The NFC North Has Improved, But By How Much?

Scott KirstContributor IMay 28, 2009

LAKE FOREST, IL - MAY 20: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears participates during an organized team activity (OTA) practice on May 20, 2009 at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It was one of the weakest divisions in all of the National Football League last year, but it's on its way back up.

I'm talking about the National Football Conference North Division.

Now, the NFC North wasn't as bad as the NFC West, but the division was still pretty bad. However, there have been a few improvements that have helped the division get a little more respect.

First of all, one of the biggest news stories this offseason was the Chicago Bears trading for quarterback Jay Cutler. Not only does this finally give the Bears a legit quarterback, but it also makes them a front runner for the division.

The Bears' only problem is the fact they don't have anyone for Cutler to throw to. The only players other than running back Matt Forte that come to mind are tight ends Dwight Clark and Greg Olson and wide receiver Devin Hester.

The problem here is that they really don't strike fear in any defenders. You can make a case for Hester and his speed, but beyond that, he doesn't have the greatest hands. Speed means nothing if you can't catch the ball.

The Bears also didn't do much draft-wise. They didn't have a single pick on the first day and didn't really grab anyone's attention with their wide receiver picks in Juaquin Iglesias from Oklahoma, Johnny Knox of Abilene Christian and Derek Kinder from Pittsburgh.

Next is the Detroit Lions. The only way they can go is up from last year and the draft was their main means of heading in that direction.

If you haven't heard by now, Detroit's first pick of the draft was quarterback Matthew Stafford out of Georgia. Detroit didn't, however, take care of their offensive line needs, which may hinder Stafford's development into the elite quarterback they hope he can become.

They did give Stafford a weapon in tight end Brandon Pettigrew out of Oklahoma State, but it won't be enough. Wide receiver Derrick Williams from Penn State could also help Stafford out.

This team simply has too many holes at too many positions to do anything substantial next season. The only good news is that they only have to win one game to surpass their total number of wins from last season. Keep an eye on their Nov. 1 game versus St. Louis for that possible win.

The second most disappointing team in the division had to be the Green Bay Packers. While the change at the quarterback position made a lot of news, it really wasn't the problem. It was more the defense.

The Packers' defense gave up just less than six points per game more last year compared to their defense two years ago. This led to the Pack losing a lot of close games. Without those extra points, the Packers win the division easily with a 13-3 record and is the No. 1 seed in the NFC bracket.

They've since then rid themselves of all but one defensive coach and hired Dom Capers to bring the 3-4 defense to the club. They also drafted defensive lineman B.J. Raji from Boston College and outside linebacker Clay Matthews, Jr. to help with the transition. There will be a lot of questions on how well the new defense will work, but they're going in the right direction with it.

Some considered the Packers to have had the best draft in the entire NFL. Uncharacteristically, General Manager Ted Thompson traded back into the first round to pick up Matthews, which may have been why. It may have also helped he didn't trade away their No. 9 pick, which they used to draft Raji, Thompson having traded the Pack's first pick the previous two years.

Lastly, there's last year's division champs, the Minnesota Vikings.

A lot of what may happen this year will have to do on whether or not quarterback Brett Favre will actually join the team. If he joins the team, the Vikings have a good chance to win the division. If not, those chances are a little smaller. However, Favre is another topic for another article.

The quarterback position is what needs to be improved the most for the Vikings, though. Tarvaris Jackson probably isn't going to be any better than a decent quarterback and neither is Sage Rosenfels, who they signed in the offseason.

The other questionable position for the Vikings is at wide receiver. Bernard Berrian could possibly be their best receiver, which isn't saying a whole lot. They did draft Percy Harvin out of Florida, but there's no telling how good he will actually be. He could be amazing or he could be a bust.

There are a lot of questions leading into next season for each team, but one thing is for sure: this could be a three team race. Because there are stronger divisions in the NFC, like the East and even the South, the North may once again have only one team represent it in the playoffs.

The North may have added some new big names to its rosters, but it may not be enough to counter what the other divisions already have.