2012 NFL Preview: NFC North

For the past few years, the Green Bay Packers have been the master of the NFC North, if not the whole NFC. They followed up their Super Bowl win in 2010 with a 15-1 season in 2011. In 2011 though, it became apparent that there was going to be more competition in the division. The Lions made the playoffs in 2011, and the Bears were well on their way until injuries derailed their season. The other teams have improved, but how will the NFC North play out in 2012?

1. Green Bay Packers, Predicted Record: 13-3

While the division may be improving though, there’s nobody in the division like the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers put together an MVP season in 2011, and the scary thing may be that he is still hitting his prime. Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the NFL, and if he isn’t injured he has a good chance of winning the MVP again in 2012. Surrounding Rodgers the Packers have put together a great WR core. Whether or not it’s Rodgers who makes them look better than they are, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson are play-makers and we may even see an emergence by second year wide-out Randall Cobb. Pair them with Jermichael Finley and you have one of the most explosive offenses in all of the NFL.

The Packers defense had an intriguing season in 2011. They were one of the worst defenses in terms of yards and points allowed, but they were still the best defense in the league when it came to forcing turnovers. It was a little deceiving, but this team does have a lot of good play-makers including Nick Perry who they just added in the draft. The addition should free up Clay Matthews, who can return to being the sack force that he was when the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010. Among the best teams in the league, the Packers should be the favorite to win the NFC in 2012. After such a disappointing end to their season last year, expect the Packers back with a vengeance in 2012.

2. Detroit Lions, Predicted Record: 11-5

In 2011, the Lions made their first playoffs since 1999 and proceed to get man handled by the Saints. I see them improving their record by one this year, but there’s still some pieces of this team that I’m not so confident in. For starters, what we saw in the game against the Saints in the playoffs makes me very worried about this team, in particular their defense. They got lit up by Drew Brees in the playoffs, but even worse was Matt Flynn throwing for 480 yards against their defense in the final game of the season. They have a very good defensive line, but behind that their defense is very shaky and they haven’t done too much to improve it. The Lions did have a very explosive offense in 2011 though, as Matt Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards and Calvin Johnson proved he was the best WR in the league. You still have to be a little worried about the health of Stafford though. He had injury problems prior to 2011 and there’s no reason to be confident he’ll stay healthy again. In fact, here’s already gotten hurt in the 2012 preseason although he’ll start Week 1. There’s a lot of things to like and dislike about the Lions. If Stafford and the rest of their offense stays healthy though, I think the Lions can get to 11 wins.

3. Chicago Bears, Predicted Record: 10-6

As I said at the top, the Bears added Brandon Marshall and it will have a big impact on their offense. It’s a beaten point by now, but it’s worth repeating; Jay Cutler’s best year came when he had Brandon Marshall and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates in Denver. He now reunites with both of them in Chicago, and they also have Matt Forte in the backfield. They are going to have a very good offense, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they jumped the Lions and finished second in the division. The Bears were one of the best teams in the NFL in 2011, but when Matt Forte and Jay Cutler went down with injury so did the season. Their defense is getting a lot older, but they still have players who can make a difference. Brian Urlacher has been dealing with injuries, but once the season starts he vows to be there and at 100%. If he isn’t there though, you have to wonder how the defense will be without its leader.

4. Minnesota Vikings, Predicted Record: 3-13

With three good teams in the NFC North, there has to somebody who takes the beatings in this division. That would be the Minnesota Vikings. While other teams in the North have explosive players around, the Vikings are very thin when it comes to that. Their best player, Adrian Peterson blew out his knee at the end of last year and I’m not convinced he’s back yet. A lot of analysts have talked about how much of a freak and workhorse ADP is, but the fact is that this injury takes much longer to heal and the past tells us that he won’t be ready for another year. Without him, the Vikings offense looks even worse than it already did. Christian Ponder hasn’t shown any signs of being worth the position he was drafted at, and their best WR doesn’t even want to play in Minnesota. Things aren’t looking good for the Vikings, and their in for another high draft pick in 2012.

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