The Bears brought Jay Cutler’s favorite toy to Chicago to bolster the offense. Will it be enough to match the torrid pace set by the Packers and Lions?
1. Green Bay Packers
I’ll be honest. Writing these division previews is a dreadful task. After the NBA Playoffs conclude I typically go into sports hibernation. The only thing I watch on TV is Deadliest Catch and Sesame Street. (By the way, Sesame Street sucks. Did they really ditch cookie monster? He eats veggies now? I don’t want to live in a world where we teach our kids that cookies and fast food are bad things.) Anyway… The point is, I hate forming an opinion on teams based on draft picks, players returning from injuries, and free agent additions that haven’t even played a regular season down with their new team. It feels too much like guessing… unless you’re talking about the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers is a sure thing. When you have the best player in the NFL at the most important position in all of sports, well, yeah, you’re going to be all right. Green Bay was humbled in their defeat to the Giants in January. Rodgers took it personally. Whether or not Clay Matthews and the defense rebound from a really bad 2011 season remains to be seen, but let’s not pretend, the defense won’t matter much when the offense is dropping 30+ points every weekend.
DWC’s Take: Packers – How do you heal from playing your worst game of the season in the NFC Divisional Round? You keep the same team intact and play the 2nd easiest schedule is the league. I am also banking on an angry Aaron Rogers playing even better than he did last year and tearing through most of the league. I would like to see the defense get back to the level of play from two years ago because without the defense helping out, the Packers will once again be forced to rely heavily on Rogers and the offense (which isn’t such a bad thing).
2. Chicago Bears
I’m a total believer in the Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall together again tour. Don’t forget that prior to Cutler’s season-ending injury the Bears were right there with the Saints, Falcons and Packers as the class of the NFC. In case you’re new here, it’s hard to win in the NFL with a lousy quarterback. Once Cutler went down the Bears chances of making the playoffs went too. Combine Cutler’s return with a top 10 receiving threat and a happy Matt Forte and we could see the best Bears offense of my lifetime. While I’m slightly nervous how high I am on a team led by the mercurial Cutler and volatile Marshall, I still feel good about the Bears.
DWC’s Take: Lions – I would like the Lions more if they could run the ball and play defense. But oh well. Calvin Johnson is in a league all by himself. Even without a running game, throwing the ball at Johnson is always a good idea. He can out-jump and out-run just about everyone on the field. As long as he stays healthy (no reason to suggest otherwise) the Lions will be fighting for a playoff spot. Keeping Matthew Stafford healthy will also be critical to Detroit’s success as will getting some contribution from the ground game. More importantly, the Lions need better play from a defense stashed with big names but plagued by little production thus far.
3. Detroit Lions
This is very bad news for the other NFC divisions, especially my Eagles and the NFC East. You see, the Packers, Bears and Lions are all playoff caliber teams. In 2012, these teams will play the AFC South (insert snoring sound) and the NFC West (the JV of the NFL). Considering the NFC East will battle the AFC North and go head-to-head with the NFC South, there’s a strong chance the NFC North claims both Wildcard berths. Not cool. On the other hand, the Lions are a Matthew Stafford injury away from a 6-10 season because that Detroit defense is still a work in progress. And let’s not forget this a team coached by the emotionally unstable Jim Schwartz. If things start slow in the Motor City it won’t take long for the ship to start taking on water. (Fingers crossed.)
DWC’s Take: Bears – I say this every year as a disclaimer: I do not like the Bears and I do not see this changing. However, I did flirt with putting them above the Lions. They can run the ball better and their defense can stop the run as well. So why are they third? I still don’t trust Jay Cutler. He will either get hurt or play stupid. And while Brandon Marshall should upgrade the passing game, he scares me too. Additionally, the defense is getting old and who knows what the Bears will get from Brian Urlacher this season.
4. Minnesota Vikings
Hey, remember last year when I made the Minnesota Vikings and Donovan F. McNabb my sneaky pick to finish second in the NFC North and possibly claim a Wildcard spot? Yeah… about that… This year, I’m keeping the Vikings in the basement. However, I think Minnesota is taking the right approach with Adrian Peterson who is coming off knee surgery. What better way to prepare a player for the most physical game on earth than to restrict contact throughout the preseason? If Peterson’s knee isn’t good to go now, it won’t be ready when the Jacksonville Jaguars are throwing themselves into it in just 10 days. On a positive note, at least Percy Harvin showed up.
DWC’s Take: Vikings – The Vikings can’t be as bad as their 3-13 record. If you look up and down the roster, they have too much talent to be that bad. I fully expect the Vikings to be at least 2-wins better this time around. Christian Ponder looks like he can be a good QB and they drafted a legit franchise tackle in Matt Kalil to protect him. I also expect Adrian Peterson to bounce back from injury and Jared Allen to continue his all-pro play. Sadly, the lack of targets for Ponder to throw at (even if Percy Harvin stays healthy) and a defense solely relying on Allen to get to the QB every single play (which he can do) won’t get them far in this division. There’s simply too much offensive firepower in the rest of the division for the team in purple to compete.
For those keeping score, last season’s NFC North predictions:
Me: GB, MINN, DET, CHI
DWC: GB, CHI, DET, MINN
Actual Results: GB, DET, CHI, MINN
Score: DWC 1, Me 1, Fail 2