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NFC North 2013 Preview: Green Bay Packers Challengers Only Getting Better

Updated on June 21, 2013
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It’s hard to argue against the NFC North being the toughest in the NFL. Three of its four teams had at least a 10-6 record in 2012. One team had a top five defense. Another had a 2,000-yard rusher while the caboose of the group featured the first wide receiver to break 1,900 yards in a season in history. Still, the Green Bay Packers managed to wriggle through it all to repeat as division champions. It wasn’t nearly as easy, and early signs say 2013 may be even harder. Can the Pack hang on to their crown?

Detroit Lions – Reggie Bush overshadowing improved defense

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Fans practically cracked open a bottle of champagne when the news hit that the Detroit Lions were signing running back Reggie Bush in free agency. It’s true the team hasn’t been able to solve their rushing woes despite numerous attempts in the draft. The hope is that Bush, who averages over 1,200 total yards per season, is the solution. What a lot of people haven’t talked about, and should, is how improved the Lions defense is on paper since last season. They brought back safety Louis Delmas, a leader on the field, and paired him with former Texans standout Glover Quin to give them a reliable back end. Then they used the draft to add highly athletic defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and corner Darius Slay.

These additions could give Detroit something they haven’t had the past couple seasons, which is defensive stability. With the defensive tackle tandem of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh leading the way there should not be as much pressure on Matthew Stafford and the offense. On the other hand, if they can’t improve on their 4-12 record from a year ago, head coach Jim Schwartz is likely out of job.

Minnesota Vikings – Jared Allen sees hopes resting on Christian Ponder

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Trading Percy Harvin was a calculated gamble when the Minnesota Vikings began their off-season. They responded quickly with a flurry of acquisitions including Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings and three first round draft picks in defensive tackle Shariff Floyd, corner Xavier Rhodes and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. These talented players join a roster built to win immediately, given their wild card playoff berth last season. Whether it is enough depends on whom one talks to.

All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen believes the championship fate of the team doesn’t rest on the defense or rushing champion Adrian Peterson. To him it’s all on quarterback Christian Ponder. He does have a point. Late last season the Vikings capped their playoff march with an impressive showing by Ponder in a 37-34 upset of Green Bay. The very next week in a rematch between the two teams, Ponder did not play because of an injury. The Packers cruised to a 24-10 victory. Ponder must prove he can be more than just a game manager for Peterson like he was last year. He’ll have weapons to do it, but early signs hint he may not have the skills.

Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler is better armed, protected and coached

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A sad series of key losses kept the Chicago Bears out of the playoffs last year despite a 10-6 record. This failure marked the fifth time in six seasons they had failed to reach January since their Super Bowl season. That is why GM Phil Emery made the momentous decision to fire respected head coach Lovie Smith. He believes in order to win the Bears must change philosophy, and it begins with getting the most out of quarterback Jay Cutler. That is the mission Emery set out on during the off-season.

He signed two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod and drafted guard Kyle Long to bolster a weak offensive line. He brought in talented dual-threat tight end Martellus Bennett to give the offense a threat in the middle of the field. Most importantly he hired Marc Trestman as the new head coach, an offensive innovator known for his ability to coach quarterbacks. Emery, intentionally or not, has removed any excuses Cutler has left to not play well. The 2013 season is a contract year for him. He must prove he is worth the money, or the Bears have made it clear they are ready to move on. Smart money though says the team has enough to help him complete the task.

Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers hoping for help from Eddie Lacy

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Not much has changed for the Green Bay Packers. They still have a terrific drafting system, a good coaching staff and front office. Oh, and there is Aaron Rodgers. Their championship aspirations remain alive and well with him. However, it is clear his well being has become a source of discontent. No quarterback was sacked or hit more in 2012 than Rodgers. Part of the problem was a tell the defenses knew about the offense. Everyone in the stadium saw Green Bay wasn't going to run except for the sake of running. No rusher on the roster mustered over 500 yards last season. As a result Rodgers tasted turf 51 times. Those numbers need to change. That is why GM Ted Thompson struck early and often in the draft for answers. He scooped up Alabama bruiser Eddie Lacy who hopes to become the feature back for a team that hasn't had one since Ahman Green. His success will tie directly into how the offense functions and how healthy Rodgers stays in 2013. Otherwise the assumptions of another easy division title are sorely mistaken.

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    • EJ Lambert profile image
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      EJ Lambert 4 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Your reasoning seems sound, Juice. Every team seems to have the capability to win the division. The true wild card to me is the Bears offense. If they play like a typical West Coast system can then they could be a lot better than people realize. Green Bay is still the king until proven otherwise. I'm not sold on Minnesota like most people. One way or another AP is not having the same season he did last year. Detroit? Ugh. I just don't know. They have the talent but don't play like it. That speaks to bad coaching.

    • juice76 profile image

      juice76 4 years ago from Palatine

      Eddie Lacy looks like a 3rd down back at this point Green Bay's offensive line and defense need to improve before we can say they are elite. They did have a lot of injuries the last two years but still won the division the Lions are a mystery though they could be really good if their defense holds up. If Minnesota can pass the ball they will win the division and the Bears are a wild card they don't have the talent of the Lions or Packers but they have been healthy I really like the new coaching staff and some of their moves but they still seem to be the middle of the road team they have been the last couple of years having a losing record against teams with a record over .500 is never a good sign.

    • EJ Lambert profile image
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      EJ Lambert 4 years ago from Chicago, IL

      It's true the Pack don't have that aura of invincibility they had between 2009 and 2011. The 49ers flat-out bitch slapped them both times they played. Maybe it's me but I'm not convinced Minnesota is that much better than people think. I'm not a believer in Ponder and every first round pick they scooped up were droppers in the draft, meaning teams had serious doubts about them. As for the Lions, they certainly talk a big game but they rarely back it up when it matters. The Bears are a big mystery at this point. They have the feel of a team that can be really good or really bad. That is what a coaching change does. I personally think they will do fine, but anything can happen.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 4 years ago from Texas

      Very good hub EJ, the NFC East and North are probably the two toughest divisions in football. But you already know my opinion is extremely biased! The Pack are gradually falling off, Vikings are up and coming, have no idea what's wrong with the Lions, they have so much talent, Doesn't matter, My Bears will be victorious!!!