Taking stock of NFC North: Bears very much in championship hunt

Taking stock of NFC North: Bears very much in championship hunt
May 28, 2014, 2:45 pm
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Pulling the camera back for a wider NFC North view after drafts, rookie minicamps and OTA’s starting around the division...

Vegas lines are generally set with the intention of getting betting money evenly on both sides of the wager tipping point. So projections of things like win totals aren’t necessarily based on anything football-specific, but they are interesting as opinion samplings.

And some of the early numbers are interesting. They suggest that the Bears are closer to the top of the NFC North than the bottom, from opinions ranging from the general public to the top players themselves.

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The Bears were set at eight wins initially, despite adding Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and myriad other defensive parts. That number was up to 8.5 this week when evidently more than a few folks reasoned that the 8-8 last year just might not be the prism through which to view this year. According to reports, 83 percent of the betting was on the “over” for the Bears.

"They have gotten better," Reggie Bush said Friday on SportsTalk Live. "Obviously the Chicago Bears are a really good team."

Given that Bush ran amok on the Bears in Detroit’s two wins last year, his assessment is worth more than a casual note.

Detroit Lions

But what about Bush’s Lions?

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The Lions changed head coaches after a 7-9 finish under Jim Schwartz. Curiously perhaps, firing Schwartz and hiring Jim Caldwell was worth a game to Vegas, apparently irrespective of Caldwell’s limited record of success without Peyton Manning as his starting quarterback.

But 77 percent of the betting on Detroit was on the under for Lions wins. Given the Lions’ penchant for underachievement, Detroit should be regarded as not good until the Lions prove they actually are good.

Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers remain the consensus easy pick in the NFC North. Bovada has accorded them a 10.5 win projection. But in a season where both teams were forced to turn to backup quarterbacks, the Bears averaged 27.8 points per game vs. the Packers’ 26.1.

In one potentially significant area, Bears GM Phil Emery outperformed counterpart Ted Thompson up in Green Bay. Emery staffed the depth chart with Josh McCown behind the Bears’ starting quarterback, while the Packers were foundering behind Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn. The Packers went 2-4-1 when Aaron Rodgers was unable to start and suffered another loss when he was unable to finish because of his first-quarter shoulder injury last November at Lambeau Field.

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The Packers do get Clay Matthews back and added Julius Peppers. So the assumption is that they will be better than the 0-4-1 they were in games without all or part of Rodgers and more like the 8-3 they were with him.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings also are starting over with a new head coach, this time with one (Mike Zimmer) who’s never been an NFL head coach. More to the on-field point, Minnesota has something none of the other NFC North members have: a quarterback problem.

After a pricey extension for Matt Cassell, the Vikings traded back up into the first round of the draft to select Teddy Bridgewater. Unless Bridgewater is the second coming of Russell Wilson, the Vikings are in a rebuilding mode, like it or not, and Adrian Peterson certainly did not.

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Had the Vikings brought in Michael Vick or some other prospect for a starter, thereby sending a win-now message, Jared Allen in fact might still be a Viking. “Minnesota was heading in a different direction than I thought my career, my life, my path is going,” Allen said on Tuesday, “so I made the decision not to go back there.”

Elite veterans like Allen and Peppers do not go to teams not on the rise or looking like playoff factors. Which the Vikings do not.