It’s time for the NFC North, formerly known as the NFC Central and as the Black and Blue Division because of how the bitter rivals used to beat up on each other. This year it’s going to be one beating on the rest, and another getting beat up by everybody else. This division will go head-to-head with the NFC West and the AFC South, so between those two divisions the North teams are guaranteed at least a couple wins, right? One more thing real quickly, isn’t it weird to think about Tampa Bay being in this division? Almost as weird as Arizona being in the NFC East and Atlanta being in the NFC West. Enough said, let’s begin.
Green Bay Packers (13-3)
After being embarrassed by the Giants in the postseason, the Packers are going to be determined get back to the Super Bowl, and they have all the weapons to make that happen. Of course, it all starts with MVP Aaron Rodgers who threw for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns. The scary thing is he has a good chance of repeating that type of performance in 2012. He has the same weapons as last year, but he’s got a veteran center in Jeff Saturday to give him more time. The team lost safety Nick Collins and tackle Chad Clifton, and the defense has a few weak spots. But if Rodgers plays like he’s capable of playing, they should have no problem winning 13 games and winning the division.
Detroit Lions (11-5)
Calvin Johnson is arguably the best receiver in the league, and he has made it a goal to finish every game with 100 receiving yards this season. That’s highly unlikely but Megatron is coming off a season in which he finished with 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. So on average, he accomplished that goal. His quarterback, Matthew Stafford had an impressive 2011 season with over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns as he looks to add to his already-impressive resume. If he and Johnson stay together for their whole career, they’ll destroy the record books.
Unfortunately for Stafford and his Lions, they rely on his arm too much that they don’t have much of a running game. Jahvid Best has been prone to concussions and will miss the first six games, and Mikel Leshoure will miss the first two due to suspension. So it looks like desperate times will call for desperate measures. Just how desperate are the Lions? Well, the lack of running game will likely mean more balls to Johnson.
Defensively, the team lost corners Kevin Barnes and Bill Bentley, but replaced them with Eric Wright and Aaron Berry. Despite the odds being against them to win the division, the Lions have a great shot at sneaking back into the playoffs as a wild card.
Chicago Bears (8-8)
This team could very easily finish second in the North. They had no big losses on the roster, and they added several weapons including receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Michael Bush who will no doubt be more than insurance policy for the injury-plagued Matt Forte. He’ll get plenty of looks and will be a legit threat in the backfield. He’ll take pressure off quarterback Jay Cutler. Veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher had a knee procedure, and it is questionable whether or not he’ll even return to the field in 2012. Either way, it’s an injury sure to hurt the Bears. If he does return, he won’t be 100 percent, and his absence will leave a big hole to fill.
Minnesota Vikings (4-12)
If there’s anything this Minnesota teams is good at, it’s putting pressure on the quarterback. Jared Allen’s 22 sack total was just a half a sack short of Michael Strahan’s single-season record he set in 2001. Unfortunately for the Vikings though, they don’t have a whole lot more to write home about. Their secondary is weak, and so many question marks surround Christian Ponder who’s entering his second season. After going from two really old quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb, the Vikings thought they'd take the opposite approach and go for someone really young.
Ponder doesn’t have a lot to work offensively. His best receiver, Percy Harvin has made it extremely clear he doesn’t want to be there. The Vikings brought in Jerome Simpson (no, not related to Ashley or Homer either), and if he meshes well, he could be a threat to oposing secondaries. Stud running back Adrian Peterson did make the opening weekend after coming off knee surgery. Taking 17 carries, the former Sooner wasn't at 100 percent, which means the the Vikings will have their work cut out for them until he fully recovers. As of right now, their ship is sinking and they need a miracle. If Ponder can be what they hope, they Vikings might finish third in the division. That’s a big “if” though.
This post originally appeared on thehaguesports.com. Check it out for more clever sports commentary.