Day 4 of breaking down the divisions leads us to the NFC North, the home of the Black and Blue division. The NFC North used to carry the label as the most physical division in the NFL, but I think you can safely give that title to the AFC North now. The NFC North has taken a turn from physical to wide open. This is now the league of the quarterback.
The Chicago Bears have been the poster for physical play throughout the history of the league. They have always based their play on physical defense and smash mouth running. Well times have changed. Today the Bears have a gun slinger for a quarterback and their defense is only a shadow of its former self. The Bears offense is headed by Jay Cutler. Cutler leads an attack that showcases two very young wide receivers Devin Hester and Devin Aromishadu. Their run game evolves around all purpose third year running back Matt Forte. The tight end Greg Olsen will return as Cutler’s favorite target and the offensive line will hope to improve on last season’s let down.
Defensively the Bears are still led by Brian Urlacher. When healthy he is still amongst the best in the game but health remains an issue for him. The front seven is also solidified by solid play from Tommy Harris and new edition 90 million dollar man Julius Peppers. These two should be able to put a little pressure on opposing quarterbacks with the help of Urlacher and Lance Briggs. The secondary remains the biggest question mark for the Bears defense but that will probably pick up with the quarterback now having less time to get the ball off to opposing receivers. Charles Tillman will lead that group to some form of prosperity. Special teams will be the key to the Bears success. They have one of the best kickers in the game in Robby Gould and Hester should provide some excitement in an expanded special team’s role.
Key players: Jay Cutler (QB), Matt Forte (RB), Devin Hester (WR), Brian Urlacher (LB), Tommie Harris (DT), Julius Peppers (DE), Lance Briggs (LB), Charles Tillman (DB)
Projected Division finish: Second
The Detroit Lions are the team looking to gain the most ground this season. They are going to be led by second year quarterback Matt Stafford. Stafford will be helped out immensely by a vastly improved running back core with Jahvid Best joining Kevin Smith in the backfield. The wide receivers are even going to be better this season. They still have Megatron (Calvin Johnson) and Bryant Johnson and added rookie Contrevious Parks to the mix. The offensive line will be ok but could use some upgrades.
Defensively the Lions have gotten immensely better. The front seven is arguably the best complete unit on the team. Anchored by first round draft pick Ndamukong Suh, and free agent signing Kyle Vanden Bosch the defensive line was upgraded a ton in this year’s draft. The linebacker core was also upgraded with Lee Campbell joining Landon Johnson. The secondary remains a question but free agent signings like Dre Bly are hoping to resolve that issue.
Key Players: Mathew Stafford (QB), Kevin Smith (RB), Calvin Johnson (WR), Ndamukong Suh (DT), Kyle Vanden Bosch (DE), Dre Bly (CB)
Projected Finish: Last
The Green Bay Packers bring the pain on defense and are a headache when facing their offense. The Packers have a potent offensive attack headed by Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has a plethora of weapons to work with. In the backfield he has a dynamic Ryan Grant. Outside at wide receiver he has explosive players like Greg Jennings and the savvy veteran Donald Driver. The tight end position will be crowded with talent as well as Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee battle for time.
Defensively the Packers are steady up front. They have Cullen Jenkins holding down the front four. The line backing core is headed by Nick Barnett with assistance from AJ Hawk. The Green Bay secondary is no slouch either. Veterans Al Harris and Will Blackmon team up with all everything Charles Woodson to keep things right in the secondary.
Key Returners: Aaron Rodgers (QB), Ryan Grant (RB), Greg Jennings (WR), Donald Driver (WR), Jermichael Finley (TE), Cullen Jenkins (DT), AJ Hawk (LB), Nick Barnett (LB), All Harris (CB), Charles Woodson (CB)
Projected Finish: First
The Minnesota Vikings are the most reviewed team every off-season since the addition of Brett “Lorenzo” Favre. The Vikings will start the season with Brett at the helm or it will be Tavaris Jackson. Either way they will be explosive. The Vikings also employ the best running back in the game in Adrian Peterson. (But I digress if the fumbling continues). The wide receiver stable is second to none in the division with B-Twice (Bernard Berrian), Sidney Rice, and the explosive Percy Harvin. They also have the most complete tight end in the league in Visanthe Shiancoe. The offensive line is one of if not the best in football today.
Defensively the Vikings front seven makes everything happen. Led by the Williams tandem Kevin and Pat make the middle almost irrelevant to opposing teams. A budding Ray Edwards is proving to be an unblockable force on the outside making life real easy for Jared Allen to just tee off on opposing quarterbacks. The line backers are not too shabby either. They are led by EJ Henderson if he’s healthy and Chad Greenway who makes play after play for that defense. The secondary is held down by corner back Antoine Winfield. He may be short in stature but he locks folk down.
Key Returners: Brett Favre (QB), Adrian Peterson (RB), Sidney Rice (WR), Percy Harvin (WR), Visanthe Shiancoe (TE), Kevin Williams (DT), Pat Williams (DT), Antoine Winfield (CB)
Projected Finish: Third