NFC Division Winner Odds for 2014

Romo
Romo
In my eyes this is a make or break year for Tony Romo who has to produce the playoffs for the Cowboys.

As I told you on Friday, National Football League Training Camps open in less than two weeks so our time to start breaking down the favorites and long-shots is running short.

Today my focus is NFC Division odds.

NFC East

Philadelphia +125 – The Eagles enter 2014 with De’Sean Jackson in Washington but Coach Chip Kelly feels like the addition of Darren Sproles will help ease some of the burden of Jackson’s loss. Nick Foles proved last season that he is more than capable of being an NFL QB and I expect him to have a similar season.

NY Giants +300 – The G-Men look to bounce back from a disastrous where Eli Manning was nothing short of a turnover machine. Tom Coughlin has brought the Giants two Super Bowl wins but another poor season will send him packing. The offensive and defensive lines both need improvement.

Dallas +375 – The Cowboys’ historically bad defense got another blow when Sean Lee went down with a season-ending injury in OTAs. Despite his monster contract, I think Tony Romo is getting down to his final chances in Big D. If he can’t produce a playoff win then Jerry Jones patience will run even shorter.

Washington +450 – The NFL is more than curious to see how new coach Jay Gruden handles Robert Griffin III. RGIII has to prove he can stay healthy and that means being more of a pocket passer and running when it’s necessary. The defense must get more pressure  to help out the secondary.

PICK: Philadelphia

NFC North

Green Bay -110 – This could be a big year for Green Bay. Clay Matthews has to stay healthy as he has started to lose favor with the fans who are tired of seeing him on the sidelines. With Eddie Lacy in the backfield, I expect Aaron Rodgers to have a monster year.

Chicago +250 – The Bears will go only as far as Jay Cutler can take them. The offense is loaded with weapons so there are no excuses not to be great. With the offensive firepower, the defense doesn’t have to be great, they just need to be consistent.

Detroit +400 – New coach Jim Caldwell has one major goal for Matthew Stafford; make better decisions with the football. Like the Bears, offense shouldn’t be a problem. The defense has to create more consistent pressure because the secondary really hasn’t improved.

Minnesota +1000 – As I said Friday, I think Teddy Bridgewater will be the starting QB on day one. Whether that means success is unclear.

PICK: Green Bay

Smith
I think Lovie Smith will do wonders for the Buccaneers in year one.

NFC South

New Orleans EVEN – The defense improved greatly under Rob Ryan but how does Sean Payton replace Darren Sproles?

Atlanta +325 – Yes the Falcons had a lot of injuries last year but I didn’t think this team recovered from their NFC Title game loss the year before either. I don’t see a bounce back year.

Carolina +325 – The Panthers have lost Steve Smith to the Ravens but a good defense remains. Wide receiving experience is lacking and I think they take a step back.

Tampa Bay +550 – With new coach Lovie Smith aboard, I believe the only thing keeping this team from challenging for the division will be QB play. Luke McCown showed in Chicago he could be successful and I think he will be in Tampa as well.

PICK: Tampa Bay

NFC West

Seattle +130 – The only question is will the hunger remain?

San Francisco +140 – Speaking of hunger, will the 49ers ride it enough to overthrow the Seahawks?

Arizona +700 – Everything appears to be in place in the desert following a 10-win season. If Carson Palmer can stay healthy and avoid turnovers then I like their chances.

St. Louis +700 – 2014 will be a huge year for Sam Bradford. Yes, the division is the toughest in pro football, but he has to get the Rams to the playoffs or questions about his future will pile up.

PICK: Seattle

Examining the NFL Firings… To This Point

Smith

 

Smith
Former Bears' Coach Lovie Smith is a highly sought commodity in several NFL cities.

Black Monday in the National Football League has come and gone and with it, five head coaches are out of work. That brings our total to six dating back to the removal of Houston’s Gary Kubiak. Today I’m going to focus on the men who are now looking for work as well as the potential options for those teams now searching for new leaders.

Let’s start in Houston because they were opening number one in the first place. Gary Kubiak is not a bad football coach. He simply ran out of answers for a struggling quarterback in Matt Schaub and an offense that just couldn’t click. Keep in mind the Texans were a very popular pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and now own the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft.

I really thought Lovie Smith was a shoo-in for this job because the defense was tailor-made for his tremendous skills and defensive experience but Smith seems headed to Tampa Bay as of this writing so what next for the Texans? Owner Bob McNair has a serious problem. He needs a franchise QB and a coach that can groom him but McNair went the offense route with Kubiak. If he goes defense, he’ll need a seasoned offensive coordinator.

Schwartz
Schwartz is out in Detroit with lack of discipline being the major problem.

I believe Detroit is probably the best of the six openings for a coach to walk into. The Lions possess a franchise QB, the league’s best receiver and a very good front seven on defense. The now-departed Jim Schwartz should be credited with getting this franchise back to respectability but the one overwhelming problem under his regime has been a lack of discipline.

The Lions will no doubt look for a guy who will clean up the penalties and other disciplinary issues but they also need a guy who can work with Stafford to help with mechanics and decision-making. The Ford family will take their time but they know they need a big hire here.

