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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Last year, the NFC North seemed like a dynamo. Green Bay was one of the most explosive teams in the league on their way to an 11-5 record. Both Minnesota and Chicago finished 10-6, which typically gets you into the playoffs (though the Bears lost out on a tiebreaker. Detroit, who made the playoffs the prior season, had great strong stats but horrible turnover luck…playing better than their 4-12 record would have suggested.

Do we have FOUR playoff caliber teams in this division entering the 2013 campaign? Or, do we have one really good team and three teams who need to catch breaks to be considered serious contenders? Let’s run last year’s numbers then talk about how things might play out this season…

 

2012 NFC North Standings (turnover differential/strength of schedule)

Green Bay: 11-5 (+7 turnovers, #9 schedule)

Minnesota: 10-6 (-1 turnover, #6 schedule)

Chicago: 10-6 (+20 turnovers, #15 schedule)

Detroit: 4-12 (-16 turnovers, #8 schedule)

Most NFC teams played tough schedules because it was the superior conference by quite a lot over the AFC. Green Bay may have been a 12-4 type team vs. an average schedule. You can’t call Minnesota a pretender because they made it to 10 wins against a tough schedule without getting any turnover luck. The Bears are questionable…because they were right at league average in terms of their schedule challenge while enjoying a +20 turnover differential that isn’t likely to repeat itself. Detroit is so erratic…you can probably say that the talented offense is playoff caliber when avoiding turnovers, but clearly not when they get reckless.

In short…Green Bay is a championship contender with Aaron Rodgers healthy. Minnesota is a playoff-caliber team if Adrian Peterson stays healthy. Chicago changed coaches because they recognized last year’s 10-6 record was a bit of a fluke. Detroit’s head coach is on the hot seat unless the Lions start cleaning up their mistakes.

 

2012 Yards-per-Play

Green Bay: 5.5 on offense, 5.2 on defense

Minnesota: 5.4 on offense, 5.2 on defense

Chicago: 5.0 on offense, 4.9 on defense

Detroit: 5.6 on offense, 5.5 on defense

All four teams had positive differentials while playing average or tougher schedules. That’s strong! Green Bay is actually a disappointment here…as you’d expect bigger offense under Rodgers. The problem is…nothing in that hunk signals greatness. Chicago’s offense struggled badly. Detroit’s defense was too soft despite their reputation as bullies. There are plenty of reasons to respect the North. Are there reasons to fear them?

 

2012 Third Down Conversions

Detroit: 42% on offense, 36% on defense

Green Bay: 42% on offense, 38% on defense

Chicago: 36% on offense, 36% on defense

Minnesota: 37% on offense, 41% on defense

A lot of pundits are picking Detroit to bounce back strong this year because they had some good numbers outside of their turnover debacle. You see that here. The defense WAS a bunch of bullies on third downs. Green Bay had a nice differential too…but it wasn’t quite as explosive as you would have expected before the season started. Big troubles on offense for both the Bears and the Vikings. Those two must improve or they just won’t matter.

 

2013 Projected Win Totals in Las Vegas

Green Bay: 10.5 wins

Chicago: 8.5 wins

Detroit: 8 wins

Minnesota: 7.5 wins

Fans of any of those four teams could feel insulted by those numbers. But, there’s no way all four are going to play better than expectations. At least one team will disappoint. And, it’s actually possible that ALL FOUR disappoint based on what we’re seeing so far in the Preseason.

*Green Bay has been hit hard by injuries…and those injuries will have a lasting impact through the full season.

*Chicago has a new head coach that was supposed to revolutionize their offense. Yet, their offense has been very sluggish in two exhibition outings (read the boxscore from the San Diego game this past Thursday rather than just looking at the final score!)

*Detroit’s offense is so high-risk that there’s no guarantee they can play clean. Here we have another offense that hasn’t sparkled in two preseason tries.

*Minnesota has one superstar back carrying the offense on his shoulders. That rarely works in consecutive seasons in this league.

JIM HURLEY has some strong ideas about this division. You’ll see that in the first week of the regular season when big plays are announced. He definitely has something special for you SATURDAY from a six-game card that includes the Green Bay Packers matchup against the St. Louis Rams. Purchase game day BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card in both football and baseball. If you have any questions about seasonal service, call us in the office during normal business hours at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you Sunday to discuss the big splash potential for Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts this year as they get ready to visit the NY Giants in prime time on FOX. Monday we’ll find a key angle in Steelers/Redskins to discuss. Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY so you know what’s really going on in the world of sports. And, hook up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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