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Odds to Win the NFC North: Cousins-Led Vikings Tabbed as Slight Favorites

Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings reacts after a touchdown during a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at U.S. Bank Stadium on August 24, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The NFC North has been a two-team race since 2011, and according to oddsmakers, the race to be crowned division champion in 2018 is going to be a tight one between two bitter rivals.

At Bovada, the Minnesota Vikings are slight +125 favorites to claim the North, with the Green Bay Packers at +140, the Detroit Lions at +650 and the Chicago Bears at +800. The Vikings won the division in 2017 and 2015, while the Packers garnered the banner in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.

Here’s a betting breakdown of each NFC North squad’s odds to win the division in 2018:

Can the addition of Cousins push the Vikings over the top?

The Vikings are no strangers to possessing dominant defenses, but the 2017 unit was truly something to behold, and Minnesota wouldn’t have sniffed the NFC championship game without the success of its defense. While the “Minnesota Miracle” was a shining moment for the franchise, Vikes fans and bettors would surely like to forget the 38-7 beatdown the team received in the NFC title game at the hands of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Minnesota’s rotating quarterback trio of Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford obviously wasn’t inspiring much hope from ownership, so the Vikings made history in free agency by handing ex-Washington Redskins signal-caller Kirk Cousins $84 million in fully guaranteed money. The Vikings are clearly a better team than they were entering the 2017 season, and having Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and a healthy Dalvin Cook back will provide a shot in the arm for the offense. The health of Cousins is going to be key, but if Minnesota can protect its new franchise QB, it should be a Super Bowl contender once again.

Bounce-back season could be in store for Packers

Speaking of things fans would be happy to forget, Packers fans will gladly block out the 2017 campaign. Green Bay entered the year as the undisputed favorite to win the NFC North and looked like world-beaters through five weeks before Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone in Week 6. What followed was a series of train-wreck games by backup quarterback Brett Hundley that culminated in the green and gold missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009. On August 29, Hundley was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2019 sixth-round draft pick.

Fan favorite wide receiver Jordy Nelson is gone, but the Packers’ offseason was an overwhelming success across the board. New general manager Brian Gutekunst was busy in his first offseason, bringing in tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis as well as ex-New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson in free agency while using three draft picks at wide receiver. Gutekunst also landed two of the top cornerbacks in the draft in Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. If Rodgers can stay healthy and the defense makes strides under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, expect the Packers to be firmly in the mix in the NFC North.

Improved offensive line and running game could finally open things up for Lions’ Stafford

Matthew Stafford has done everything he could to take the Lions to the next level since entering the NFL as the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL draft, but his teammates haven’t always been up to the task. On the heels of back-to-back 9-7 SU seasons, Detroit has its sights set on returning to the playoffs for the fourth time in the Stafford era.

GM Bob Quinn realized Detroit’s offensive line was a glaring weakness and has completely rebuilt the unit as a result, drafting Frank Ragnow in the first round of this year’s draft to line up next to T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner, Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow and Joe Dahl. The Lions running game has been abysmal over the past few seasons, so the impact of newly signed power back LeGarrette Blount could be huge. Oddsmakers are expecting more mediocrity from the Lions, as evidenced by their 7.5 projected season win total and +650 chances to win the NFC North.

For the first time in years, Bears are trending in the right direction

Chicago has finished in the basement of the NFC North for each of the past four years, yet there will be significantly more optimism in the Windy City in 2018. That’s because the Bears had a great offseason, as GM Ryan Pace focused on surrounding second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with talent by signing wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel as well as tight end Trey Burton in free agency. Pace also used a second-round pick on receiver Anthony Miller in the draft.

When you factor running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen into the equation, the Bears suddenly have an exciting young offense. Whether Chicago sinks or swims on that side of the ball depends on the play of Trubisky. This franchise has made the playoffs only once since 2007, and while a postseason berth in 2018 would be a pleasant surprise, the Bears are no longer treading water when it comes to the direction of the franchise. This is a club to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Odds to Win 2018 NFC North Division
Minnesota Vikings+125
Green Bay Packers+140
Detroit Lions+650
Chicago Bears+800

Odds as of August 30 at Bovada