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October 25, 2014

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NFL betting primer: Vegas odds, picks and preview of the NFC North

Fan bases shell out cash on their teams in offensively explosive division

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Steve Marcus

Green Bay Packers fans Nanette Valencia, left, and Jackie Dillinger cheer the Packers against the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLV at the Rum Runner, 1801 E. Tropicana Ave., February 6, 2011.

Note: This is the third part of Talking Points' team-by-team preview of the NFC running all week. Check out part one here, part two here and the four AFC installments here.

Determining the sports betting market’s true preseason perception of teams is annually the most difficult in the NFC North.

Based on betting action alone, three out of the four teams in the division are without fail among the most popular squads predicted to succeed in the whole NFL.

“Not so much Detroit but for Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota, it’s every year they get tremendous support,” Westgate Las Vegas Superbook Executive Director Kornegay said. “This year is no different.”

In fact, this year it’s even more pronounced. The Packers and Bears had already made their yearly climb up the betting handle charts before the preseason.

The Vikings were delayed, but they eventually joined their rivals after impressing in their slate of exhibitions.

“I guess if you go undefeated in the preseason, everyone likes you,” Kornegay said with a laugh.

Problem is, it’s not everyone. There’s nothing special about the trio of teams that gets every casual gambler firing on them every summer.

The annual flood originates from one source group.

“Most of the action coming in on these teams is from fans, not the sharps out there betting these teams,” Kornegay said. “They get overwhelming support from their great fan bases.”

It’s enough to make venues like the Superbook sweat. Kornegay already knows he doesn’t want this year’s Super Bowl champion to come out of the NFC North.

He said his shop had significant liability on just a handful of teams in the future book. Minnesota ranked as the Westgate’s biggest loser, with Chicago falling behind in a close second.

Green Bay was fourth.

Bigger bets sometimes come in on options like over/under season win totals when the number gets pushed too far — notably on the Bears this season — but they’re rarely significant enough to totally drown out the fans’ volume.

To followers of NFC North teams, betting with your heart isn’t a crime. It’s a routine.

Read below to find a betting preview and full odds on each of the four teams in the division.

    • Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) tries to escape the grasp of Chicago Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 34-6.

      Chicago Bears

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 4-11-1 (8-8 straight up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Favorites in eight games, underdog in six games with one pick ’em

      Average spread: Bears minus-1 (biggest favorite: Week 1 minus-7 vs. Bills and Week 11 minus-7 vs. Vikings; biggest underdog: Week 10 plus-7 at 49ers)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 25-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win NFC: 13-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the NFC North: plus-240 (risking $1 to win $2.40)

      South Point over/under win total: 8.5 (over minus-155, under plus-135)

      Kornegay’s report: “It’s the same every year: We’ve taken a lot of money on the Bears. There’s some excitement with this team. They should put up a lot of points, but we’ll have to see if they’ve gotten any better defensively.”

      Keefer’s take: Truth is, Chicago can’t possibly get much worse on defense. The Bears were near the bottom in every significant statistic a year ago, including dead last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA against the run. They might not have fixed the problems long-term, but the team managed to plug in some stopgaps, notably including defensive end signings LaMarr Houston and Jared Allen. With every starter back on offense, it’s not far-fetched to think the Bears will put on the best weekly show in the NFL. They almost did as much last season, which combined with a late-season injury to quarterback Jay Cutler masked the growing pains the team underwent in coach Marc Trestman’s first year. Las Vegas measures spotted the problems, though. Chicago fell under its win total and finished as the worst team to bet on in the league.

      A bet: Bears to win the NFC North at plus-350 This number is available at the Superbook, where the fan base has driven down the rest of the pro-Bears bets but curiously left value untouched here.

    • Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson stretches before a preseason NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Orchard Park, N.Y.

      Detroit Lions

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 6-10 (7-9 straight up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Favorites in 10 games, underdogs in five games

      Average spread: Lions minus-1.5 (biggest favorite: Week 5 minus-7.5 vs. Bills; biggest underdog: Week 12 plus-6 at Patriots)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 40-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win NFC: 20-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the NFC North: 4-to-1

      South Point over/under win total: 8 (over minus-145, under plus-125)

      Kornegay’s report: “They just stayed the same. They haven’t done anything, so I can’t even call it a lukewarm response. They’re ignored. The Lions are like reruns or something.”

