The first of eight installments, this article previews the NFC North. Deemed one of the worst divisions in the NFL, the NFC North only had one team in the playoffs last year.
This year, the NFC North will be slightly more competitive. Here is how they will finish:
4. Detroit Lions
Unfortunately, picking up Matthew Stafford will not help the Lions win the division. They will, however, win some games this year. If they stick with Stafford all year, they will do better than if Stafford and Dante Culpepper split time. Stafford will be a great tandem with Calvin Johnson, but they do not have the skills to do it all themselves.
On the defense, losing defensive end Jared DeVries for the season hurts the Lions. They didn’t really do anything in the offseason to boost a defense which was last in the league in total defense. The Lions picked up Grady Jackson and Larry Foote, which will help, but the Lions just won’t do well this season.
As for their schedule, the Lions have their hands full this year. The NFC North will play the AFC North this year. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Cleveland Browns will prove too much for the Lions. They will also have trouble in their division and with the NFC West.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Beginning with the Brett Favre controversy, this team has a lot of rebuilding to do this year. Yes, they have Adrian Peterson, who will once again carry the team. But, he still does not have a consistent quarterback to help him out.
This will once again hurt the Vikings.
The Vikings defense stayed relatively intact. This is good news as they finished sixth in overall defense last year. Led by the two Williams' in the middle and Antoine Winfield in the backfield, the Vikings only let in an average of 21 points per game.
The schedule for the Vikings is similar to the Lions. They will face the AFC North and NFC West. In addition, the Vikings will have to face tough teams such as the New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers.
This will create some trouble for the Vikings.
Picking up Jay Cutler in the offseason was the best move the Chicago Bears made. He will pick up an offense that finished 26th overall last season. Matt Forte and Kevin Jones should pick up their game this year and provide a steady offense behind Cutler.
The Chicago Bears have had one consistency the past 10 or more years: their defense. They return most of their defense from last year, including the leader Brian Urlacher. Most of the positions are split between people or up for grabs, so the competition will only help the depth of the team.
Devin Hester still adds that special kick returner dimension to this team.
The schedule slightly favors the Chicago Bears over the others in the division. In addition to the AFC North and NFC West, the Bears will face the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons. They will be in good shape if they split those games.
Last year, the toughest challenge for the Green Bay Packers was to back up their quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The team and the fans had trouble rooting for the guy that “drove away Brett Favre.”
This year, however, is a different story. The town and team are 100 percent behind Rodgers. This will help his confidence and his play to dynamic wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.
On defense, the Packers return their secondary, which finished 12th last year. They also had as many interceptions as touchdowns given up at 22. The Packers defense changed to a three-four scheme this year. This allows AJ Hawk to go back to his middle linebacker role alongside Nick Barnett.
Of the three NFC North teams fighting for a playoff berth, the Packers have the most favorable schedule. They face the AFC North and NFC West, but will face Cincinnati, Baltimore, Seattle, and San Francisco at home. They face the Dallas Cowboys at home and go on the road to Tampa Bay.
The Green Bay Packers will win the NFC North this year.