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2020 Betting Review: NFC North

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2020 Betting Review: NFC North

I wanted to do quick-hitting postmortem reports on every team since I spent so much time — and about 2000 words — breaking down all 32 franchises from a betting perspective this summer. These articles also gave me a chance to do a full accounting of all my off-season/preseason Best Bets. Here were the overall results for my NFL Futures with individual results for each NFC North team below.

NFL Futures

For a full rundown of my NFL Futures from the off-season/preseason click here.

  • OVERALL BEST BETS — 27-27 (+15.51 units)

  • Season Wins — 8-0 (+11.98 units)

  • Season Player Props — 7-8 (-2.47 units)

  • Season Futures — 4-11 (+1.91 units)

  • Draft Props — 8-7 (+4.09 units)

  • Every Team Season Wins — 20-12 (62.5%)

NFC North Reviews

*Playoff team*

1. *Green Bay Packers (13-3, 10-6 ATS)*

  • Division Odds: +200

  • Playoff Odds: -130

  • Best Bets: None.

  • Leans: Under nine wins (loss, 13-3)

What went right

Green Bay’s 100th season in the NFL ended much like their 99th season in the league. The Packers went 13-3 and they lost in the NFC Championship Game for the second straight season to start HC Matt LaFleur’s tenure. They finished with the NFC’s best record and the conference’s only bye with the NFL switching to seven playoff teams per conference this season. The Packers got a number of outstanding performances this season but no one was better in the entire NFL than Aaron Rodgers, who is a virtual lock to win his third MVP in his 13th season as Green Bay’s starting quarterback. He led the league in passing TDs (48), completion percentage (70.7%), TD rate (9.1%), and INT rate (1.0%) last season. Davante Adams certainly aided Rodgers’ spectacular season. He had an NFL-best 18 receiving TDs despite missing two games and he led all non-QBs with 25.7 FPG in 2020. On the defensive side, Jaire Alexander and Adrian Amos formed one of the best secondary tandems in the league. PFF graded Alexander as the best cornerback out of 121 CBs while Amos finished second out of 93 qualifying safeties.

What went wrong

For all of the success the Packers had once again this season, it felt like they squandered a great opportunity to get over the hump because of some terrible decisions in the draft. The Packers did a great job of pissing off their franchise player by drafting a project at quarterback in Jordan Love in the first round instead of investing in some much-needed receiving help. All three of Green Bay’s picks in the first two days of the draft did little to help the Packers in 2020 as RB A.J. Dillon and H-back Josiah Deguara (torn ACL) made limited or no contributions (in the case of Deguara) this season. Rodgers’ MVP season ended with an unfortunate piece of trivia as he became the first quarterback to lose in four consecutive conference title game appearances. It didn’t help that standout LT David Bakhtiari tore his ACL in practice prior to Week 17, and his absence was noticeable in the NFC Championship when Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul combined for five sacks of Rodgers.

The game they stole

The Packers didn’t really steal any games this season with 10 of their 14 wins coming by two scores or more. They also didn’t have to sweat too much in their four one-score victories. They held two-score leads late in three of those one-score victories while Jacksonville’s Jake Luton didn’t threaten the Packers much in their other one-score win. The Packers finished behind only the Ravens (+8.8) and the Buccaneers (+8.4) with a +8.3 average scoring margin in the regular season.

The game that got away

I can’t pick anything but Green Bay’s disappointing loss to the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. The Packers bungled the end of the first half with Scotty Miller scoring an unlikely 39-yard touchdown in the final seconds, and they dug themselves an 18-point deficit early in the third quarter by giving up another quick touchdown. Green Bay crawled back into the game and it had a chance to tie the game late with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. However, LaFleur controversially took the ball out of the MVP’s hands on fourth down, electing to kick a field goal from the eight-yard line with just over two minutes left. The decision proved to be costly as the Buccaneers burned off the remaining clock with a seven-play drive, leaving Rodgers on the sideline without a chance to win the game. Rodgers hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down at 37 years old, but you have to wonder how many more chances he’ll get to win a second Super Bowl after yet another disappointing NFC Championship loss.