      Keefer’s take: Although the volume of bets in the future market on the Lions is nonexistent, they’ve attracted enough "over" money in season-win bets to nudge their total a half-game higher. The question is why. Detroit carries an NFL-high four-game against-the-spread losing streak into the season and failed to cover in six of its final seven games of 2013. The downturn showed that every strength the Lions have is accompanied by an equally notable weakness. Boasting the game’s best wide receiver in Calvin Johnson is nearly negated by having possibly the worst secondary. The potential of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley forming the best defensive tackle duo is soiled by their alarming lack of maturity that always rears itself at the most inopportune times. Bringing in a coaching retread in Jim Caldwell won’t fix Detroit.

      A bet: Lions under 8.5 wins Number offered at the Superbook. “The best they could possibly do is 9-7,” Kornegay said. “But most likely, they go 8-8.” Or 7-9, or even 6-10.

    • In this Nov. 28, 2013, file photo, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers watches from the sidelines during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit.

      Green Bay Packers

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 7-9-1 (8-8 straight up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Favorites in 12 games, underdogs in three games

      Average spread: Packers minus-3.5 (biggest favorite: Week 5 minus-10 vs. Vikings; biggest underdog: Week 1 plus-5.5 at Seahawks)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 10-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win NFC: 5-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the NFC North: minus-140 (risking $1.40 to win $1)

      South Point over/under win total: 10.5 (over plus-110, under minus-120)

      Kornegay’s report: “The Packers lead the way in bets to win the Super Bowl. They’re primed to have a great year. They’re still going to have some defensive issues, but they should be improved there and I think Aaron Rodgers is just going to have a huge year.”

      Keefer’s take: It feels like more people than ever are picking the Packers to win the Super Bowl this preseason, and casinos validate as much with accounts of Green Bay coming in as the most-bet team. The support has a chance to backfire with a mediocre defense whose biggest offseason acquisition was a 34-year-old in defensive end Julius Peppers. Doubting what Rodgers can do is unwise, though. The Packers are the most profitable team in the NFC to bet on over the past decade and Rodgers, now in his seventh year as a starter, deserves much of the credit. Last year was an exhibit of his remarkable value. Green Bay went 5-3 straight up, 6-2-1 against the spread when Rodgers took the majority of the snaps as opposed to 2-6 straight up, 1-7 against the spread when he was out injured.

      A bet: Eddie Lacy under 1,150 rushing yards Let’s see it for one more year before officially anointing Lacy as one of the NFL’s elite running backs.

    • Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) runs with the ball during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014.

      Minnesota Vikings

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 9-7 (5-10-1 straight up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Underdogs in 13 games, favorites in two games

      Average spread: Vikings plus-4 (biggest favorite: Week 14 minus-2 vs. Jets; biggest underdog: Week 3 plus-10 at Saints and Week 5 plus-10 at Packers)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 60-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win NFC: 50-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the NFC North: 25-to-1

      South Point over/under win total: 6 (over minus-130, under plus-110)

      Kornegay’s report: “The Vikings have a lot of support, but I still wouldn’t be surprised if they finish dead-last in the division. It’s not just a lot of support on the Super Bowl but to win the NFC and the North.”

      Keefer’s take: All the Vikings’ lines are out of whack. They’re better than oddsmakers are giving them credit for. New coach Mike Zimmer, the former Cincinnati defensive coordinator, was already one of the best hires of the offseason before he snuck Norv Turner over to run his offense and stole Teddy Bridgewater in the NFL Draft. Minnesota endured some unlucky breaks a year ago, going 2-4-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown and posting a minus-9 turnover differential. Although the playoffs might be a year away, Zimmer’s influence should help nurture a defense just starting to come of age. Don’t forget the Vikings made the postseason just two short years ago behind a legendary stretch from Adrian Peterson, who enters this season fully healthy.

      A bet: Vikings over 6 wins Since this is an old pick, here’s a bonus guarantee: The Vikings will not finish last in the NFC North.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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