NFC North 2011-2012 Predictions
In the past decade the Bears and the Packers have won the division four times each, while the Packers have also been a wildcard team the past two seasons. The NFC North has been dominated for the most part by those two teams, that being said it hasn't been an easy task. The Vikings have been an up and down team in the past decade and now seem to be in a semi-rebuilding phase as Favre has "retired". The Lions have been rebuilding for quite sometime and that phase has been extended due to some draft mishaps, however they seem to have a nice core going forward. The North looks to be one of the most competitive divisions in football this season as each team has solid weapons at their disposal.
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
The reigning champions come into the new season with almost the same team just with some important members back from injury and look to be a contender yet again. The Packers have a great young quarterback in Aaron Rodgers ready to go with a solid core of wide receivers and the big tight end Jermichael Finley. Finley was absent for a bulk of last season and his absence was felt at first but the loss was lessened by the emergence of backup Andrew Quarless. The Packers injuries last season put the team in a great situation due to all of the lesser known players like Quarless, and even James Starks getting crucial playing time in which they shined in.
The Packers are fortunate to have a favorable schedule going into the season. They also don't have a tough second half, the potentially toughest opponents they could face are the Chargers, Buccaneers and Chiefs. The first half of their season could pose a challenge as their first opponent is the New Orleans Saints on the season opener in Lambeau Field. The Packers, two weeks later, then have to deal with the Bears in Solider Field, which is never an easy task. Another two weeks later they are tasked with the playing the Falcons in Atlanta as a rematch of the NFC Divisional from last year.
The Packers did however lose two players in G Daryn Colledge and ILB Nick Barnett. Barnett isn't much of a loss at all since the team already is stacked at the linebacker position but losing Colledge could hurt in the long run. Colledge and Josh Sitton were quite the tandem at the guard position for the Packers last season. The biggest flaw going into this season may just be the offensive line for the Packers, as it was last season as Rodgers suffered a concussion due to the amount of hits he took.
Player to Watch - Ryan Grant
Ryan Grant played in only one game last season, and he didn't even get to finish that game. He suffered a season ending injury almost halfway through the game and the running game suffered for the whole season up until the playoffs. With a healthy Grant the Packers offense then becomes complete, which in turn makes them that much more difficult for opposing defenses to contain. Heading into game days most defensive coordinators will want to focus on how to confuse Aaron Rodgers or at least slow him down, but if Grant can return to form defenses will have to account for him as well which then opens up the field even more for Rodgers. Grant is a bit of a bruiser and able to get the tough yards which would help the Packers especially down in the red zone where the passing windows are much tighter. We all know the Packers will win most games due to Rodgers passing ability, but a healthy Ryan Grant could sweeten their chances of repeating as champions. Grant in 08-09 had 594 carries for 2,456 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging about four yards a carry.
Player on the Rise - Morgan Burnett
Morgan Burnett was drafted in the third round last year by the Green Bay Packers and had an unfortunate shortened season. Burnett was another one of the many Packers last season that was placed on the injured reserve list. Burnett was only able to play four games last season before suffering his injury, in his short time playing he did impress. He certainly looks to be a part of the Packers plans for the future, and looks to have a bright future ahead. He and Collins could combine to be one of the top safety duos in the NFL if he can live up to his potential.
2. Chicago Bears (10-6) -
The Bears have a tough task ahead of them if they are to repeat as NFC North champions. The Bears first three games are all against Super Bowl contenders and will for sure show us all if they still can compete in the NFC. They will find that it is tough to reign supreme in the division as it has become a better division this year, especially seeing how the Packers got better. The Bears will always be in games this season due to the physicality of their defense led by linebacker Brian Urlacher and defensive end Julius Peppers. To help bolster the offense they added wide receiver Roy Williams and running back Marion Barber from the Cowboys. The Bears did also trade their starting tight end Greg Olsen, who seemed to have an abundance of talent but never seemed to put it together in the windy city.
Player to Watch - Roy Williams
In 4 seasons with Detroit: 245 Rec (61.25 per season), 3652 yards (913 per season), 28 TD (7)
In 3 seasons with Dallas: 111 (37 per season), 1556 (518 per season), 14 (4.6 per season)
Judging by those numbers, it is pretty safe to say which Roy Williams the Bears are getting. If Roy can go back to playing the way he did in Detroit he would provide a great compliment to the speedy wide receivers in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox that are clearly the favorites of Jay Cutler. Williams' size biggest benefit to the Bears will come in the red zone because of his big frame (6'3 215 pounds) even more now that Greg Olsen is gone and he was the only big target Cutler had. The Bears are also fortunate to have offensive guru Mike Martz back calling the plays and coaching the offense as he will surely bring the best out in Roy Williams. At least Bears fans can hope.
Player on the Rise - Matt Forte
Matt Forte is the most important piece to the Chicago Bears offense, he can get the tough yards on the ground and he can catch out of the backfield. He is the ideal running back in a Mike Martz offense, and it showed last year as he had career bests in yards per carry and catch. Forte has been fairly consistent in his first three seasons as he has been around the 1,000 rushing yard mark every season and has 18 rushing touchdowns in his career. Forte could have a bigger year this season as the Bears players have a year under their belt and are becoming more and more comfortable with Mike Martz offense.