What to look for this off-season

Rodgers certainly has some reasons to be upset with the only franchise he’s ever known. He caused a bit of a stink over LaFleur’s failed decision to kick a field goal in the NFC Championship. He also raised some eyebrows when he described his playing future as a “beautiful mystery,” which was seen as a shot at the organization for drafting Love in the first round last spring. I’d still be surprised to see Rodgers on the move this off-season even with those two decisions frustrating Rodgers. The Packers have some major work to do to shore up their backfield with stud Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams each heading toward free agency. This O-line also has some question marks with All-Pro C Corey Linsley becoming a free agent while Bakhtiari is likely looking at a delayed start to his 2021 campaign after tearing his ACL in the final week of the regular season. The Packers still need to bolster their WR corps behind Davante Adams, something they neglected to do last off-season, and they have to bolster their CB opposite of Alexander. Kevin King got exposed all game long in the NFC Championship Game, which was less than ideal as he becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time.

2. *Chicago Bears (8-8, 8-8 ATS)*

  • Playoff Odds: +175
  • Best Bets: To win the NFC North +425 (loss, -.5 unit, second)
  • Leans: Over 7.5 wins (win, 8-8)

What went right

The Bears had a rollercoaster season but it ended with their second playoff appearance in HC Matt Nagy’s third season in the Windy City. The Bears started the season 5-1 and they ended the year 3-1 to make the playoffs as the NFC’s first-ever seven seed. They scored 30+ points in four straight games in Weeks 13-16, which was a first for the franchise since the merger. Chicago’s offensive surge coincided with a soft finishing schedule and Mitchell Trubisky’s reinsertion back into the starting lineup. It also coincided with David Montgomery turning into the RB1 in the final six weeks of the season with 154.4 FP. The 2019 third-round pick averaged 138.4 scrimmage yards per game with eight touchdowns in the final six weeks of the season. Allen Robinson also continued to do his thing despite the typically poor QB performances around him as he logged his first 100-catch season in his seventh year in the league.

What went wrong

Chicago started and finished the year strong but they had an ugly stretch of play in Weeks 7-13 as they went winless in the toughest six-game stretch of their schedule. It didn’t help that their big off-season acquisition, Nick Foles, underwhelmed in his first season with the Bears. He threw seven TDs and seven INTs in seven starts, and he finished with a 2-5 record as the starter. It also didn’t help that offensive playmaker Tarik Cohen tore his ACL just three games into the season after posting 70+ receptions in both 2018 and 2019. Chicago’s formidable defense also cratered a bit at the end of the season. They allowed 25 touchdowns in their final eight games after allowing just 14 in their first eight games. Overall, the Bears finished the season 1-7 against playoff teams and 7-2 against non-playoff teams last season.

The game they stole

The Bears grabbed an unexpected victory in Week 3 with the Falcons blowing a massive lead in the fourth quarter for the second straight games. Nagy benched Trubisky and inserted Foles into the lineup in the second half, and the veteran QB led the Bears back from a 16-point deficit in the final seven minutes. Atlanta owned a 99.6% win probability with about eight minutes remaining in the game, but Chicago scored 20 consecutive points with Foles throwing three consecutive touchdown passes as the Bears pulled out an improbable 30-26 victory. The Falcons became the first team to lose back-to-back games in which it led by 15+ points in the final quarter — they led the Cowboys 39-24 in Week 2 before losing 40-39.

The game that got away

The Bears sunk to new lows in 2020 when they squandered a 10-point lead in the final three minutes to the lowly Lions in Week 13. Chicago’s 34-30 loss to Detroit was its sixth consecutive defeat in the middle of the season, which dropped the Bears to a season-low two games below .500. Chicago owned a 99.1% win probability with just over four minutes remaining in the game, but Matthew Stafford would lead the Lions on two touchdown drives late in the game on his way to 402/3 passing. Chicago’s season appeared to be on life support after the back-breaking loss, but they rebounded with a 3-1 finish to sneak into the expanded playoffs.

What to look for this off-season

Chicago has been on a never-ending search for a franchise quarterback for three decades since Jim McMahon led them to a Super Bowl victory in the mid-1980s. They’ll once again be on the hunt this off-season with Trubisky becoming a free agent after the team declined his fifth-year option. No Bears fan wants to see Trubisky back next season and Foles certainly proved he wasn’t a solution either. The Bears figure to be active in the quarterback market for the second straight off-season as they look to upgrade at the position in some way. What Chicago does at the quarterback position could also affect A-Rob’s decision-making process as he’s set to hit free agency as perhaps the most-coveted WR on the market. The Bears will also look to upgrade their offensive line after they neglected to make significant changes to the group last off-season.

