Despite lots of uncertainty surrounding the Packers, 2021 NFC North odds are out following the NFL’s schedule release. Last year, the preseason favorite Minnesota – opening at +150 to win the NFC North – fell flat and missed the playoffs while the Packers and Bears represented the division in the postseason.
Once the Aaron Rodgers drama is wrapped up (if it wraps up), the state of the NFC North may become much more clear. For now, we’ll take a look at the division as it lies.
2021 NFC North odds
The Packers are still the odds-on favorite in 2021 NFC North odds (would be their third straight crown). With uncertainty hanging in the air in Green Bay, their number is a real gamble this far out from training camp. Should reports swing that Rodgers is leaving town and their odds fall longer, then they could present value; however, sportsbooks are keenly aware of his tendencies and that Rodgers is likely to stay in town. The Vikings and Bears come in at second and third, often times being tied in odds for the runner-up. The Lions– for yet another year– fall to last place as they continue to rebuild and aren’t garnering much handle.
Interestingly, the Vikings have a higher projected win total than the Bears despite not sitting ahead of them on NFC North odds tables. This could be a hedge on the variance of both the Bears and Vikings– one of which could produce a young star quarterback (Justin Fields) and the other coming off what many consider to be a fluke of a year.
17-game scheduling notes
Each team’s final game turned out to be a divisional matchup (as is true for most of the league). The Vikings and Bears play each other twice in the final four weeks while the Packers play each of their division rivals once in the final five weeks after their bye.
The additional 17th game for NFC North teams that was implemented by the NFL for 2021 come from the AFC West:
- Packers at Chiefs
- Bears at Raiders
- Vikings at Chargers
- Lions at Broncos
The NFC North faces both the AFC North and NFC West this season. Common opponents for the division that were 2020 playoff teams include the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Rams, and Seattle Seahawks.
All four teams sit inside the top six in strength of schedule (most difficult), while the Bears, Packers, and Vikings have the third, fourth, and fifth toughest schedules, respectively.
NFC North team breakdowns
Green Bay Packers
Current projections say Aaron Rodgers will remain with the Packers despite numerous reports of him being unwilling to return in 2021. Unless he bolts for another team, expect Green Bay to remain the favorite in the division. They face the fourth-toughest schedule based on 2020 opposing win percentage (.542) that includes ten different playoff teams and five 2020 division winners. Most other futures for the Packers remain on the books until Rodgers’ future with the team is clarified.
Though the team was largely successful in 2020 (finished 13-3 and appeared in their second straight NFC Championship Game), the dominant storyline following the season was the inability for Green Bay to appear in a Super Bowl. The defensive secondary for the Packers was the biggest liability, ultimately losing the game– not due to being outplayed– but due to incompetence. It was no surprise that the Packers used their first-round draft pick on a corner with top-tier speed.
The offseason has not been kind to the Packers, who lost All-Pro center Corey Linsley to free agency. However, should the rest of the team remain in tact (most notably Rodgers), Green Bay will be right back in the thick of the conversation in 2021.
The Chicago front office put a swift end to the ‘Andy Dalton QB1’ memes that were largely brought on by the team’s own social media. In an unexpected move, the Bears jumped up to the 11th overall pick in the NFL Draft to snag a sliding Justin Fields, who is expected to be the franchise quarterback moving forward. Despite consistent refuting from Matt Nagy, the belief is that Fields will find himself the starter for the Bears sooner rather than later.
They may have been the biggest storyline of the 2020 NFL season through the first six weeks when the Bears finished 5-1, including a win over the would-be Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. They hung their hats on a vicious defense that ranked in the top ten in scoring (20.0 points allowed per game) through October. However, reality set in and the Bears dropped six games in a row, topped off by a loss at home to the struggling Lions. Ultimately, the Bears found their way into the playoffs where their season was snuffed out by the Saints.
This season, Chicago faces the toughest schedule in the division and the third-toughest schedule in the NFL (based on opposing 2020 win percentage). They face seven playoff teams, including games at Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay. Oddsmakers as of mid-May don’t foresee the Bears reaching 0.500, though news of a changing quarterback landscape could drastically increase those numbers.
Minnesota was a favorite among fans and analysts to compete in 2020, with them even competing for the tops of odds tables for the NFC North ahead of the season. At one point, the Vikings were listed at +150 compared to the Packers’ +140 to win the division. However, the reality of an inexperienced defense gashed the Vikings early on, leading them to finish 29th in points allowed per game last year (29.7). It was the first time a Minnesota defense under Mike Zimmer finished outside the top ten in points allowed and only the second they’d finished outside the top six.
It’s no surprise that the goal of the offseason was to turn the defensive ship around. They added high-profile defenders like Patrick Peterson, Stephen Weatherly, Nick Vigil, and Dalvin Tomlinson; their five highest-paid free agent additions are all on the defensive side as is their highest re-signing (Anthony Barr). The Vikings also lost offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak– who was instrumental in Dalvin Cook’s recent successes– to retirement. His successor, Klint Kubiak, is the former’s son and is expected to bring much of the same to the table.
The Vikings face five non-divisional playoff teams from 2020 but handle four of them at home (Seahawks, Browns, Steelers, Rams). Regardless, they sit fifth in toughest schedules this season based on opposing 2020 win percentage.
It’s an entirely new regime for the 2021 Detroit Lions. In comes a new head coach (Dan Campbell), new offensive coordinator (Anthony Lynn), new defensive coordinator (Aaron Glenn), and a new quarterback (Jared Goff). The young team is expected to be in Year 1 of a true rebuild that may take several seasons, putting them last in the division in odds to win, odds to make the playoffs, and win totals (second-least projected in the NFL). They spent their seventh overall pick on highly-touted offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who is expected to be an immediate impact starter.
Last year, the Lions finished last in the NFC North (third consecutive time). It was a year filled with turnover and tumult and Detroit finished last in points allowed per game. Most of their receiving corps left for greener pastures, including star Kenny Golladay, leaving the Lions to likely rely on rookie standout back D’Andre Swift for offensive production this coming year.
The Lions face five non-divisional playoff teams this coming season, including four on the road (Rams, Steelers, Browns, and Seahawks). They’re tied with the Bengals for toughest schedule among last-place divisional finishers from 2020.