Last season Forte had 237 carries for 1,069 yards and 6 touchdowns while getting 51 receptions for 547 yards and 3 touchdowns.
3. Detroit Lions (7-9) -
The Lions have quietly had one of the best off-seasons in the NFL with additions like linebackers Justin Durant, Stephen Tulloch, corner back Eric Wright, and drafting well. Drafting Nick Fairley didn't fill a need, but it does make the Detroit defensive line scary for the next few years and incredibly difficult to run on. The Lions also drafted wide receiver Titus Young from Boise State who adds speed to the wide receiver group that was lacking in years past. The defense for the Lions will be much improved this season and the only questions remain on the offensive side of the ball. The Lions offensive line continue to age and lack talent, and even more importantly the Lions need to stay healthy. Stafford, Best and Pettigrew all are key figures in the offense and all have missed time in previous seasons.
Player to Watch - Matthew Stafford
Stafford is billed as the franchise quarterback in Detroit and with an average offensive line but good wide receivers in thirteen games he has a 67.1 QB rating. That kind of QB rating won't keep a quarter back in the same town for a long time. Now granted, Stafford hasn't played a full season and has missed significant time due to unfortunate injuries so it's unfair to judge him moving forward. However, if Stafford gets injured and is forced to miss significant time again this season, then I have a hard time seeing the Lions continue to hold on to the hope that he is their guy.The Lions front office if they truly believed Stafford was and is their guy then they should do whatever they can to bolster the offensive line to protect their investment. No one questions his heart and toughness however, just look at how he won a game with a dislocated arm but he needs to prove to everyone he can play at a high level while staying healthy.
Players on the Rise- Jahvid Best
Jahvid Best had a great start to his rookie campaign as he scored multiple touchdowns in his first game. A few weeks later he suffered an injury that kept him in games, but less effective. Best was still able to muster up 500 yards on the ground and bring in 60 catches on the year. He certainly showed flashes and the ability to be a quality starting running back in the NFL. With Best's nagging injury behind him he looks to improve on his promising rookie season with a potential big season. He and Calvin Johnson are clearly the best (no pun intended) offensive weapons on the Lions team.
Best in his rookie season had 171 carries for 555 yards and 4 touchdowns while getting 58 receptions for 487 yards and 2 touchdowns. Even more impressive, he only coughed up the ball once the entire season.
4. Minnesota Vikings (7-9) -
Last year was a complete disaster filled with finger pointing and bad decision making by the front office on personnel moves. They may have been better off by not bringing in Brett Favre last year as he constantly caused unwanted drama, then you add Randy Moss not even midway through the season out of desperation. It was the perfect storm of bad ideas and it exploded in their faces as Brad Childress was ultimately fired, Favre might stay retired now and Moss is even retired now.
A year later, Leslie Frazier stepped in as head coach and seems to have the team focused. Minnesota also traded essentially nothing for quarter back Donovan McNabb. He may in the twilight of his career, but he still has enough in the tank to help the Vikings remain competitive in games. The biggest loss of the hectic off-season was WR Sidney Rice's decision to sign with the Seattle Seahawks. Rice completed the offense and McNabb would have loved being able to go over the top to him in the red zone.
Player to Watch - Adrian Peterson
Peterson saw a dip in carries since Brett Favre arrived in Minnesota, and now that he is for sure gone, expect Peterson to get an increase in carries. Even though McNabb is now in town as the starting quarter back, Peterson should see more touches which would also make things easier on McNabb. The loss of Sidney Rice and the average offensive line will most likely hinder the passing game, but Peterson's running game should be fine. After all, it is easier for even the worst of offensive linemen to run block instead of pass block. Peterson had a good season last year, especially when you consider the fact that he only had one fumble on 283 carries.
Peterson finished last season with 283 carries for 1,298 yards and 12 touchdowns while getting 36 receptions for 341 yards and 1 touchdown. Also expect Peterson to get more touchdowns this season.
Player on the Rise - Percy Harvin
Harvin has been one of the most talented receivers on the Vikings roster the past three years and now with the departure of Sidney Rice, he is in line for a career year. Harvin is a lesser version of DeSean Jackson as well, which McNabb had success with. McNabb has a strong arm, while Harvin can run faster then most defensive backs which could led to many big plays to Harvin this season. Having a running back like Adrian Peterson and McNabb should benefit Harvin greatly as it'll take pressure off of him. Certainly the Vikings will become a more run orientated team, and with McNabb being one of the top play-action quarter backs, Harvin should get enough separation on those plays for McNabb to hit him in stride.
Other Predictions for the Year
- AFC North 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the AFC North could pan out this season
- AFC East 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the teams in the AFC East could pan out in the upcoming season
- NFC South 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the NFC South will shake out this season
- NFC West 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the NFC West will pan out this season
- NFL: Predictions for the 2011-2012 Season
Detailed predictions on the upcoming season and a look at the potential award winners
- NFC East 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions of the NFC East