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NFL Insider - NFC North Preview and Odds

08-11-09

2009 NFC North Odds – All Eyes On Vikings QB, Cutler, Rodgers and Stafford

The Minnesota Vikings won the NFC North in 2008 but apparently are hoping for bigger and better things in 2009 despite their failure to lure veteran signal-caller Brett Favre out of retirement.

The Chicago Bears have a new starting quarterback in strong-armed former Denver Bronco, Jay Cutler, butt need to surround him with more weapons while altering their run-first, play-it-close-to-the-vest, offensive strategy.

The Green Bay Packers got a fine season out of first-time starter Aaron Rodgers last season, but went just 6-10 while going through a medium-sized rebuilding process.

The Detroit Lions became the first winless 0-16 team in league history last season but acquired phenom rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick in this year’s draft.

Now all four teams will battle it out in a brawl for division supremacy and this look at the 2009 NFL Futures odds for this division will give BetUS NFL sports betting members the insight into making what could turn out to be a very profitable season-long wager.

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With NFL training camps getting underway, let me get started.

Minnesota Vikings +160

While the Minnesota Vikings (10-6 SU, 6-10 ATS, 9-7 O/U) won’t have Hall of Fame-bound signal caller Brett Favre under center when the team opens its 2009 regular season schedule, at least the Vikings know they won’t have to play the ‘will-he or won’t he’ tango with the indecisive Favre any longer.

Now, if they can keep Tavaris Jackson from under center, I say the club could be in for a big year in 2009.

Minnesota will almost certainly be able to improve on its 25th-ranked passing attack (184.8 ypg) with veteran quarterback Sage Rosenfels under center. The nine-year veteran played in six games for the Houston Texans last season, making five starts and completing 66.7 percent of his passes, but throwing 10 interceptions to just six touchdown passes.

Still, I believe he is an upgrade over Jackson right now and will compliment Adrian Peterson and Minnesota’s fifth-ranked rushing attack (146.1 ypg) nicely.

Despite their shortcomings last season, the Vikings excelled on defense, ranking first in all of football in rushing defense by limiting opponents to a measly 76.9 rushing yards per game.

Minnesota would like to improve its 18th-ranked pass defense (215.6 ppg) and drafted two defensive backs with its third and fifth overall picks in this year’s draft, after nabbing one of the draft’s most athletically gifted players in former University of Florida dual threat wide receiver-running back Percy Harvin.

Chicago Bears +190

The Chicago Bears (9-7 SU, 6-8-2 ATS, 7-9 O/U) recorded a solid 9-7 SU record in 2008, to finish just one game behind Minnesota in the race for division supremacy, but were largely unimpressive, on both sides of the ball, in reaching their just-above .500 record.

The Bears will need to improve on an offense that ranked 14th in points scored per game (23.4), 26th in yards per game (295.9), 21st in passing yards (191.3 ypg) and 24th in rushing yards per game (104.6).

Unfortunately, Chicago made only one significant move to help improve its offense – the addition of strong-armed quarterback Jay Cutler, whom they acquired in a trade for former cerebral starter Kyle Orton.

Chicago drafted wide receivers with its second selection in the third round, its first pick in the fifth round and its second pick in the seventh, but clearly do not have an imposing set of wideouts at this juncture.

Not only will the Bears try to upgrade its uninspiring (more like boring and predictable) offense, but they are also looking to get its defensive unit back to the level they displayed just a couple of seasons ago when they were one of the most feared units in all of football.

Chicago was generally mediocre on defense last season, ranking 16th in points allowed (21.9 ppg), 21st in yards allowed per game (334.7) and a pitiful 30th in passing yards allowed (241.2 ypg).

The Bears ranked fifth against the run last season, allowing just 93.5 yard per game, but that was largely due to the fact that opponents routinely threw the ball against the Bears’ porous defensive secondary.

Chicago drafted two defensive ends with its two of its first three draft picks and will hope the former All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher can regain his All-Pro form this season while the franchise tries to avoid lengthy injuries for its best players.

