NFL Divisional Rankings: NFC North

Green Bay Packers

Offense: The Packers high octane offense is led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Last season he threw for 4295 yards, 39 touchdowns and finished the season with the number one qb rating. With Greg Jennings moving to the division rival Minnesota Vikings it could hurt Rodgers passing numbers. I don’t think it will, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones are all great receivers. Last season Jennings was hurt and only had 36 catches. Cobb had 80 catches, Nelson had 49 and Jones had 64 while leading the league in touchdown receptions.

Running back was the biggest weakest for the Packers last year. Alex Green led the team in rushing yards and he only had 464 yards. This year in the draft the Packers took advantage and added needed depth by getting Eddie Lacy from Alabama in the second round and Jonathan Franklin from UCLA in the 4th. Lacy won the BCS National Championship and was player of the game while Franklin finished second in the Doak Walker which is awarded to the nation’s top running back. If either of them stays healthy then the run game will see a major upgrade.

Defense: The Packers are rated 17th in run defense and 11th in pass defense. If they can improve those numbers they will be nearly unstoppable. Linebacker Clay Matthews had 13 sacks last season while Casey Hayward had six interceptions. First round pick Datone Jones of UCLA said that the Packer defense was “built for me”. If that is true then the Packers should improve their defensive numbers greatly.

Prediction: Aaron Rodgers is certainly the biggest piece in the puzzle but it will take more than just him to take the Packers back to the Super Bowl. The defense needs to improve and they are heading in the right direction based off who they drafted.

Minnesota Vikings

Offense: Christian Ponder is entering his third NFL season and he has the tools this year to thrive. Even though the Vikings lose wide receiver Percy Harvin, they added Greg Jennings from Green Bay and Cordarrelle Patterson from the University of Tennessee with the 29th pick in the 1st round. Both players need to stay healthy and make an impact right away. Another big passing asset is tight end Kyle Rudolph who won Pro Bowl MVP and with Harvin gone he is the leading returning reception leader with 53 last year.

Running Back is really where the Vikings dominate. Adrian Peterson came off a major injury and had the best year of career. Peterson averaged six yards a carry and led the league in rushing yards with 2,097 which was only 8 shy of the all time record. For most of the season Peterson seemed unstoppable and if he stays consistent or somehow gets even better he will pay big dividends for the Vikings.

Defense: Jared Allen is the face of the Vikings defense. He had 12 sacks last season, and even though he is already 31 he doesn’t look like he is slowing down much. The Vikings defense was ranked 11th in the run game and 24th in the passing game. They were able to draft Shariff Floyd 23rd overall and Xavier Rhodes 25th overall. Floyd was projected to be a top ten pick in some mock drafts. Floyd and Rhodes will be able to step in immediately and have potential to make the run and pass defense better.

Prediction: After going to the playoffs last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if they went again. It would be as a Wild Card since I don’t see anyone beating the Packers for the division. At most, I think they make it to Wild Card Weekend and maybe get one win in the playoffs.


Chicago Bears

Offense: The Bears have a lot of talent on offense and defense. It will be interesting to see if everything will click this year. Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte are the team leaders who will need to be at their best if the Bears want to make the playoffs. Last season Cutler threw for 3,033 yards and 19 touchdowns. Brandon Marshall accounted for an incredible 1,508 receiving yards with 11 touchdowns. If the Bears could just add one more above average receiver this years team could be special. Right now Alshon Jeffrey is the other starter and he could turn into a star quickly. Right behind him are Earl Bennett and Devin Hester who are solid backups. Really, they need a better third receiver.

That could end up being seventh round pick Marquess Wilson from Washington State. Wilson had some issues with Mike Leach that led from his departure from the school. A year ago Wilson was a 2013 projected first round pick. During his sophomore year he had one game where he torched San Diego State for 236 receiving yards. That was against third round pick Leon McFadden. Even though he had a long layoff I think that if he stayed in shape and has the right attitude then big things could happen.

Matt Forte had 1,094 rushing yards last season. Those numbers should go up as long as Forte stays healthy because they drafted Guard Kyle Long in the first round. Last season the line was the Bears Achilles Heel, so every upgrade helps. If Forte gets hurt then Michael Bush could find himself as the feature back. If Bush gets hurt or doesn’t meet expectations then Armando Allen or undrafted rookie Michael Ford would find themselves with a shot at the spotlight. Allen had 27 carries last year in which he averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

Defense: The Bears defense is very good. They finished 2012 ranked 8th in pass defense and 8th in run defense. Julius Peppers led the team with 11.5 sacks. Peppers is already 33 but he should have another good season in which he will be able to add on to his 111.5 career sacks. Tim Jennings led the NFL with nine interceptions last year. Paired with Charles Tillman who has 33 career interceptions they prove to be a very good pair who could shut down almost anybody.

Prediction: If everyone on the Bears stays healthy and performs at their best they will be very hard to stop. They could easily finish ahead of the Vikings but they could also finish in last if injuries set in. 2013 will also give us some kind of clue to if the Bears will be a challenging team in the future, or if they need to start rebuilding.

Detroit Lions

Offense: Last season I thought the Lions could win the division but I definitely still see that potential. The Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson duo is perhaps the best in football. Stafford finished second in the league in passing yards while Johnson finished first in receiving yards with an incredible 1,964 yards. The duo kept Detroit in almost every game last season. Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles are the other receivers. If Broyles can recover from his injury and do what he showed he can do he can become an impact receiver.

Detroit solidified their running backs by signing Reggie Bush. He will join Mikel Leshore who has shown flashes of being a star but who has also had trouble with that law which has led to suspensions. Last season Leshore had 798 rushing yards while Bush had 986 rushing yards for the Dolphins. I think that Bush will have a really good season and take the job. This could be the move that Detroit needed to make.

Defense: The Lions had the 5th overall pick and they improved their defense with it by drafting Ziggy Ansah, defensive end from BYU. Ansah is a pick that was made because of the potential they saw in him. He originally went to BYU on an academic scholarship and he didn’t walk on to the Cougar football team until his third year. He was moved to a starter his senior year (5th year in school) and picked up 4.5 sacks as well as leading his team to a bowl win. He will join Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Suh and Fairley had eight and 5.5 sacks respectively. They also have each had multiple suspensions. If they don’t get in trouble and play the best that they can then the defense could become one of the best.

Prediction: It could take another year, but Detroit is very close to being a powerhouse team for years to come.

You can follow Thomas Frey on Twitter: @ThomasFreyRP

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