Over-under season totals: NFC North in focus

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 04, 2011



By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Overtaker

Labor Day weekend can only mean one thing -- a beginning to the end of preseason speculation and a start of analyzing something fresh.

We like that.

But the speculation continues with our look at the season win estimates in each division, this time the NFC North. We've got two teams going over the Vegas number and two staying under, but the law of internet tease-ology states that you must read on to find out who's who.

If you missed the previous five reports: AFC NORTH, EAST, SOUTH, WEST, NFC EAST. All lines courtesy of bodog (betting is closed).

Green Bay (Over/under 11.5)

Last year: O/U 9.5 (OVER, 10-6)

THE CASE FOR OVER

They’re the best team in the NFC.
Despite their No. 6 seed in the playoffs last year, the Packers led the NFC in point differential and didn’t lose a game all year by more than four points. They were the best team in the conference last year, and they come back more or less intact – better than intact, maybe. Any personnel losses have been countered, and they welcome offensive weapons Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley back from injury. Clay Matthews played with a broken leg for the second half of the season, and before that injury he was dominating the league like few have. This team is scary.

Mike McCarthy sits at the top of the Underrated Coaches list.
Remember Aaron Brooks? Sure you do. But what you probably don’t remember is that Brooks’ Saints offenses were No. 3 in the league in scoring in 2002, and no worse than 14th from 2000-04. The offensive coordinator? Mike McCarthy. His Packers finished 22nd in scoring in his first year, then finished 4, 5, 3 and 10 the last four. So, McCarthy has now coaxed top-five offensive attacks from three different QBs in a decade, won a Super Bowl, and effectively transitioned from legend (BrettFavre) to heir apparent (Aaron Rodgers). Someone get that man a special parking spot!

THE CASE FOR UNDER

Hold on … we’re thinking … we’ll come up with something …
The schedule’s not easy, but it’s also not so tough. The only team that the Packers play that won a playoff game in 2010 is Chicago. Injuries could happen, but they happened a lot last year and the Packers soldiered through. Super Bowl hangover? Maybe, but in this lockout season, it seems like the whole league will be nursing a bit of a hangover. Hmm. Maybe we’d better keep looking.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Considering the Packers underachieved mightily in the regular season (see Scott Kacsmar’s regression analysis here) and still went over the Vegas win total and won the flippin’ Super Bowl, it’s hard to come up with any reason that they don’t go OVER 11.5. They have the coach, the quarterback, the team, the fans and the momentum.
 

Chicago Bears (Over/under 8.5)

Last year: O/U 8 (OVER, 11-5)

THE CASE FOR OVER 

They return basically the same team that went 11-5 a year ago.
The Bears addressed their most glaring need (Offensive Hogs, No. 32 in 2010) with the drafting of Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi. Other than that, this is more or less a carbon copy of the NFC runner-up. The receiving corps is deep, even with tight end Greg Olson shipped to Carolina. Running back Matt Forte is versatile, the defensive front is solid, Julius Peppers is a beast, the secondary is strong. If they won 11 last year, why wouldn’t they win at least nine this year?                   

THE CASE FOR UNDER

They were 30th in yards in 2010 and haven’t made many improvements.
Yes, they picked Carimi with their No. 1 pick, but the rest of the offensive line is Incumbent City – there are some shuffles here and there, but J’Marcus Webb is slated to start at left tackle, where he was brutal in 2010. Forte had career-best averages as a runner (4.5) and receiver (10.7), and while that could be his new normal, it could also be a peak. The addition of Roy Williams to the wideouts doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and Jay Cutler has never topped his rookie passer rating of 88.5. You can ride defense and special teams a long way for one year, but doing it two years in a row? Not so easy.

Teams have to have learned that you don’t punt to Devin Hester, right?

