playoffs.
Odds to win NFC North:
Green Bay +138
Pick to win NFC North: Minnesota
Best NFC North value: Minnesota +120
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 10 (-110) / UNDER 10 (-110)
OFFENSE: Minnesota believes it has upgraded the offense by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins to an enormous contract. Expert coordinator Pat Shurmur is gone, though John DeFilippo (considered a future head coach in NFL circles) was a great hire to replace him. Wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen developed into a lethal duo, both excelling as route-runners and in contested-catch situations. Running back Dalvin Cook looked like a star before tearing his ACL in Week 4 of his rookie campaign.
DEFENSE: You wouldn’t have known it from the NFC Championship Game, but Minnesota had the league’s best defense last season. It led the NFL in scoring (15.8 points per game) and third-down conversion rate (25.0%). Safety Harrison Smith, corner Xavier Rhodes and linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are among the top performers at their positions. Up front, DEs Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter combined for 20.0 sacks last season.
BOTTOM LINE: Coming off a 13-win season, Minnesota doesn’t have any weaknesses. If DeFilippo and Cousins can gel, the offense could be even better than it was in 2017. With a championship-caliber defense, the Vikings are primed to make another run at a Super Bowl berth. OVER 10
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 10 (+110) / UNDER 10 (-130)
OFFENSE: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s presence was sorely missed after he broke his collarbone in Week 6 of last season. While much of the blame for Green Bay missing the playoffs can be placed on Rodgers’s injury, the truth is that Rodgers’s skill-position weapons proved to be rather useless when not playing with an all-time great signal-caller. The Packers hope tight end Jimmy Graham can breathe some life into their receiving corps.
DEFENSE: After giving up the most yards per pass attempt in the NFC (7.9), the Packers traded away corner Damarious Randall and lost versatile safety Morgan Burnett to free agency. CBs Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, first- and second-round draft picks respectively, need to get up to NFL speed in a hurry. Nick Perry and Clay Matthews are solid edge rushers and Mike Daniels is a force up front. But if the Packers can’t cover, they’ll be forced into shootouts.
BOTTOM LINE: As bad as the Brett Hundley era was, keep in mind Green Bay was merely 4-3 with Rodgers under center last season. The struggling defense may have lost more talent than it gained this offseason, and a weak supporting cast is holding Rodgers back. UNDER 10
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 8 (+130) / UNDER 8 (-150)
OFFENSE: Matthew Stafford can play at an MVP level even with a weak supporting cast. Wideout Marvin Jones has developed into an impressive big-play, contested-catch weapon while Golden Tate is an explosive run-and-catch threat. Detroit invested heavily in its perennially weak running game by signing LeGarrette Blount and spending early draft picks on center Frank Ragnow and RB Kerryon Johnson. Perhaps defenses won’t be able to focus all of their attention on Stafford.
DEFENSE: Aside from All-Pro corner Darius Slay, Detroit’s defense underperformed in 2017. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah continues to frustrate with his inconsistent play (he had three three-sack games last season, but disappeared in most others). Linebacker Jarrad Davis should take a step forward in his second season anchoring the defense, though the losses in free agency of DT Haloti Ngata and LB Tahir Whitehead may take their toll.
BOTTOM LINE: Stafford can single-handedly win close games, and any semblance of an effective running game would go a long way toward making Detroit a playoff contender. New head coach Matt Patricia, former Patriots defensive coordinator, should be able to improve the Lions defense. UNDER 8
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 6.5 (-140) / UNDER 6.5 (+120)
OFFENSE: Chicago hired former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy as its head coach, and he has to overhaul the passing game around second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Bears had an utterly atrocious receiving corps in 2017, and made major upgrades at receiver and tight end in the offseason by bringing in Allen Robinson and Trey Burton. Jordan Howard is arguably football’s best zone-scheme runner, and Tarik Cohen is a moveable chess piece who will have value as both a big-play threat and a misdirection decoy.
DEFENSE: Coordinator Vic Fangio has the pieces in place to make Chicago’s defense a strength. Defensive end Akiem Hicks is an unheralded game-changer up front, thriving as a pass rusher as well as a run defender. Retaining corners Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara was a big win in free agency, keeping a solid secondary intact. An NFC-low eight interceptions is a mark Chicago hopes to improve upon as young safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos mature.
BOTTOM LINE: The last Andy Reid disciple to take a head coaching job was Super Bowl LII champion Doug Pederson. And while we’re not tabbing the Bears as closing in on a championship run, Nagy is taking over an offense that is far more talented than it was last season. OVER 6.5