With Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and Christian Ponder, the NFC North has the best quarterbacks of any division in the NFL. In 2011, Stafford and Rodgers put up monster years, Jay Cutler played some of his best football before getting hurt and Christian Ponder asserted himself as the Minnesota Vikings franchise quarterback.
With so much talent at the quarterback position, the NFC North should feature some high-flying games with great offensive performances.
It was a tough year for the Minnesota Vikings, but Christian Ponder showed that he may just have what it takes to be a successful NFL quarterback. He doesn't appear to be a superstar talent, but if built around properly (Adrian Peterson certainly helps), Ponder will likely stick as the face of the Vikings' franchise.
I expect Ponder to take steps forward in his second season, but just like the Vikings as a team, Ponder still has a ways to go. Peterson will be a big key to Ponder's success. If AP can come back fully healthy, it will take tons of pressure off Ponder.
Ponder also will need to stay healthy and off the ground. The Vikings gave up 49 sacks last season, the sixth-most in the NFL. Ponder was sacked 30 times. With the draft, the Vikings should be able to improve their offensive line and keep Ponder off the turf.
Prediction: 3,225 yards, 20 TD, 14 INT, 57 percent completion
Jay Cutler was playing the best football of his career before he broke his thumb attempting to make a tackle after an interception. If Cutler can return to that form, with the addition of Brandon Marshall, look out for Cutler in 2012.
The Bears offense should be even better than last year, with many of the pieces still in place, including Matt Forte (assuming his contract isn't an issue). Much like Ponder, a big portion of Cutler's success will come from how well the Bears' offensive line plays. Cutler played well despite sub-par play from the offensive line the last two seasons, so any improvement will be big.
With how crowded the NFC North is, the Bears will need Cutler to be on top of his game in order to jump the Lions or Packers to get back into the playoffs. Cutler will be good, but once again, the Bears' offensive line and Cutler's turnovers will be the Bears' downfall.
Prediction: 4,075 yards, 24 TD, 17 INT, 61 percent completion
Matthew Stafford put up huge numbers last season, helped by a five-touchdown, 520-yard performance in the regular-season finale against Green Bay. While the big numbers helped pad Stafford's stats slightly, don't let that take away from what he accomplished in 2011.
Stafford took a big leap from his first two years in the league, most notably by staying relatively healthy and playing in all 16 games.
With confidence carrying over from last year, 2012 should be a big year for Stafford and the Lions, as they try to take the next step and win a playoff game or two, or more. In many other divisions, the Lions would have a good shot at winning a title.
Stafford will help the Lions prove that they weren't one-hit wonders. I expect Stafford to play well, but his numbers will be slightly below last year's, and the Lions will finish second in the division and face a tough road in the playoffs.
Prediction: 4,550 yards, 35 TD, 15 INT, 62.5 percent completion
Aaron Rodgers, last year's MVP, put up incredible numbers last season. It was a near-perfect season for Rodgers and the Packers offense, but two performances slipped away from them, including their season-ending home playoff loss to the New York Giants.
Rodgers has the best offense in the league, with one of the best receiving corps around. With so many weapons at his disposal and his drive to improve each season, Rodgers should be back in 2012 ready to put up the same high numbers in order to help the Packers win games.
If the Packers defense improves, Rodgers may see his snaps shrink toward the end of games as the Packers take big leads into the fourth quarter. Without a reliable backup, this may not be the case and Rodgers numbers may soar. But that much will be left to play out. I expect another big season from Rodgers, with numbers slightly down from last year.
Prediction: 4,875 yards, 43 TD, 7 INT, 69.5 percent completion