With the Pre-Season in full swing the “Black and Blue Division”, the NFC North could prove to be one of the most competitive in the entire NFL. The North is home to some of the fiercest rivalries, and usually has a good showing when the Playoffs roll around. There are many new players who will be calling the NFC North home this season as well as some potentially exciting rookies.
Here is my preview along with some predictions for the Division that is battle ground for some of the most storied franchises in the entire NFL.
1. Minnesota Vikings
This is virtually the same team which was one Brett Favre interception from the Super Bowl. The Favre retirement drama has naturally played itself out and culminated with Favre being talked into returning for another shot at glory. With all that being said, Favre is an upgrade over Tavaris Jackson and does give the Vikings their best chance to win. He has a host of offensive weapons including the best RB in the division in Adrian Peterson as well as WR’s Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, and Bernard Berrian. Rice is currently injured and Harvin is still plagued my migraine headaches so this could hinder the Vikings to a degree.
What will help the Vikings overcome any offensive short comings is the fact they have a shut down defense. Led by DE Jared Allen along with the “Williams Wall” of Kevin and Pat Williams the Vikings will haunt the nightmares of NFL quarterbacks.
If the Vikings stay healthy they should win this division again. They will be tested however. Favre is going to have to have another monster year and if he does the Vikings could get another shot at that elusive Super Bowl.
My prediction – 12-4 record with a second straight division crown.
2. Green Bay Packers
The one thing the Packers have in their favor is Aaron Rodgers. He is the premier QB in the North Division. Their WR core is aging but solid with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver doing most of the work. They also have a very serviceable RB in Ryan Grant who is not flashy but is dangerous. Throw in TE Jermichael Finley and the Packers should have no problem scoring points.
The Packers will challenge the Vikings for the stingiest defense within the North. They took a serious hit however when free agent DE Johnny Jolley was suspended. They still boast a great LB tandem in A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett. Their secondary is led by veteran Charles Woodson who is still a playmaker.
The Packers are an extremely talented team. They need Rodgers to take that proverbial next step if they are going to get out of the Vikings’ shadow.
My prediction – 11-5 record and a Wild Card spot in the Playoffs.
3. Chicago Bears
The Bears are a team in chaos. Coach Lovie Smith’s job is on the line, and if the team gets off to a slow start he could be gone by mid-season. The Bears finally have a franchise QB in Jay Cutler, but they seemingly have no idea how to use him. In hopes of maximizing Cutler’s ability, offensive guru Mike Martz was brought in to run the offense. Cutler has an unproven WR core with Johnny Knox being the only true weapon. If Smith can put his ego aside and let Martz use WR Devin Hester like he wants, Hester could shine. The Bears also brought in Chester Taylor to help Matt Forte who appears to be healthy and ready to have a rebound year. The offensive line is a huge question mark however, and Cutler could spend the majority of the season running for his life.
The Bears’ defense should be improved with the addition of free agent Julius Peppers and the return of Brian Urlacher. Tommie Harris needs to step up his game if the Bears want to be competitive. The secondary is sketchy at best, but rookie S Major Wright should be an upgrade.
There are just too many question marks for this team to be successful. It is either the Playoffs or bust for Lovie Smith, and unfortunately I think it will be more bust.
My prediction – 8-8 record and a fourth straight season without a Playoff appearance.
4. Detroit Lions
The Lions are an intriguing team. They have made improvements is several areas including the offensive line. QB Matthew Stafford though hampered by injuries proved he had the leadership skills to be successful in the NFL. The Lions have done a great job providing Stafford with multiple targets including WR’s Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson along with new TE Tony Scheffler. The Lions’ running game is unproven with rookie Jahvid Best going to get most of the carries. However, he could turn out to be an electric RB.
The Lions’ defense should be greatly improved as well with the additions of DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and DT Corey Williams. The Lions also traded for CB Chris Houston in an effort to shore up the secondary.
The Lions are going to be a highly competitive team. They are pretty young at the majority of the skilled positions. They will go as far as Matthew Stafford can take them. Should he go down to an injury the team will likely be dead in the water. I think the Lions will surprise a lot of teams across the NFL, but I believe they are still a year away from competing for a Playoff spot.
My prediction – 7-9 record but with the potential to finish with as high as a 10-6 record.