The new kickoff rules will put a dent in Chicago’s return game, which was No. 2 last year at 25.4 yards a crack. But what should really put a dent in their game is the existence of game film, You Tube and normal human intelligence – STOP PUNTING IT TO NO. 23! Hester and the Bears averaged 17.1 yards a crack and had a league-high 564 yards in punt returns, and are 8-2 in the regular season when he runs a punt back.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The line is awfully low for an NFC title game participant, but it reflects a feeling that the Bears were mighty lucky to get where they did. This is a team that barely was able to move the ball for much of the season, got outgained by their opponent, and was coming off seasons of 7-9, 9-7 and 7-9. Sounds like a .500 bunch to us. UNDER 8.5
 

Detroit Lions (Over/under 7.5)

Last year: O/U 5 (OVER, 6-10)

THE CASE FOR OVER

Megatron and Suuuuuuh.
There are better teams than the Lions, but few can boast two bigger stars – figuratively and literally – than No. 81 and No. 90. Despite all of the problems at quarterback (and in general), Calvin Johnson has averaged 1,048 yards and 8.3 touchdowns a season in Detroit, and at 6-5, 239 is just impossible to deal with. Suh’s size (6-4, 307) isn’t out of the ordinary for a defensive  tackle, but his speed is – he frequently looks like a men vs. boys out there. Only three other players in three decades of the stat had 10+ sacks as a rookie defensive tackle (Keith Millard, Dana Stubblefield, Santana Dotson).

Sweet lord, they are due.
Reaching the .500 mark doesn’t seem like such a tall order, but the Lions haven’t done it since 2000. It really seems impossible that a team in the NFL could go a full decade without even reaching mediocrity, but there you go. They also haven’t outscored their opponents over a season since 1997, Barry Sanders’ second-to-last season. Wait, is this all supposed to be a positive? Well, sure – doesn’t the law of probability say that sometime, somewhere, this team just has to be decent? And after going from -232 in point differential in 2009 to -7 in 2010, all signs point to yes.

THE CASE FOR UNDER

This was a 2-10 team nine months ago.
The story of Detroit’s season was going to be another tear-jerker until the final month.  They played a lot of teams tough, but were in the running for the No. 1 overall pick at 2-10. Then they beat four pretty good teams to close out – Green Bay (with Matt Flynn for most of the game), Tampa Bay, Miami and Minnesota. Still, to go from 2-10 to .500 or better the next season is a heck of a leap.

They can’t stop the run.
Thirteen of the 16 Lion opponents last year ran for at least 100 yards, and Detroit was just a yard shy of allowing 2,000 for the season. They allowed 4.53 yards a carry (24th), and part of the reason they couldn’t win their close games is because opponents racked up a load of first downs (20.0 per game, 24th in the NFL) and kept the offense off the field.

FINAL ANALYSIS

While CHFF Fearless Leader Kerry Byrne will certainly disagree, we’re going to go UNDER 7.5 here. They didn’t really help themselves much in the draft, adding to areas of strength with a defensive tackle and wide receiver in the first two rounds. They did beef up their linebackers, but the division is tough, the schedule is tough and until they prove otherwise, they’re still a franchise more to be pitied than feared.

Minnesota Vikings (Over/under 7)

Last year: O/U 9.5 (UNDER, 6-10)

THE CASE FOR OVER

The quarterback play is bound to improve.
It may be that Donovan McNabb has hit the classic QB decline stage, but even a McNabb that repeats a subpar 2010 would be a major upgrade here. The Vikings turned in a passer rating of 67.7 that was fairly inexcusable considering the talent. McNabb was at 77.1 last year, which was like Peyton Manning in comparison. And in the six years previous, his worst rating was 85.0, nearly 20 points higher than the 2010 horror show. McNabb also has a lifetime winning percentage of .630, which equates to 10.08 wins a year.  

Adrian Peterson.
Peterson proved in 2010 that a great running back does not a winning team make. He averaged 4.6 yards a carry, scored 13 times and only fumbled once – and it added up to nothing, as the Vikings undermined his great play. Still, Peterson’s average season of 1,738 yards from scrimmage and 13.5 touchdowns is a pretty solid base to start from, as long as the rest of the team isn’t in tatters around him.

THE CASE FOR UNDER

Their pass defense was almost as bad as their pass offense last year.
Opponents finished the season with an 86.4 rating against Minnesota, which was no big surprise – even in their breakout season of 2009, they allowed a 92.5 rating. This inability to stop the pass is a pretty major Achilles heel, as we’ve noted approximately a billion times, and it can be especially damaging on a team that assumedly will be built around clock control and small ball on offense.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Vikings are one of the most unpredictable teams in the league. There’s a new QB, a new offensive coordinator in Bill Musgrave and a new (full-time) sheriff in town in Leslie Frazier. And when you go 13-3 and 6-10 over a two-year span, that doesn’t make understanding it all much easier.  Average it out, you’ve got 9.5 wins, and even if that’s a bit optimistic OVER 7.5 isn’t.

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