Wednesday night brought us the beginning of the 2012 NFL season, but with the rest of the league not playing till Sunday and Monday there is still some time to get in a few more predictions on the 2012 season. So on that note I broke out my crystal football and asked it what the future held for the NFC North.
The information came at me fast and furious. Apparently with the season starting the football gods didn't have any time to waste. Neither do I so if you want to know what's going to happen in the NFC North read on.
Green Bay Packers:
They won the Super Bowl two seasons ago, and went 15-1 last season (and should have won the Super Bowl then). With no real losses to speak of and that Aaron Rodgers guy at quarterback, there is no reason why the Green Bay Packers will not be the team to beat in the NFC North or the NFL for that matter.
Rodgers is the defending league MVP after throwing for over 4600 yards and 45 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He'll have some of the best receivers in the league to spread the ball around to yet again in Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones, and tight end Jermichael Finley. Second year receiver Randall Cobb could emerge as the man of the future for Rodgers with Driver likely to retire soon and Jennings possibly leaving Green Bay next year.
What will make the difference this year is an actual running threat in the form of Cedric Benson. Benson has been a solid and dependable producer with over 1,000 yards rushing in each of the last three seasons. He is not among the best in the league, but with the passing game the Packers have he is good enough.
According to total yards the Pack had the worst defense in the league, but that was largely due to teams having to pass so much in order to catch up. Against the run they were average allowing right around 100 yards a game (14th); they did a decent job of keeping them out of the end zone as well (19th; 22.4 pts/game).
Their leading tackler from last season is on the IR (safety Desmond Bishop), but with play makers like linebackers A.J. Hawk and Clay Mathews as well as future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson in the secondary the defense will be good enough--as long as Rodgers keeps the offense scoring.
The suffering finally ended for fans of the Detroit Lions last season thanks to an incredible season by Megatron, Calvin Johnson, and quarterback Mathew Stafford (who finally stayed healthy enough to live up to his potential). After one season fans are already talking Super Bowl. Can it happen? Yes. Will it? Not yet.
Detroit will have one of the best offenses in the league again (5th in '11) largely due to the passing game which should be even better this season. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew seemed to really come into his own last season, and Nate Burleson definitely benefited from all the attention Johnson and Pettigrew demanded. It would not be surprising if the speedy Titus Young or rookie Ryan Broyles ended up overtaking Burleson for the No. 2 spot by mid-season. Both are better players.
I'd say the lack of a running game is a problem, but the Packers, Saints, and Giants didn't have one when they won the Super Bowl.
The defense will need to get better though. The good thing is they have the players to get the job done; they just need time to develop and gel as a unit. Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch are a talented duo up front, but they sorely need Nick Fairley to start living up to his potential. Stephen Tulloch is one of the best middle linebackers in the game; his outside backers DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant aren't bad either.
I'm not a big fan of their secondary. I know they get thrown on a lot due to teams having to play catch-up. When teams are forced to pass as much as Detroit opponents are the poor secondary ends up looking bad. Aaron Berry needed to go, but he will be missed this season.
It looked like it was going to be the Year of the Bear last season up until Jay Cutler and Matt Forte were lost for the season. Without them the offense was shot along with their playoff aspirations. This season Cutler is back as is Forte, and they will have help.
The addition of Michael Bush and Brandon Marshall are going to pay off big for the Bears. Bush is a capable back that can give Forte a breather and will serve as a solid change of pace. Offensive Coordinator Mike Tice has talked about having two 1,000+ yard backs this season. With the two that he has that is entirely possible--as long as the line can open up some holes.
Marshall gives the Bears an actual receiving threat that teams will have to plan for. In spite of lackluster play by his QBs in Miami, he still had over 80 receptions and 1,000+ yards the last two seasons. With his old Denver teammate tossing him the ball again he should be back to 100+receptions and 1,300+ yards this season.
This may sound strange to say, but I think the defense will be the weak link this year. Brian Urlacher may be tough enough to play through the pain in his knee, but his play will end up being effected. History has shown that without him or with less than a 100 percent version of him, the defense suffers.
Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman will keep the Bears in games, but without another person stepping up and becoming a big time play maker (Major Wright? Julius Peppers?) the Lions and Packers (as well as a few other offenses) are going to eat them alive.
What is there to say about the Vikings? They do have some talent on the team, the problem is they don't have enough of it right now to really contest in a tough division.
Christian Ponder did an okay job during his rookie season in spite of the 3-13 record. The season of experience should start to pay off at some point this season, but that may depend on how well Adrian Peterson is when he returns or how well Toby Gerhart can do in his place. Percy Harvin is one of the best in the game, but besides him Ponder doesn't have much to throw to.
The problem for the defense is not the defense, but the offense. No matter how good you are if you are on the field a lot you are going to get tired. Jared Allen is a beast on the front line; linebacker Chad Greenway was something else with 154 tackles last season. Should they get an extra break or two during games these guys will be even better, and a few other guys could even start looking like studs (I'm talking to you Louis Delmas).
Do I have to say it? The Packers win this one easily. Chicago and Detroit will make it interesting, but expect the Lions to take a step back and the Bears a step forward. Minnesota has too many holes in order to be a real competitor.
Division Winner: Green Bay