The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Looking ahead to the NFL season – can the Bears retake control of the NFC North?

Photo by Adrian Curiel on Unsplash

For every football team, there are times of feast and times of famine. But if you’re a Bears fan, it seems a long time since the banquet era of “Iron” Mike Ditka, William “Refrigerator” Perry and The Superbowl Shuffle. Indeed, apart from reaching the Championship Match in 2010, they have been mostly barren times since Super Bowl XX.

The new NFL season will soon be upon us. Last season’s 3-14 placed them last in the NFL and was the worst finish for the Bears in 54 years. Will 2023/24 hold more misery or can Matt Eberflus and Justin Fields create some momentum and bring the good times back to Soldier Field? And how will the rest of the NFC North fare?

Gambling sites are taking a dim view

It’s no surprise that despite the arrival of wide receiver D J Moore from Chicago, the sports books are pessimistic about Chicago’s chances in the season ahead. A check through the different sports betting sites listed on the website indicated broad consensus, with most quoting odds of about +400 for Chicago to turn things around and win the NFC North next season for the first time since 2018.

The frustrating thing is there is a sense they could string something together given slightly less tough competition – for example, there was a real feeling in the AFC South last year that nobody wanted to win and it just needed a team to take the season by the throat, However, The Bears are stuck with the competition that they have, so let’s look at their prospects too.

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    Vikings are consistent playoff contenders

    Minnesota are the perennial bridesmaids of the NFC. Few teams can match them for consistency in making the playoffs, yet they have a notable lack of silverware to show for it. Last year’s 13-4 record was their strongest since 1998. While the bookies have them odds-on to make the playoffs yet again, there is a feeling the Vikings flattered to deceive last year. Their -3 point differential placed them 15th in the NFL and shows just how close some of those games were.

    Cousins, Jefferson and Moss can do magical things when they have the ball, but in time, lack of depth in the defense and secondary will find Minnesota out.

    Lions are the Bookies’ favorites for the NFC North

    Detroit have quietly and effectively rebuilt from the whipping boys status that they endured throughout the Matt Patricia era. Still, despite finishing second in the NFL North last season, 9-8 was not enough to make the post season. In fact they have not made the playoffs since 2016, and the last time they won a post-season game, George H. Bush was president and Lions quarterback Jared Goff had not even been born.

    There is no guarantee that the Lions will break that particular hoodoo this year, but the sportsbooks are unanimous that they are favorites to top the NFC North for the first time in more than 30 years. Their roster looks solid on both sides of the ball, and a strengthened defense this year will make them tough to beat.

    Packers are among the hardest teams to call

    If there is one thing that life in the NFL North has taught Chicago fans it is this. Never rule out Green Bay. This year, for the first time since 1991, the Packers will start with a quarterback who is neither Brett Favre nor Aaron Russell.

    The media are making a lot of it, and of course, much depends on Jordan Love. If you believe the rumors on CBS, the noises coming out of Lambeau Field suggest he and his offensive unit are ready to hit the ground running. If true, this Green Bay team has all the ingredients it needs and Head Coach Matt LaFleur just needs to fit them all together.

    Where is your money for the 2023/24 season?

    Die hard Bears fans will follow their hearts, and if they want to put a couple of dollars backing them to win the Super Bowl, that is their right. However, the +60,000 odds tell you all you need to know. To bet on them in a more pragmatic way, we would say at this stage that backing them to make the playoffs at +172 is a more realistic aspiration.

    A flying start and a winning record over divisional rivals are two key ingredients for long term success over the course of the regular season. That places a lot of pressure and expectation on the opening game of the regular season when Green Bay pays a visit. The bookmakers like the Bears for this encounter, and are quoting them as a marginally odds on. It will likely come down to which quarterback can settle fastest – September can’t come around soon enough.

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