2021 Betting Review: NFC North

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2021 Betting Review: NFC North

I wanted to do quick-hitting postmortem reports on every team since I spent so much time this summer breaking down all 32 franchises from a betting perspective for the 2021 season. It’s a good way for me to put a bow on the season that just finished while also getting a leg up on my early research for the 2022 season.

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers

  • Record (ATS): 13-5 (12-6)

  • Season Win Total: 10 (over)

  • One-score Record: 6-3 (0-1 postseason)

  • Division Odds: -165

  • Playoff Odds: -275

  • Over/Under record: 8-10

  • PPG: 26.5 (t9th)

  • PPG Allowed: 21.8 (t13th)

  • Point Differential: +79 (10th)

Season Review

The NFC North’s longest-tenured coach, Matt LaFleur, led his team to 13 wins for the third straight season to open his career in Green Bay, which is the first time a team has won 13+ games in consecutive years. They also captured the NFC’s top seed and homefield advantage for the second straight season. And just like in 2019 and 2020, the Packers flamed out early in the postseason, this time as six-point home favorites against the 49ers in the Divisional Round. Green Bay’s special teams finished dead in DVOA and the unit ultimately undid them against San Francisco. The 2021 Packers had a much more tumultuous season than in LaFleur’s first two campaigns thanks to the off-field drama that Rodgers openly invited. The drama started just before the NFL Draft when reports surfaced that he wanted out of Green Bay, and it continued through the season when he missed a game with COVID after he deceived NFL media and fans about his vaccination status.

Rodgers still thrived on the field despite the extra unnecessary attention, leading the league in passer rating (111.9), touchdown rate (7.0%), and interception rate (.8%). He guided Packers to their consecutive NFC North title (-165) and he landed his fourth NFL MVP Award (+1000), which puts him alone in second all time for MVP awards, just one short of Peyton Manning. Davante Adams certainly did his part by breaking his old teammate Jordy Nelson’s single-season franchise record with 1553 receiving yards while posting a career-high 123 receptions. The Packers had just the NFL’s 10th-best point differential at +79, but they still entered the postseason with the NFL’s second-best ATS record at 12-5, behind only the Cowboys at 13-4. LaFleur finished second to Mike Vrabel for the Coach of the Year Award for doing his part to keep the team playing at a high level while not letting the season get derailed at any point.

What to look for this off-season

Rodgers’ future is the biggest domino hanging over the entire NFL off-season, and he made it known last off-season that he’d prefer to play in the west if he does leave Green Bay. The Broncos have placed all hands on deck in recent months by locking up their top receivers to long-term contracts and by hiring Packers’ OC Nathaniel Hackett as their head coach. Rodgers is also reportedly having a home built in the Nashville suburbs, which has ramped up speculation that he’s looking to play with the Titans. Rodgers’ cap hit would be a whopping $46.6 million for the upcoming season so the Packers will have to trade him or rework his contract if he’d have a change of heart and stay with the franchise.

The Packers drafted Jordan Love in the first round in 2020, which added fuel to Rodgers’ discontentment with the franchise, and they’d more than likely hand the keys to the offense to Love this off-season. Rodgers would love to bring free agent Adams along with him wherever he heads, but the Packers could choose to use their franchise tag to keep him in Green Bay. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard could also follow Rodgers as free agents this off-season, so Love could be throwing to an entirely new receiving corps next season. Za’Darius Smith is due to make $27.6 million next season and the Packers could cut him to get more than $15 million in cap relief. Green Bay could use help at its linebacker spots and along its offensive line in addition to the WR help it needs.

2. Minnesota Vikings

  • Record (ATS): 8-9 (9-8)
  • Season Win Total: 8.5 (under)
  • One-score Record: 6-8
  • Missed Playoff Odds: -140
  • Over/Under record: 11-6
  • PPG: 25.0 (14th)
  • PPG Allowed: 25.1 (24th)
  • Point Differential: -1 (18th)

Season Review

The Vikings had alternated non-playoff seasons with playoff seasons since Mike Zimmer became the head coach in 2014, but that run ended in 2021 with the Vikings missing the playoffs for the second straight season. Owner Zygi Wilf decided to pull the plug on Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman at the conclusion of the season after the Vikings underperformed with one of the league’s better rosters for a second consecutive year. The Zimmer/Spielman era never finished with more than nine losses in a season, and it reached its pinnacle with the Vikings appearing in the NFC Championship Game in 2017 after the Minneapolis Miracle against the Saints. The 2021 Vikings had a knack for playing up to their competition or playing down to inferior opponents, and no lead was safe with their leaky defense and no margin was too much to overcome for their capable offense. The Vikings tied the 1994 Giants and the 2015 Ravens by playing in an NFL-record 14 one-possession games, and they went 6-8 in those contests.

