NFC North: A Preview of the Toughest Division in the NFL

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NFC North: A Preview of the Toughest Division in the NFL
GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 19: Aaron Rogers #12 of the Green Bay Packers passes against the Arizona Cardinals in a preseason game at Lambeau Field on August 19, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

There are many divisions in the NFL that have, from time to time, held the namesake of the toughest and most competitive and for the most part have lived up to the hype.

In the past few seasons, the NFC North division has emerged from being dominated by two teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, and become a division worth examining closely.

Arguments can be made for the NFC East, AFC North and NFC South but when you dissect the teams and talent compiled within those respective divisions there seems to be clear and concise favorites amongst them.

The NFC North has morphed into the new and improved "black and blue" division and offers the most for your money.

It certainly helps that the reigning Super Bowl Champions call this division home but that doesn't guarantee that they will win it by default.

The NFC North is now a true grit division that has emerged from the status quo of years past.

Here is a rundown of the division and a prediction of where the chips will fall.

Chicago Bears:

 The Bears have always been one of the toughest teams that have played in this division.  Chances are things are not going to change much.  With a moderately tough schedule on tap, the Bears look to capitalize on last years success and avoid imploding in the playoffs. 

Jay Cutler, although not everyone's favorite, is certainly going to have more opportunities to become effective as the Bears quarterback. The addition of Roy Williams and increased roles from Devin Hester will certainly entertain and make defensive coordinators re-approach the Bears offensive scheme with more attention to the wide receivers.  New running back Marion Barber to affords Matt Forte the ability to have a solid back-up behind him and for the ground game to give defenses new looks with Barber's size and ability. 

The Bears seem fine in the defensive side of the ball and special teams is up in the air, until we can see how the new rules will effect the game overall.  With the pieces in place and keeping turnovers, especially interceptions down, the Bears look like a contender for the division although I see them ending up 10-6.

Detroit Lions:

We all know the story here.  Can Detroit go a whole season without the revolving door at the quarterback position?  There are high hopes in Detroit that Matt Stafford can stay healthy and if he does this team could be a very dangerous sleeper team that will be one to contend with. 

With a healthy offensive line and the threats at wide receiver in Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, the Detroit Lions are ready to start breaking out of the doldrums of so many past seasons.

The Detroit defensive line is shaping up to be one of the better lines in the division which will pose problems for teams that have seen issues protecting the quarterback.  The lingering question here remains the running back position. 

Can Detroit successfully have a consistent running game all season?  Although they will be much improved, the schedule will give them problems against teams outside of the division such as New Orleans, Atlanta and San Diego.  Overall, the Lions are headed for a possible best finish of 8-8

Minnesota Vikings:

Out with the old and in with the old.  Gone is Brett Favre, replaced by fellow relic Donovan McNabb.The Vikings are still going to be a team that goes as far as Adrian Peterson takes them.  Outside of a stellar running game there are lingering questions in the offense. 

Is McNabb going to regain his composure and play like he is capable or is another season like his last year going to be what Minnesota is in for?  Can Bernard Berrian rebound from a horrible season where he was a non-factor all year long?  Will the offensive line protect McNabb? 

There are many questions that remain to be answered however I don't think things will be as hairy as they are made out to be.  With a healthy Percy Harvin and Berrian leading the receiving corps and conservative play from McNabb should lend well to a heavy dose of the running attack.  It should be enough for the Vikings to dictate the flow of the game if they manage the clock well and are successful in there offensive scheme. 

The pressure here is on the defense.  To be successful the defensive line must step up and carry the team. If the Vikings want to recapture the success of 2009, they need to find that fire again.  Overall, Vikings improve to 9-7

Green Bay Packers:

I just don't know where the Packers glaring weakness is, other than traditionally having issues with the running game.  Even then, the team finds a way to compensate.  They have one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in the league.  Arguably the best wide receiving corps in the league, and an extremely talented tight end in Jermichael Finley. 

So they should just win the division and repeat as champions, right?  Not quite, I think the Packers would be the first to tell you that it doesn't come easy as last season proved.  Despite being riddled with injuries the Packers used there depth at other positions to carry them to a championship.  This year with a supporting cast of healthy play-makers there should be no excuse for them not to be the favorites to win big in 2011. 

The biggest problem they face is at the offensive line. The Packers are overall weak in this category as the preseason is showing.  Considering the west coast offense is all about timing, if the Packers cannot adequately perform and keep Aaron Rodgers off the ground, winning could be a challenge against tougher opponents. 

The same pressure is equally on them to provide room for the running backs whom do not have the same talents as other backs in the league to make something out of nothing. Defensively, the Packers are fine and this area shouldn't be an issue to worry about this year.  Packers finish 12-4.

As you can see, although the overall outlooks aren't anything controversial, the improvements all around by each team in this division is going to make every game as important as the next.  Don't expect to see a big difference between first place and last in the north.

Rivalries will intensify and the competition will follow suit.  The NFC North is back!

Black and Bluer than ever!

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