3. Minnesota Vikings (7-9, 6-10 ATS)

  • Best Bets: Under nine wins (win, +1.25 units, 7-9)
  • Leans: None.

What went right

The Vikings and the Bills pulled off a rare trade that worked out ideally for both organizations. Minnesota sent Stefon Diggs to the Bills in exchange for the 22nd overall pick and three other picks. Diggs instantly became the centerpiece for Buffalo’s passing attack and he helped Josh Allen elevate his game to the next level while the Vikings drafted a franchise WR in Justin Jefferson who will play under a rookie contract for the next couple of seasons. Jefferson set an NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie since the merger with 1400 yards as he averaged 15.7 YPR. He also finished behind only Davante Adams in yards per route run with 2.66. Overall, Minnesota’s offense overtook its defense as the strength of the team last season. The Vikings finished third in yards per game (393.2) with Kirk Cousins averaging a career-high 8.3 YPA as a full-time starter with a career-best 35 TD passes. The Vikings also finished fifth in rushing yards per game (142.7) with Dalvin Cook posting career-highs in rushing yards (1557) and touchdowns (17) in just 14 games.

What went wrong

The Vikings have alternated non-playoff seasons with playoff seasons since Mike Zimmer became the head coach in 2014. However, it was Zimmer’s defense that was the cause of their struggles in 2020 as Minnesota ranked outside the top-10 in points allowed for the first time in his seven-year tenure. Minnesota went into a full rebuild on defense with nine players gone from their 2019 unit. It showed as they allowed the fourth-most points per game (29.7) and the sixth-most yards per game (393.2). They overhauled their cornerback room with Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander each leaving town, and they selected Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler in the first two days of the draft to replace them. They also revamped their defensive line and their big off-season signee, Michael Pierce, opted out before the season because of COVID-19 concerns. Danielle Hunter (neck) also didn’t play a single snap while LB Anthony Barr (pec) and CB Mike Hughes (neck) combined to play just six games. Add it all up and the Vikings didn’t have much of a chance for defensive success in 2020.

The game they stole

The Vikings did their part to almost give away their Week 12 game against the Panthers, but they ended up salvaging a victory late to keep their slim playoff hopes alive entering the final month of the season. Minnesota held a 10-7 advantage at halftime against Carolina before spotting them two quick touchdowns in the first minute of the second half. Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn returned two separate fumbles for touchdowns just 10 seconds apart to turn a three-point deficit into an 11-point lead in the blink of an eye. The Vikings still trailed by 11 points late into the fourth quarter before Cousins threw two touchdown passes and he converted a two-point pass to pull out a 28-27 victory in the final minute. The Vikings would get to .500 for the first time all season the next week against the Jaguars, but they never did climb above .500 in the final month of the season.

The game that got away

The Vikings and the Seahawks played in a rollercoaster of a game in Week 5 on Sunday Night Football. Minnesota jumped out to a 13-0 halftime lead before the Seahawks scored 21 consecutive points in less than a two-minute span in the third quarter. The Vikings answered back with 13 more unanswered points, and they owned a 96.9% win probability with less than three minutes remaining in the game. Holding a five-point lead coming out of the two-minute warning, Zimmer tried to ice the game by converting a fourth-and-1 at the Seattle six-yard line. Seattle’s defense stuffed Alexander Mattison short of the line to gain, and Russell Wilson marched the Seahawks right down the field. D.K. Metcalf scored the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left to give Seattle a 27-26 victory, which dropped the Vikings to a 1-4 hole just five weeks into the season.

What to look for this off-season

The Vikings may have finished with a losing record for the first time since Zimmer’s first season in Minnesota back in 2014, but their current roster isn’t too far from being competitive at the top of the NFC once again. Minnesota’s defense needs to get healthy this off-season and they need their young CBs to take another step in their development in Year Two. The Vikings need to beef up their defensive line and Pierce’s return to the team will certainly help their run defense. Minnesota’s offensive line continues to underwhelm and it’s an area they’ll look to improve this off-season. Perhaps Zimmer’s toughest task will be finding an offensive coordinator to keep the momentum going from the last two seasons. Minnesota has lost two great offensive minds in Gary Kubiak and Kevin Stefanski over the last two seasons so it’s going to be difficult to find a coordinator who can keep up that kind of production.

