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The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will fight for the NFC North crown once the NFL Regular Season starts this week. Although there’s plenty of love to go around for the resurgent Detroit Lions, the top two spots in the NFC North figures to be a battle between Da Bears and the Pack.
Chicago could be a surprise team this season. Not a lot of Football analysts are talking about what a huge thing it is that WR Brandon Marshall is reunited with QB Jay Cutler. The pair was deadly in Denver a few years back. Green Bay is as solid as ever. MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be awesome, like he is every year, and the Packers bolstered their rushing attack by signing former Chicago star Cedric Benson.
NFL: NFC North Preview
Fist Game Odds: -9 ½ versus Indianapolis
AFC Divisional Finish: 1st at +425
Bears’ Offense – - QB Jay Cutler wasn’t very good in 2011, only 2319 yards and 13 touchdowns to 7 interceptions for an 85.7 QB rating, but that could change in 2012. Cutler is reunited with wide receiver Brandon Marshall and if the preseason is any indication, the two are going to be dynamite together again. Marshall will take pressure off of WR2 Devin Hester who, although has shaky hands, can take it to the house each and every time he touches the ball.
The rushing attacks might be as good as any in the NFL in 2012. RB1 Matt Forte will get plenty of rest because Bears’ RB2 Michael Bush is very good. Bush will complement Forte’s quick feet with his bruising, bursting style. Both Bush and Forte are good at catching the ball out of the backfield. That’s another plus. New offensive coordinator Mike Tice no doubt is going to make sure that the offense stays simple enough for the Bears to return to smash mouth Football since keeping the ball out of the hands of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford will be the way for Chicago to win the NFC North Division.
Bears’ Defense – - The Bears’ D is going to be good for sure in 2012. If everybody stays healthy, it might be great. LB Brian Urlacher needs to return to the glory days, or at least garner double-teams again, in order for the defense to flourish. Urlacher was terrific in 2011 when racking up a total of 102 tackles, but terrific isn’t good enough for one of the greats of the game. BU needs to be awesomely terrific. If he isn’t, then the Bears’ defense might suffer because teams will once again attack LB Lance Briggs or LB Nick Roach with double teams because they feel that they can beat Urlacher and the Bears’ front four because it isn’t as capable as it might be with Julius Peppers entering his twelfth season in the league.
The defensive backfield could be one of the best in the NFL if Charles Tillman stays healthy. Tillman will be entering his eleventh season in the NFL. Tillman still plays cornerback and the position isn’t that deep for Chicago meaning that if he gets hurt, things could go south in a hurry for the unit.
Green Bay Packers
Fist Game Odds: -5 versus San Francisco
AFC Divisional Finish: 2nd at +350
Packers’ Offense – - Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL. Drew Brees is awesome and what male Football fan doesn’t have a man crush on Tom “El Guapo” Brady, but when it comes to what actually happens on the field, nobody, not a single player, is as good as Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers was phenomenal in 2011. He completed an incredible 68.3% of his passes for 4643 yards and he threw 45 touchdowns to only 6 interceptions. That’s a 7.5 TD to pick ratio, one of the best in the history of the NFL. Rodgers also ran for 3 touchdowns adding yet another element to his arsenal. The surprisingly quick Rodgers figures to add to that 3 rush TD performance in 2011 since teams have to respect the audible skills in the red zone.
The rushing attack wasn’t very effective in 2011, but that’s okay because Benson will help in 2012. Immature but highly talented players, like Cedric appears to be, often change their attitude once they get into an organization like Green Bay’s. The pressure will be off Benson as well because all coach Mike McCarthy will want out of the plodder is 3.5 yards per carry or so.
Both starters at wide receiver, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings, could have between 90 to 100 catches, over 1500 yards receiving, and 10 touchdowns, or more, each. That’s how good both guys are.
Packers’ Defense – - If the team has an Achilles’ heel, it’s probably with their pass defense. Although the run defense was okay, allowing only 111.8 yards per game on the ground in 2011, the pass defense was absolutely horrific when giving up 299.8 yards per game through the air.
The Packers are going to have to get a lot of pressure on the QB from BJ Raji and LB Clay Matthews if they expect to be effective with their zone pass coverage. If GB switches to man to man, things could get dicey for the team when they face quarterbacks like Cutler at Chicago and Matthew Stafford at Detroit. Both of those guys have incredibly gifted wide receivers to throw to that will be impossible for cornerbacks Jarrett Bush and Tramon Williams, and safeties Charles Woodson and Morgan Burnett to cover in single coverage.