Kirk Cousins had another strong statistical season with 30+ TDs for the third time in four years in Minnesota, but his anti-vaccination status came back to bite the Vikings late in the season. They were officially eliminated from the playoffs with a loss to the Packers in Week 17 with Cousins stuck at home with COVID. It didn’t help that Adam Thielen essentially missed the final six games of the season with a high-ankle sprain after he scored 10 touchdowns in his first 11 games. Irv Smith also missed out on his chance to break out after suffering a torn meniscus late in August, which kept him out for his entire third season. At least Justin Jefferson remained one of the league’s best receivers in his second season, and he’s the clear face of the franchise moving forward. He backed up his NFL record-breaking rookie season with an even better sophomore season, and he now owns the most catches (196) and receiving yards (3016) by any receiver through two seasons.

What to look for this off-season

Minnesota is heading into a new era of Vikings’ football with Kevin O’Connell expected to take over as the head coach after eight seasons under Zimmer and with Kwesi Adofo-Mensah replacing Spielman after 10 seasons. The first order of business is determining what direction the franchise wants to go in for the immediate future. Cousins is entering the final year of his contract with a $45 million cap hit, and the Vikings need to decide if they want to extend his contract to spread out his money, trade him to start anew, or hope that he’ll take a pay cut for 2022.

The Cousins’ decision will have major ramifications on the rest of the roster with several key defensive players entering free agency in Anthony Barr, Patrick Peterson, Sheldon Richardson, Xavier Woods, Everson Griffen, and Mackensie Alexander. The top priority on defense is to rebuild their broken secondary, which allowed the fifth-most passing yards per game (252.9). Minnesota could elect to do at least a partial teardown and reboot with its new leadership and an underperforming roster, or they could choose to run it back with most of the key principles back to take their chances at winning potentially the NFL’s worst division if the Packers lose Aaron Rodgers this off-season.

3. Chicago Bears

  • Record (ATS): 6-11 (6-11)
  • Season Win Total: 7.5 (under)
  • One-score Record: 3-3
  • Missed Playoff Odds: -275
  • Over/Under record: 7-10
  • PPG: 18.3 (27th)
  • PPG Allowed: 23.9 (22nd)
  • Point Differential: -96 (24th)

Season Review

The Bears went 12-4 and they won the NFC North in Matt Nagy’s first season with the Bears back in 2017, but his tenure progressively headed south after losing to the Eagles as 6.5-point home favorites in the Wild Card Round. Chicago snuck into the playoffs during the 2020 season but they never finished with a winning record in Nagy’s final three seasons. Nagy and GM Ryan Pace earned their pink slips at the end of the 2021 season with a two-win dropoff from 2020. The Bears failed to notch a postseason victory for a 12th consecutive season, and their 2017 campaign remains their only winning season since 2012. The 2021 season started with some optimism after the team landed a potential franchise quarterback after trading up to select Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick.

With Andy Dalton picking up an injury in Chicago’s second game, Fields jumped into the starting lineup beginning in Week 3 and he looked completely overwhelmed by the moment. He completed just 30% of his passes (6/20) and he averaged a pathetic 3.4 YPA (68 yards) while absorbing nine sacks in their loss to the Browns. Fields eventually started to develop as the season went along, but he never quite looked the part of a full-time NFL starter as a rookie. The Bears’ 2-8 record with Fields in the lineup versus their 4-3 record without him in the lineup speaks for itself. Nagy failed to put his rookie Qb in the best positions to succeed with his lack of imaginative play-calling, and it didn’t help that standout WR Allen Robinson had a career-worst campaign with 38/410/1 receiving in just 11 games. At least Darnell Mooney took a leap in his second season, turning into the team’s top receiver with 81/1055/4 receiving.

