The NFC North is has been a competitive division the last few years and this year shouldn't be any different. It should be interesting to see how the division shapes up. Without further adieu, here a breakdown of the NFC North.
The Bears enter this year coming off a loss in the NFC Championship to the Green Bay Packers. QB Jay Cutler comes back with something to prove this year. He must be more a leader on this offense for the Bears to go to another level. Matt Forte is one of the most versatile RBs in the NFL. He should be able to produce more in the running game this year because of more stability in the offensive line, minus C Olin Kruetz of course. Also, the addition of RB Marion Barber should help him stay fresh down the stretch. Another former Cowboy, WR Roy Williams has come to the Midwest looking for redemption. If he returns to the form that he had the first time under offensive coordinator Mike Martz, he will be a good weapon for Cutler and help Devin Hester get back to more of his playmaker role.
On defense, the Bears are strong at LB with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. These two will be depended on to lead this defense as well as make big plays. DE Julius Peppers is a dominant force up front, but he must get some help from the opposite side or he will see constant double-teams. CB Charles "Peanut" Tillman has been a consistent performer. He must continue to play at a top-notch level for this defense to work well. The addition of S Brandon Merriwether will be an excellent one if he comes in focused.
The Bears should be good in the special teams area with returnman Johnny Knox returning kicks and punts. He will definitely be a huge asset to the Bears and their kicking game will be solid as usual.
Prediction: 9-7, 2nd in the NFC North
The Detroit Lions are the trendy pick by a lot of people to make the playoffs. Those playoff hopes depend a lot on the health of QB Matt Stafford. If he's able to stay healthy, the Lions have a great leader with an explosive arm. Pair him with WR Calvin "Megatron" Johnson and you have one the up-and-coming combinations in the NFL. These two could be special. At RB Jahvid Best needs to exhibit some more consistency. He can be dynamite at times and disappear at others. With rookie RB Michael Leshore out for the year(torn Achilles). Another guy that no one talks about on the Lions offense is WR Nate Burleson. This guy could be the X-factor if he stays healthy.
On the defensive side, the Lions have a good defensive line. DT Ndamukong Suh is a beast on the frontline and he has proven to be unblockable at times. Suh along with DT Nic Fairley, once he gets healthy, could be the new version of the Williams boys in Minnesota. The Lions picked up a tackling machine and a leader of their defense in MLB Stephen Tulloch. He must be up to his best, because the other LBs in Detroit are not up to par in my opinion. CB Chris Houston will be the big guy at corner, but other than him, the secondary is still subpar for a playoff-contending team.
The Lions should be pretty good on special teams with Mr. Automatic Jason Hanson as the kicker in the controlled climate of Ford Field. The special teams will be solid as well. This year will be better for the Lions, but they are one year away.
Prediction: 8-8: 3rd in the NFC North
Green Bay Packers
The defending champs return to the field to take on a league that will be gunning for them all season long. QB Aaron Rodgers proved that he has to be mentioned in the elite group of QBs with his outstanding performance last year. This year, he has his full compliment of weapons. TE Jermichael Finley and RB Ryan Grant return to an already potent offense that already had WRs Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. These skill-position players coupled with an excellent offensive line will provide big trouble for the league this year.
Defensively, the Packers have stars on each level of their offense. NT B.J. Raji was a wrecking ball inside last year. Look for him to put it all together this year as he comes even more to the forefront on this defense. He will have to be special with the loss of DE Cullen Jenkins to the Eagles this off-season. OLB Clay Matthews has been a beast ever since he stepped foot in the league. Matthews again will be a force this year, especially with defensive mastermind Dom Capers at the controls. CB Charles Woodson has completely revived his career in Green Bay. He will once again be everywhere on the field and he will be able to do that because of the emergence of CB Tramon Williams. Williams was excellent last year and I expect this year won't be any different. At S, the Packers may be depending on youngster Morgan Burnett to step in and play a big role. He may be the next emerging star of this defense.
The special teams are pretty solid in Green Bay this year. K Mason Crosby has been consistent and will continue to do so. WR Randall Cobb should be able to make an impact on special teams for the Pack this year. It should be fun watching the Pack defend their title.
Prediction: 11-5, 1st in the NFC North
The Vikings are a team that could go one way or the other this year. A lot of that depends on the success of QB Donavan McNabb. He's on a mission of redemption and it should be interesting to see how he transitions back the West Coast offense. His transition should be a little bit easier with RB Adrian Peterson present. Peterson is a beast and will be the workhorse on this offense, especially considering the strength and size of the Viking offensive line. WR Bernard Berrian, WR Percy Harvin and TE Visanthe Shancoe must step up to replace WR Sidney Rice, who left for the Seahawks this off-season.
Defensively, the Vikings are starting to breakdown defensively. The loss of DE Ray Edwards coupled with the average age of the remaining people on the line is troubling. The Vikings need DE Jared Allen to become the guy they brought in a few years back. At the LB spot, Chad Greenway just got a bigtime deal, so he's expected to produce at a higher level. For the Vikings' sake, they better hope he produces. CB Antione Winfield is still a mainstay, but as far as the rest of the secondary, the Vikings are lacking bad.
The Vikings have a steady core on special teams and Harvin can be electrifying in the return game. It should be interesting to see what becomes of this team this year.
Prediction: 7-9, 4th in the NFC North
Divisional MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Best Rookie: Derek Sherrod, OT, Green Bay