With the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints set to kick off the NFL season tomorrow, it’s time to break down the NFC North.
It’s a two-team race, which as a Chicago Bears fan, it kills me to say that.
And, unlike one of my colleagues, I don’t see any 14-win seasons coming from the North. That division got dealt a pretty tough nonconference schedule this season. Jets, Cowboys, Patriots and Giants … oh my!
Here’s my predictions:
- 1. Minnesota Vikings (12-4). Besides the injury to Sidney Rice, pretty much everyone is back for the defending division champs. So why not pick them to have the same record as a year ago? The loss of Rice is big though. People can say that Brett Favre made Rice, and that’s true to some degree. But don’t sell Rice’s talent short. He made some tremendous catches. If anything, Rice developed simply because he had someone who was at least a league-average QB throwing to him. Defense still looks tough, and linebacker E.J. Henderson is back and healthy. Looking at the schedule, I see a tough run of games coming out of the Week 4 bye, but the Vikings should make a run starting Week 9 against Arizona.
- 2. Green Bay Packers (10-6). I’m not as big of fan of the Packers’ chances to win this division as most people are. But I do think Aaron Rodgers has to be considered among the premier quarterbacks in the game. More than 4,400 yards, 30 TDs, and justÂ 7 INTs! And he’s not 40, so you know he’ll be around for awhile. Difference between Vikings and Packers in my mind: I just like the Vikings’ defense a little more than the Packers’ D. Minnesota is stronger up front, and it’s a more veteran unit. Of course, those guys have to hold up for another year, but I don’t think they’re over-the-hill.
- 3. Chicago Bears (6-10). I’m not completely sure what to make of this team, but I doubt it’s going to be good. Here’s what we know: offensive coordinator Mike Martz and premier defensive end Julius Peppers have arrived. Here’s what we don’t know: Can this aging defense ever stay healthy for a whole year? And what did they do to upgrade an awful offensive line? Can an offense led by Martz that relies so much on timing succeed with such a poor O-line?Â Will Matt Forte bounce back? Will Jay Cutler avoid throwing 20 interceptions? Just way too many questions on this team. One thing is for sure: They better go on a run early, because the Bears could lose their final four games (vs. NE, at Min, vs. NYJ, at GB).
- 3. Detroit Lions (5-11). The Lions are starting to look more and more like an actual NFL team. Strong pillars on offense and defense with receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. Have to expect big seasons from those two. Lot depends on the development of second-year QB Matthew Stafford and whether or not Kevin Smith and/or Jahvid Best can supply the Lions with a solid running game. Looks like Detroit is getting closer, but stillÂ a ways to go.
Sorry folks. Wish I could say I went out on a limb. I plan to write an NFL preview tonight or tomorrow looking at all of the divisions. I’ll take some chances with that one.