Minnesota, Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago have each had their shining moment in the NFC North over the past handful of seasons.
Green Bay, of course, is right in the middle of the Aaron Rodgers era which means that they will be in the thick of things virtually every season.
Minnesota is a quality club, and Adrian Peterson is back and maybe better than ever following his season-ending ACL injury two years ago.
Detroit made the postseason two seasons ago with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson dominating defenses. Those two are still unbelievable talents.
Last but not least, Chicago. The Bears may have lost Brian Urlacher, but they still have talent up and down the roster.
Only the NFC West had the fewest losses by division (28) compared to the NFC North last season (29). This division will certainly be up for grabs once again.
2012 NFC North Standings
- Green Bay Packers (11-5)
- Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
- Chicago Bears (10-6)
- Detroit Lions (4-12)
Matthew Stafford and the Lions had a terrible year in the record department in 2012. However, they were a much better team than their record suggests.
Stafford held the league’s 2nd best passing attack, averaging 308 yards per game. The defense was a problem last season, but they even finished 14th and 16th in passing and rushing yards allowed. Not terrible, but not great, either.
So where were the overwhelming issues? Well, the rushing attack was 23rd in the league. That was an obvious problem. The solution? Detroit went out and got Reggie Bush. The former Dolphin is one of the best dual-threats in the league, and he still has all the flare you expect.
He’ll be a definitive upgrade.
But what about the close games? Detroit lost an amazing nine games by one possession last year, but is that fixable?
Finishing is something that is paramount in the NFL. The Lions finished in 2011, but didn’t in 2012. The difference is a playoff team and a team that finished 4-12. They need to be a better red zone team, offensively and defensively, to be more competitive.
Jay Cutler needed protection so Chicago went out and addressed the need. Jay Cutler needed more weapons on the perimeter so Chicago has continued to address that need.
Cutler has proved himself as a top 10 quarterback in the league when he’s healthy. But there lies one of the problems. Cutler couldn’t stay healthy last season because of a porous offensive line.
The Bears drafted offensive lineman Kyle Long as their first round pick, and he should help out tremendously.
Brandon Marshall led the Bears with an astounding 118 receptions. The next closest? Earl Bennett with 29.
Big discrepancy, isn’t it? Alshon Jeffery will be a main piece to the puzzle this season. He has played well at camp, and he has all the tools of becoming a top wide receiver in the league. He will be the x-factor.
Minnesota played about as well as they could last season. They were ousted in the Wild Card round against the Packers.
Adrian Peterson was a man possessed, rushing for 2097 yards and 12 touchdowns.
However, the Vikings will go as only their quarterback goes and that’s not very far. Christian Ponder is an average quarterback in the league and I can’t see him getting much better.
With a lack of weapons outside, Ponder passed for less than 3,000 yards last season. Now, in 2013, with even less weapons, he will be asked to face eight, nine, maybe even 10 men in the box when defenses load up on stopping Peterson.
Will he be ready for that? I don’t see it happening.
Minnesota has a tough non-division schedule – Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, New York Giants, Dallas, Washington, Seattle, and Philadelphia.
Combine these teams with Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit twice and I see a sub-par season in Minnesota.
Green Bay Packers
This is the best team in the division.
Green Bay has all the pieces to a division-winning season. Aaron Rodgers is right in the middle of his prime. Eddie Lacy has looked good in the preseason, possibly filling a running back void, and the defense has enough talent to be a top-tier group once again.
The kicking game was easily one of the worst parts of the Packers last season. Mason Crosby was a flat-out failure in 2012 missing 12 kicks in all.
Green Bay decided to stick with him and he’s played well thus far in the preseason.
If Crosby does start off slow, there are kickers out there who could fill the void. It’s certainly a cause for concern, but they could always pull the plug early.