What to look for this off-season

The Bears are in transition to yet a new regime with Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles taking over as head coach and general manager, respectively. Eberflus will become Chicago’s fifth head coach since 2012 with Nagy (2018-21), John Fox (2015-17), Marc Trestman (2013-14), and Lovie Smith (2004-12) coming before him. The new coaching staff’s top task is to get the most out of Fields after Nagy failed to get the most out of Mitch Trubisky before having minimal success in one season with Fields. The Bears’ biggest priority this off-season is to improve the rest of the offense around him after Fields had to play behind a sub-par offensive line last year with limited weapons behind Mooney. Robinson is likely good as gone this off-season and offensive tackles Germain Ifedi and Jason Peters are set to hit free agency. The Bears traded away their first- and fourth-round picks to acquire Fields, which means Poles has his work cut out for him to improve at WR and along the offensive line. They could look to trade a player like Khalil Mack to regain some draft assets, but he’d likely have to restructure his contract to make it happen as he’s set to make $30.2 million next season. Akiem Hicks is set to free agency so there's a chance their front seven could look dramatically different in 2022.

4. Detroit Lions

  • Record (ATS): 3-13-1 (11-6)
  • Season Win Total: 4.5 (under)
  • One-score Record: 2-6-1
  • Missed Playoff Odds: -1100
  • Over/Under record: 7-10
  • PPG: 19.1 (25th)
  • PPG Allowed: 27.5 (31st)
  • Point Differential: -142 (27th)

Season Review

It looks funny to write but the Lions exceeded expectations under first-year HC Dan Campell and GM Brad Holmes despite winning just three games in 17 tries. Detroit opened the season without a win through the first 12 weeks of the season, but they finally ended their 15-game winless streak with a win over the rival Vikings in Week 13. That win propelled them to a 3-3 run in their final six games, but they still finished last in the NFC North for the fourth straight season. The Lions became the first team to lose twice on game-winning field goals from 50+ yards with no time remaining in the same season, and they accomplished the dubious feat in the first five games of the season. Justin Tucker needed an NFL-record 66-yard field goal at the gun in Week 3, and the Lions ended up losing three games overall on last-second kicks.

The 2021 season was the franchise’s first without Matthew Stafford after they selected him first overall in the 2009 Draft. The Lions moved Stafford for Jared Goff and three draft picks last off-season, and they experienced a two-win dropoff from 2020 in their first year of a multi-year rebuild. The Lions came into 2021 with limited talent across the board and they lost three key players in Jeff Okudah (Achilles), Frank Ragnow (toe), and Romeo Okwara (Achilles) in the first month of the season. Detroit did uncover a fourth-round gem in Amon-Ra St. Brown, who won plenty of fantasy football championships with his play at the end of last season. He ended the year with 8+ catches and 15+ FP in each of his last six games, and he finished behind only Cooper Kupp as the WR2 in that stretch with 25.2 FPG. The Lions have a young offensive core of St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, and T.J. Hockenson to build around for next season. Campbell established a standard of competitiveness in his first season even with a lot of negatives working against the team last season. Still, the Lions are likely at least two years away from potentially ending the NFL’s longest playoff victory drought, which dates back to 1991. The Bengals ended the previous longest drought with their Super Bowl run this postseason, which dated back to 1990.

What to look for this off-season

The Lions didn’t win many games in Campbell’s first season, and they still have a ton of holes to fill all over their roster despite Detroit exceeding its extremely low expectations in 2021. They’re expected to roll with Goff for at least another season with limited options available to them in free agency and with one of the weaker quarterback classes in recent draft history. Goff’s dead cap number plummets from $30.5 million this year to $10 million in 2023 so the Lions will likely make a decision on their quarterback of the future starting in 2023 as they continue to slowly strengthen the roster this season. The Lions will likely draft either Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson or Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux with the second overall pick to shore up their pass rush, but they could select a QB prospect with the Rams’ first-round pick or with the 34th overall pick. If they do go that route, Goff would likely still be the starter heading into 2022 and he gives them the opportunity to bring along their QB prospect at a deliberate pace.

St. Brown was a rookie revelation out of the slot but Goff had to play with the league’s worst perimeter receiving corps. The Lions should address that glaring weakness with one of their three picks between 31/32-66. Detroit is likely to add pass-rushing help at the top of the draft, and they need to add more talent to their defense as a whole, especially in the secondary. The Lions are likely to stick to more short-term deals in free agency once again this off-season to stay flexible before they look to contend starting in the 2023 season.

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom's Best Bets against the spread won at 61.5% clip in 2019 and he was a perfect 8-0 on his Best Bets for season win totals in 2020.

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