The firing of Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay was a little surprising but at the end of the day the guy had a lot of baggage tailing him. There is some very good talent on both sides of the ball for the Bucs which is why I think the Glazer’s are going after Lovie Smith. He will take care of the issue of players not playing hard or to their potential or he’ll get rid of them.

In Washington, Daniel Snyder saw the signs on the wall and knew he had to part ways with Mike Shanahan. Personally I think Shanahan can still coach but I think he’s lost touch with players of this generation. Robert Griffin III deserved a much better fate at the end of the season and hopefully the new coach will relate to RGIII much better than Shanahan did.

Snyder has been around the way with coaches so he knows the college coach from the veteran hire. Which direction will he go is the question?

Up in Minnesota the Vikings need a little more bang than any of the other five openings. Not only do they need a guy who can find a franchise QB but they need a head coach who will fill seats in the brand new stadium the Vikings will open as well. There is talent on both sides of the ball but there is the issue of Adrian Peterson’s contract and durability. Most importantly, will the new coach try to go with a QB already on the roster or will he push for a new signal-caller?

And what would a ‘Black Monday’ be without a firing in Cleveland? Rob Chudzinski was canned after just one year which leads me to believe there were greater issues than what most of us were aware. Regardless, the Browns will continue to look for a franchise quarterback as well as a home run threat in the backfield.

With a host of draft picks the new head coach will have plenty of new toys to test out in training camp. At this point, I’m not real sure the direction the Browns will go but I do believe they’ll likely stay with a guy with NFL experience versus bringing in a college coach. Just a gut feeling based on the front office there in Cleveland.

Stay tuned because I don’t think the firings are through just yet. Oakland, Tennessee and Dallas could still see some movement.

Chicago Visits Green Bay in NFC North Showdown

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will be looking to bounce back from Sunday's defeat as the Chicago Bears arrive at Lambeau Field.

Thursday night sees the Chicago Bears (1-0, 0-0 road) visit longtime rivals the Green Bay Packers (0-1, 0-1 home) in an early NFC North divisional matchup.

The Packers are coming off a well-documented 30-21 loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Chicago arrives at Lambeau Field on the back of a 41-21 drubbing of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.

The fallout from Week 1’s results immediately impacted Futures with oddsmakers. Green Bay began the season at 6/1 to take the NFC championship and 10/3 to win Super Bowl XLVII. That loss to San Francisco has stretched those odds to 17/2 and 4/1 respectively.

Meanwhile, Chicago commenced play last Sunday with odds of 8/1 to win the NFC and 15/1 to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy. Both have been cut following last weekend’s win over Indianapolis, and now stand at 8/1 (NFC championship) and 15/1 (Super Bowl).

Despite the overall fall in favor, oddsmakers still pick Green Bay as the team to beat in the NFC North. The Packers currently stand at 2/3 to take the division, followed by Chicago (5/2), Detroit (4/1) and Minnesota (18/1).

Green Bay will look to bounce back from Sunday’s loss behind QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers threw for 324 yards in Week 1, tallying 2 TDs and 1 INT in the process. Passing though wasn’t a problem. The Packers combined for only 45 yards rushing, with new RB Cedric Benson – a former-Bear – getting just 18 yards on the ground. The stingy 49er defense may have played its part, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy will be hoping for a better performance against the Bears.

Green Bay’s defense against the run was less than stellar also. The Pack gave up 191 yards to Frank Gore and the Niners, something Lovie Smith and the Bears will no doubt pay close attention to. Expect a big dose of Matt Forte and Michael Bush, who combined for 122 yards on Sunday.

Green Bay WR Greg Jennings is listed as doubtful after suffering a groin injury against San Francisco. Donald Driver is ready to step in. The 14-year veteran still has enough in the tank to make a difference.

Chicago has listed both LB Brian Urlacher and CB Charles Tillman as questionable ahead of the game. If both miss the game, Chicago could be in for a rough ride.

Meanwhile, Bears QB Jake Cutler has fanned the flames with his comments regarding Green Bay’s secondary. His “Good Luck” message will not fall on deaf ears. He’d better hope his offensive line can stand up to the challenge then.

When the teams take to the field on Thursday (8:20 PM ET) Green Bay will be -6 favorites with the moneyline at -230. Chicago’s moneyline is set at +190. The over/under for the game is 52 points.

Bettors looking for a historical edge may prefer to go with the home side this week. Green Bay has won the last five games played between the sides at Lambeau Field, including a 21-14 victory in the NFC Championship Game in January 2011. The Packers took both head-to-head matchups from the Bears last season, on the way to a 15-1 record, and are 7-2 against Chicago since 2008. Over that period, the Bears have been outscored 110-54.

The Packers have recorded a 23-4 (.852) record at Lambeau since 2009 and 34-9 (.791) record since 2007. Chicago meanwhile has only had three seasons (2010, 2006, 2001) with a winning road record in the last 20 years.

Green Bay visits Soldier Field in Week 15 (December 16) for a second game against Chicago.