4. Detroit Lions (5-11, 7-9 ATS)

  • Best Bets: None.
  • Leans: Over 6.5 wins (loss, 5-11)

What went right

It’s difficult to find many positives from yet another disappointing season in Detroit, which ended in just five wins for the Lions in Matthew Stafford’s final season with the franchise. The Lions had posted 7+ wins in five straight seasons before Matt Patricia came to town and failed to win more than six games in any of his three seasons. At least it looks the Lions have a couple of key pieces for this offense going forward in TE T.J. Hockenson and RB D’Andre Swift. Hockenson finished his second regular season as the TE5 with 11.4 FPG while Swift finished the second half of the season as a top-12 fantasy RB with 17.1 FPG in his final six games. Hockenson and Swift will be the pillars of this offense moving forward with their WR corps in flux heading into free agency. The Lions also got strong performances along their offensive line from the likes of LT Taylor Decker and C Frank Ragnow, and they’ll be building their offense around the unit heading into 2021.

What went wrong

You know things didn’t go well for your team if they fired their head coach in the middle season and if they traded away their franchise quarterback at the end of the season. The franchise regressed during the tenure of Patricia and GM Bob Quinn after the Lions went 9-7 in each of Jim Caldwell’s final two seasons in 2016-17. They ran the franchise so far into the ground that the Ford Family fired them just 43 games into Patricia’s tenure with a 13-29-1 overall record (.314). It didn’t help that standout WR Kenny Golladay essentially vanished after suffering a hip injury in Week 8. The Lions never placed him on the injured reserve and, from the outside, it looked Golladay got a leg up on his first run at free agency. Patricia’s defenses couldn’t stop anyone in 2020 as they were sieve at all three levels. The Lions allowed the most yards per game (419.8) and the most points per game (32.4) during the 2020 regular season.

The game they stole

The Lions bungled away plenty of games during Patricia’s brief tenure, but Todd Gurley and the Falcons handed them a victory in Week 7 in one of the more bizarre finishes of 2020. The Falcons trailed the Lions by two points with a minute left in the game, but they were in a position to milk out the rest of the clock to kick the game-winning field goal with no time left in the game. Detroit had other thoughts as they let Gurley score an accidental 10-yard touchdown with 64 seconds left, which allowed the Lions to get one last crack to win the game. Stafford marched the Lions right down the field on the proceeding drive and he hit Hockenson for the game-winning score with no time left on the clock. Matt Prater added the must-make extra point to give the Lions an improbable 23-22 victory.

The game that got away

The Lions’ miserable 2020 may have been a little different if they had started their year off on the right foot in the season opener instead of losing a demoralizing division game against the rival Bears. Detroit raced out to a 17-point lead through three quarters and they owned a win probability as high as 98.3% in the fourth quarter, but Chicago scored 21 unanswered points in the final 14 minutes to steal a 27-23 victory. Stafford put the Lions in position to win the game after they fell behind for the first time in the final two minutes, but Swift dropped a 16-yard touchdown pass in the end zone on the final possession to seal Detroit’s fate.

What to look for this off-season

The Lions are going for a complete reset this off-season and we’ll see if new HC Dan Campbell and new GM Brad Holmes are the ones to lead the charge. Detroit should fully commit to tanking in 2021 like we’ve seen the Browns, the Dolphins, and the Jaguars successfully do over the last five seasons. The franchise had the right quarterback in Stafford to be an annual threat in the NFC over the last decade-plus, and they still mostly screwed it up with just three playoff postseason berths in Stafford’s 12 seasons. The Lions already started their major overhaul by trading Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff, two first-round picks, and a third-round pick. The Lions’ next decision will be if they proceed with Goff as their quarterback this season or do they completely tear it down and move him before this off-season too. The Lions will not only feature a new quarterback next season, but they could have an entirely different receiving corps with Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola each heading toward free agency. The Lions will likely take a best-player-available approach in the draft, and they’re unlikely to take any unnecessary risks in free agency as they look to be major players in free agency in 2022 and beyond.

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 is coming off his best season picking games against the spread, with his Best Bets winning at 61.5% in 2019.