This year’s NFC North isn’t much different than last year and that’s a good thing. Hopefully for the sake of the teams in the North things end up differently. Chicago became an offense first team with a weaker and aging defense. Detroit struggled with late game mistakes, injuries, and suspensions (and finally fired Jim Schwartz). Green Bay never had Aaron Rodgers at his best and had several different receivers to choose from with none of them ever healthy at the same time while having a terrible defense on top of it. And Minnesota hasn’t had an effective quarterback since Daunte Culpepper pre-injury (and that’s been a really long time). Here’s how the division will look going forward barring any severe injuries to star players:
Chicago (12-4). Chicago has always been a defense first franchise. This is no more. Led by Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and the mercurial Jay Cutler, Chicago has a chance to do big things this year if their defense can come through. It’s weird to say, but the offense seems to be the sure thing this time around. But in a division with two other big-time offenses, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Jared Allen can continue to defy the odds and produce and the linebackers can stop the run consistently, this division should be theirs to lose.
Detroit (10-6). There’s many known commodities on this Lions team, and yet there has been limited success in the past few seasons. This team has the ability to be on the level of Dallas in the past few years or a step above closer to that of the Falcons (excluding last year). The talent suggests the latter, but much of their success could depend on how the secondary performs (especially at corner) and whether a second receiver can finally emerge from the shadows of Calvin Johnson.
Green Bay (9-7). Aaron Rodgers is back and healthy and Eddie Lacy is the real deal. With a deep receiving corps (even after the loss of James James), the defense will be left to step it up. Clay Matthews is ready to go and other defense stalwarts like AJ Hawk and BJ Raji are back as usual. The big help might be found from Julius Peppers if he can find any glimmer of a great career to date. Peppers fell flat on his face in Chicago, but he will be playing the outside linebacker and won’t face as much wear and tear. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields will take care of business on the back end.
Minnesota (6-10). All Day is back. And there’s still no quarterback. Matt Cassel is okay for a ridiculously good defense (which Minnesota is not), Christian Ponder is a decent backup but no more, and Teddy Bridgewater is still a question-mark if not a huge surprise as a first-round pick. Adrian Peterson will certainly have another big season and maybe even surprise in the receiving game, but Cordarelle Patterson needs to step up after an inconsistent rookie season. There’s just not enough talent on the other side of the ball to make a big push.