The NFC North pushed two of it's teams into the playoffs last year, both with elite records of 12-4 (Vikings) and 11-5 (Packers). The question this year is if both these teams can repeat last year's dominance. Both the Packers and the Vikings had relatively quiet offseasons, while the latter half of the division made huge splashes not only in free agency but also in the draft. Will the Lions and the Bears be able to put any pressure on the NFC's top teams? Or will the Packers and the Vikings continue to dominate?
As most could have predicted the Lions will bring up the rear of the division. The Lions have improved tremendously in the offseason with the addition of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams, and Suh now holding strong on the defensive line. Their secondary did improve from last year with the additions of Amari Spievey and Dre' Bly, however the secondary may continue to pose some problems for them. Louis Delmas (who was a stud last year) is still there to provide his athleticism in the secondary, however the depth of the secondary will provide the Lions with still looming problems in the pass defense.
Offensively, the Lions brought in some veteran talent in Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler, and their draft day star, Jahvid Best at running back. The talent brought in around Stafford is great, however will Stafford be given enough time to find his newly acquired offensive weapons? This may be the question that determines the success of the season. The Lions have a lot of talent on their roster, but the offensive line may prove to be the downfall of the Lions this year.
Overall, the Lions are a work in progress and are headed in a very positive direction. They acquired a lot of talent in the offseason, however the lacking talent on the offensive line and depth in the secondary may prove to be the downfall of the season. My prediction of 5-11 is a modest prediction and it would not surprise me if they did better than this.
Chicago Bears: 7-9
The Bears, like the Lions, also made a big splash in free agency (probably the biggest) by acquiring Julius Pepper and Chester Taylor. Julius Peppers will provide the Bears with a much needed pass rush that definately lacked last year (they were 22nd in interceptions and 31st in pass deflections). The Bears were able to draft a very promising free safety in Major Wright which will provide the Bears secondary with a little more depth after releasing Nathan Vasher. The linebacking core looks solid if Brian Urlacher stays healthy. Overall, the Bears defense looks very promising for the 2010 season. The only question in the Bears defense will be if the secondary can hold up.
Offensively the Bears receivers are VERY young. However, this disadvantage may not be an issue if a certain someone doesn't throw 27 interceptions. The Bears have a solid running back core that under produced last season, forcing Jay Cutler to have to pass frequently (he should be used to this however after being in Denver). With the addition of Mike Martz the offense could look promising. However, the big question mark that no one knows the answer to is: will Mike Martz be able to bring Jay Cutler back to his pro-bowl caliber self? The success of Chicago this year is solely dependent upon the play of Jay Cutler.
Overall, the Bears defense should play well with the addtion of Julius Peppers. However, again, the success of the Bears season is all dependent on Jay Cutler's play. My prediction of 7-9 could easily go better or worse. At the best, the Bears could get to 9 wins. If things go bad, they could easily end up 5-11. The Bears have one huge question mark which will determine how the season ends up.
Minnesota Vikings: 11-5
The Vikings were an elite team last year and will remain an elite team this year. They didn't have to make many offseason transactions. They acquired CB's Lito Sheppard in free agency and Chris Cook in the draft to bolster their 'struggling' secondary. Defensively, the Vikings are set and ready to go. The only thing that can stop the Vikings defense is if they suffer the kind of injuries they did last year.
Offensively, the Vikings now have proven receivers in Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Bernard Berrian. At running back, Adrian Peterson is a monster who can only beat himself. His fumbling issue is probably one of the bigger issues for the team as a whole. They have a proven QB in Favre (assuming he returns).
Overall, the difference between the Vikings finishing the season 11-5 instead of 12-4 is a cold weather game in Philadelphia at the end of the season. Favre proved last year that he can't conquer the cold anymore, and with another year of aging, I don't think he'll be able to conjure a win on a cold night in Philadelphia December 26th. For those who care, I have the Vikings splitting the series with the Packers.
Green Bay Packers: 12-4
The Packers, like the Vikings, already had an elite roster that didn't need too many changes to be made. Defensively the Packers played well under their first year of Dom Caper;s 3-4 defense. Their defensive line is set even without Johnny Jolly. Linebacking core is strong. The only question on defense that could present problems is if the secondary can hold out the season. They did add a safety in Morgan Burnett through the draft, however the question will be: which secondary will the Packers show? The dominating force throughout much the season or the one in the playoff game versus the Cardinals.
Offensively, the Packers are up and ready to take any team into a shoot out again. Aaron Rodgers after coming off a painful 2009 season suffering 50 sacks, should get more time in the pocket this year with a healthy offensive line and a new offensive lineman in Bryan Bulaga. With more time in the pocket and an emerging star in Jermichael Finley, expect the Packers offense to put up huge numbers.
The Packers have a very comfortable first half of the season that will allow them to enter their bye week with much confidence. There are only a few games that could present the Packers with problems and that is away games at the Jets and Patriots. Other than that, the rest of the season should be very favorable for them.