NFL Goes Awol: NFC North Spotlight

Here we are in the black & blue division, the best division in the NFL from the top-down in my eyes. Green Bay isn’t too far removed from a Super Bowl victory after the departure of Brett Favre, and Chicago has moved on from a Super bowl loss several years ago with a guy named Rex Grossman. Minnesota bounced back from a 2-14 season to make a playoff appearance on the back of MVP Adrian Peterson, and Detroit is trying to make a similar comeback to the playoff picture after missing out on last year’s tournament.

The Green Bay Packers are likely the favorites to retain the division title, and they feel Aaron Rodgers can light up the scoreboard with anybody in a uniform. Jordy Nelson will need some time to get back in the swing of things, but James Jones grabbed double-digit touchdowns and Randall Cobb excelled under the lights. Perhaps rookie tailback Eddie Lacy can balance out the offense, but this is a passing team that needs to get a lead to put the defense in pass-rushing situations or else they will get sliced like in recent seasons.

The Minnesota Vikings don’t have the best QB of the division, but they’ve certainly done what they can to surround Christian Ponder with the weapons and to alleviate some pressure from A.P. Well maybe not because teams will undoubtedly stack the box, but adding Greg Jennings and Cordarelle Patterson on the outsides will put more pressure on defenses. Right now Kyle Rudolph is smiling because he’s set to get the most targets on the team. Defensively, Jaren Allen anchors a front seven that has added more depth to the line (Sharrif Floyd) and starting linebacker Desmond Bishop. Safety Harrison Smith leads a young secondary but last year’s playoff team has absolutely improved on paper.

The Chicago Bears just missed the postseason but the new coaching staff has the Windy City thinking big things. One of them, aside from the unstoppable Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall combination, is using versatile running back Matt Forte more. What this offense has done is give Cutler big targets to throw to while attempting to shore up a spotty o-line. This is a team known for the other side of the ball, led by veterans Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, and Julius Peppers. I don’t put much credence into preseason, but for rookies that’s all we really have to go by, and Jonathan Bostic is the man replacing the middle vacated by Brian Urlacher and has made some noise. This team loves getting down and dirty.

The Detroit Lions have a strong defensive line, and if they’re consistent the rest of the defense will look better. Alright, so now let’s talk about the interesting part of the Lions, the offensive side of the ball. Matthew Stafford can throw the heck out of the ball and does, and Calvin Johnson simply dominates, but everyone has their attention on the addition of tailback Reggie Bush. He gives the team a thousand yard back, and another weapon to utilize through the air. Another dimension for an already high-scoring offense, and guys like Brandon Pettigrew (vertical tight end threat) and Nate Burleson (possession receiver coming off injury) aren’t too shabby themselves. Maybe they can just outscore everyone else.

Every team is a believer with a bar raised high, and for good reason too. All four teams are playoff caliber and have been in contention recently. The Packers are the favorite because Arron Rodgers is the best QB in the division and arguably the NFL. I just don’t think they have enough playmakers to depend on for a deep playoff run, but I understand everyone picking them for the division. The Lions might even tote a better offense and they at least have a formidable pass rush, but they weren’t consistent and the secondary got torched.

The Vikings often get overlooked, especially since they don’t have a star quarterback. Some even believe Matt Cassel might eventually supplant Christian Ponder, however I’m not of them because I’ve seen enough of Cassel. The Bears though, they get more recognition than the Vikings do. The Bears are striving for that balance to help the offensive line and of course they lean on that prideful defense and special teams units. I do like Chicago more than most, they play hard-nose football in all three facets of the game and I think it’s going to work in terms of winning the NFC North crown. I think Matt Forte is going to explode and that defense will maintain their elite level of play.