AFC Divisional Finish: 3rd at +160
Lions’ Offense – - Many Football analysts believe that the Detroit Lions need to get a running attack in order for the offense to really be great. That’s not necessarily true. All the Lions need is for WR Titus Young to become the clear WR2 while the amazing Calvin “Megatron” Johnson remains the best wide out in the game.
Johnson had 96 catches for 1681 yards and he caught 16 touchdowns passes in 2011. QB Matthew Stafford was equally incredible throwing for over 5000 yards and 41 touchdowns to only 16 interceptions. If Stafford can cut down the picks, and he should if Young can accelerate as the team’s number 2, then the Lions will average over 30 points a game in 2012 with or without a rushing attack. That’s how good Stafford and Johnson are.
Lions’ Defense – - The success of the Lions’ 4-3 defense is predicated upon the front four. If Suh, Avril, Williams and Vanden Bosch pressure the quarterback, then Detroit’s D does well. If, though, teams find a way to use the front four’s aggressiveness against it, by calling draw plays at strategic points during a game or simply double-teaming the interior and throwing over a rushing Avril or Vanden Bosch on the edges, then the defense will absolutely implode.
The reason for this is that outside of Detroit’s front four, and it’s only the starters on the front four, the Lions’ simply aren’t that good defensively. Detroit was ranked 22nd or worse against both the pass and the run in 2011. They play better offensive teams in 2012 than they played in 2011, including Atlanta, San Francisco, Houston and Philadelphia. The D will have trouble stopping anybody from scoring against it if the front four can’t get to the QB or maintain their positions when offenses run against them.
Fist Game Odds: -3 ½ versus Jacksonville
AFC Divisional Finish: 4th at -275
Vikings’ Offense – - There’s really nothing to write that’s positive about the Minnesota Vikings’ offense in 2012. The Vikings figure to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season and a lot of it has to do with the fact that the offense will be stagnating and horribly overmatched in virtually every single Minnesota game.
The Vikings are so bad that their top offensive player, Adrian Peterson, will most likely get 20 to 30 carries a game this season even though he suffered a horrible injury in 2011. Peterson won’t even get a chance to test the knee. He’ll simply have to go from Game 1. Percy Harvin is a good wide receiver, but not really great, while the other starting wide out, Jerome Simpson, was third on the depth chart at Cincinnati where he played last season.
Christian Ponder might turn into a reliable signal caller in this league, but he’ll have to suffer through another season playing behind a bad offensive line before doing so. The team managed to put up some points in a few games in 2011. Don’t expect a repeat from the unit in 2012.
Vikings’ Defense – - The unit was actually ranked eleventh versus the rush last season when allowing only 107 yards per game. Don’t expect the unit to be that good in 2012. Teams averaged 251 yards through the air against the Vikings in 2011 because Minnesota put an emphasis on stopping the run. The schedule isn’t difficult, but the Vikings do play tough quarterbacks like Luck at Indianapolis and Smith at San Francisco, not to mention Bradford at St. Louis and Schaub later in the season, meaning that the Vikings are going to have to pull away from putting eight men in the box.
Running backs could have some huge games against this Vikings’ D if they do pull away from the eight men in the box mentality. That’s not the only reason to feel sorry for what might happen to Minnesota’s D in 2012. Because the offense is so bad, the defense figures to break down this season much like it did last season when it allowed teams to score 24 points or more in eight out of the final nine Vikings’ contests.
NFC North Analysis: Green Bay’s pass defense might be in for a tough season. Not only does it face Stafford and Cutler twice, but it also takes on Drew Brees at New Orleans, Matt Schaub at Houston, Alex Smith with San Francisco, Andrew Luck at Indianapolis, Sam Bradford at St. Louis and Eli Manning with the New York Giants. That’s 10 out of 16 regular season games versus the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Packers’ pass defense is one of the reasons that I prefer Chicago on top in the division. The Bears have a tough schedule as well, but their pass defense is slightly better than Green Bay’s and their rush defense is definitely better than Green Bay’s. Plus, the Bears’ have a more malleable rushing attack because they can pound the ball with Bush and use Forte in the passing attack.
Detroit’s defense, outside of the front four, just isn’t all that good. They’re up against it versus exceptional quarterbacks and they play a few of them in 2012. Also, the Lions’ rushing attack isn’t anything to write home about. Minnesota will be one of the worst teams in the NFL. The defense has one great player in Jared Allen and a bunch of mediocre players while the offense has no passing attack and a running back coming off of an injury. The Vikings will be lucky if they win four game sin 2012.