The recent timeline of the NFC North has been headlined by Aaron Rodgers, and this was true in 2020 but perhaps even more true in the 2021 offseason. Rodgers was rumored to be moving on from the Packers — either via retirement or a new team — but all of that has since become old news as the Packers will have Rodgers back at the helm and are poised to be the leaders of the NFC North yet again. 2020 was actually a rather easy season for them in terms of their divisional success, as they won 13 games while the Bears, Vikings, and Lions went 8-8, 7-9, and 5-11 respectively. Rodgers had been showing signs of a decline for the prior few seasons, but he had an arguably career-best season despite turning 37 years old.
The Bears and Vikings were both flawed teams in 2020, with the Bears having most of their problems on offense and the Vikings having most of their problems on defense. The Lions showed flashes of offensive firepower but also dealt with some significant injuries on that side of the ball, but their defense never really gave them a chance anyway. Much of that could be the same for 2021, but the Packers still appear to be the frontrunners of the division, at least according to the betting odds on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Super Bowl Odds: +1300
NFC Conference Odds: +600
Team Win Total: 10 (-140/+115)
To Make Playoffs: -280
Awards Contenders: Aaron Rodgers (+500 MVP)
Week 1 Spread: -2.5 at Saints
Despite an early season injury scare for Davante Adams, the Packers put together an elite passing attack in 2020 with Aaron Rodgers having one of the best seasons of his NFL career. Rodgers threw for 48 touchdowns with just five interceptions, and was the focal point in leading the Packers to the best record in the NFC. The Packers were around average on defense in 2020, but they had a well above average rushing attack. They also had the No. 1 passing game in the NFL by DVOA, but they ultimately lost at home to the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game.
The Packers enter 2021 with a similar roster, but it may be hard for them to replicate the success they had a season ago. Rodgers may not be able to have the same level of proficiency in a season where he’ll turn 38 years old, but either way, the competition from the rest of the NFC North is likely to be better. The oddsmakers are still somewhat optimistic with a win total set at 10 and a division line of -160, but those numbers indicate that they’re far from a lock even with Rodgers returning. The Vikings aren't too far behind with an over/under at 9 and division odds at +250.
Super Bowl Odds: +5000
NFC Conference Odds: +2200
Team Win Total: 9 (-115/-105)
To Make Playoffs: +115
Awards Contenders: Kirk Cousins (MVP +2500)
Week 1 Spread: -3 at Bengals
The Vikings won just seven games in 2020, but it was a season in which they dealt with a lot of injuries, particularly on their defensive front. The offense was the clear bright spot last season, with Dalvin Cook establishing himself as one of the NFL’s elite running backs, while Kirk Cousins and the passing game were formidable as well. Justin Jefferson made an immediate impact in his rookie season, with 88 receptions, 1,400 yards, and seven touchdowns. It actually may have been a down year for fellow receiver Adam Thielen, at least in terms of the catches and yards, but he did manage to haul in 14 touchdowns. If the Vikings can replicate their offensive success and improve significantly on defense, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to hang with the Packers in 2021.
Defense is clearly the side of the ball where the Vikings need to improve the most, and it seems like they’ll have a chance to do that with a combination of players returning from injuries, COVID opt-outs, and newcomers in free agency. Any defensive gains would be particularly helpful in the divisional race, as the rival Packers are obviously among the NFL’s best offenses. The Vikings gave up 65 points in their two games against Green Bay in 2020, though they did manage to win a road game in Green Bay thanks to a 163-yard, three-TD performance from Dalvin Cook. Still though, it’s going to be tough to unseat the Packers as NFC North champs without a defense that’s at least average in 2021.
Super Bowl Odds: +6500
NFC Conference Odds: +3500
Team Win Total: 7.5 (-120/+100)
To Make Playoffs: +210
Awards Contenders: Justin Fields (+850 OROY)
Week 1 Spread: +7 at Rams
The 2020 season was a tumultuous one for the Bears, alternating between underwhelming quarterbacks (Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles) who showed promise at times, but ultimately were both unable to convince the organization that they were long term options. The Bears actually did sneak their way into the playoffs with an 8-8 record, but went on to lose 21-9 at New Orleans in the Wild Card round. Chicago’s defense was above average in 2020, but they were among the worst offenses in the NFL, both in terms of passing and rushing, and they’ll need to be a lot better in 2021 if they hope to emerge as contenders.
Chicago made two notable offseason additions to try to address the offensive problems, and both of those players are quarterbacks. Andy Dalton was brought on in free agency, but more notably, the Bears traded up in the draft to select Justin Fields, and it appears as though he’ll take the role of “quarterback of the future” formerly occupied by Mitch Trubisky. It remains to be seen how much Dalton and Fields will each play in 2021, but both options seem better than what they had a season ago. Nonetheless, the Bears still have a win total set at 7.5, and they’re a betting long shot for the NFC North. A Fields-led Bears team may eventually turn into a perennial playoff team, but it seems as though the most likely scenario is that they’re still at least a year away.
Super Bowl Odds: +20000
NFC Conference Odds: +10000
NFC North Division Odds: +2800
Team Win Total: 4.5 (-155/+125)
To Make Playoffs: +750
Week 1 Spread: +7.5 vs. 49ers
The Lions had a rough season in 2020, winning just five games and finishing in last place in the NFC North. They actually were a decent offensive team, getting strong production from D’Andre Swift for the majority of the time that he was healthy. Matthew Stafford had an inconsistent season, but there were times when Marvin Jones Jr. and T.J. Hockenson made up a solid WR-TE duo. Kenny Golladay missing the majority of the season was a problem, but it was really the defense that let this team down.
The Lions’ offensive core is basically wiped out heading into 2021, with Stafford, Jones, and Golladay all playing for new teams. The Lions will turn to Jared Goff at quarterback, who came back in the trade that sent Stafford to the Rams, and he’ll be attempting to lead this young team back towards relevance. It’ll surely be an uphill battle for the Lions in this fairly difficult division, and the oddsmakers aren’t very optimistic with the season win total set at 4.5. The Lions are +750 just to make the playoffs, and +2800 to win the NFC North.
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