Even with their apparent shortcomings, the Bears will likely have a chance to win what looks like a mediocre NFC North in 2009.

Green Bay Packers +200

The Green Bay Packers (6-10 SU, 8-8 ATS, 9-6-1 O/U) went 6-10 last season under first-time starter Aaron Rodgers but enter the 2009 season with plenty of positives to build upon.

The Packers averaged 26.2 points per game last season to rank fifth in all of football in scoring , but gave up almost as many points per game defensively, allowing opponents to average 23.8 points per game (22nd).

Green Bay also ranked a stellar eighth in passing yards per game (23.3), but had big-time trouble running the ball last season, ranking just 17th, averaging just 112.8 yards per game.

While the Packers need to improve on their rushing attack to balance out their lop-sided offense, where the Packers really need to improve is on defense.

Green Bay lost its bite on defense last season, ranking 21st in total yards allowed per game, (334.8), including 26th against the run where they gave up an average of 131.7 yards per game, but added two players with first round draft picks that they believe will make an immediate in defensive tackle B.J. Raji, the ninth overall pick in the draft and linebacker Clay Matthews, the 26th overall pick in the first round.

Green Bay also added veteran center Duke Preston in free agency and drafted two offensive tackles with its third and fifth overall picks.

The good news for the Packers is that they made the right move in parting ways with former starter Brett Favre in favor of Aaron Rodgers who enjoyed a fine season by completing 63.6 percent of his passes for 4,038 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

If the Packers can get some improved play on defense and some better production out of its running game – two pretty big ifs – then Green Bay could have a shot to win the NFC North in 2009, though I think it’s more likely they’ll take a small step forward before really improving in 2010.

Detroit Lions +1400

What else can I say about the first winless 0-16 team in league history, except this ballclub has literally no place to go but up.

The Lions (0-16 SU, 7-9 ATS, 10-5-1 O/U) ranked 30th in total offense last season, averaging just 267.7 yards of offense per game, and ranked 27th in points per game, averaging just 16.8 points per game last season.

Detroit also ranked 24th in passing yards per game (185.0) and a pitiful 30th in rushing yards per game, (82.7).

Believe it or not BetUS NFL sports betting members, the Lions were even worse on defense last season, ranking dead last in total yards allowed (404.4), rushing yards allowed (172.3) an points allowed (32.3).

So, what did the Lions do this offseason to address their multitude of needs?

First of all, the team reached – in my estimation – with the first overall pick in the draft by selecting strong-armed former University of Georgia starter Matthew Stafford when the club would have been much better off trading down for multiple picks or some solid veteran starters.

Still Stafford will be given every shot to take the franchise back to its former (waaaay former) glory days.

The Lions also added a gifted tight end with its second first round pick by nabbing fleet-footed former Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, a player that should start immediately for first-year head coach Jim Schwartz who may be overmatched despite leading the Tennessee Titans’ powerful defense last season to a 13-3 record and AFC South title.

Detroit drafted defensive players they hope will make an impact at some point in the near future with its third, fourth and sixth picks in this year’s draft but sorely need another dangerous receiver to take the heat off of All-Pro Calvin Johnson.

The Lions did do something smart by hiring respected NFL veteran defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to run its defense this season, but the franchise will need to find out quickly if young running back Kevin Smith has what it takes to be a full-time NFL starter while not doing anything foolish like starting Stafford over veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

I think four wins would be great for the Lions in 2009.

Division Analysis: I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to see that the Minnesota Vikings are clearly the odds on favorite in this division and should likely win the NFC North in 2009 barring a major injury.

However, I wouldn’t rule out the Chicago Bears if they can get their defense to play up to its capabilities while improving its offensive attack under Jay Cutler. I also love Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and think he can take the Green Bay Packers places in another year or two if the franchise surrounds him with the right pieces.

Still, for 2009, I think NFL sports betting enthusiasts will be looking at the Minnesota Vikings as NFC North division winner for the 2009 NFL regular season.

Projected Order of Finish: Minnesota, Chicago, Green Bay and Detroit

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