So far we have previewed six of the eight divisions in our countdown to the 2012 NFL season, and today we move onto lucky number seven: the NFC North.
(To view previous NFL previews, click on any of the following division names: AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC East, NFC South)
The Bears made a big splash this offseason, adding problematic wide receiver Brandon Marshall to an offense that had a serious lack of weapons for QB Jay Cutler. Now, the former Broncos teammates are back together again, and fans in the "Windy City" have high expectations for the two. The problem is, Cutler has had trouble staying away from injuries and Marshall has had trouble staying away from, well, trouble.
Projection: If Cutler can stay healthy, the Bears could be a real threat to dethrone the Packers at the top of the NFC North. Some experts view Chicago as a sleeper pick to go to the Super Bowl.
The Lions made a huge step forward last season going 10-6 and going to the postseason for the first time since 1999. While their improvement was evident, the team showed their youth throughout the season, committing immature penalties with players getting suspended for on- and off-field issues. If Detroit wants to be considered an elite team, the players will have to grow up.
Projection: Most of the major players from last year's team will be back in 2012, so the Lions' success will be determined by the young players on the roster continuing to progress. They should definitely be in the playoff hunt come the end of the season.
Green Bay Packers
Top Packers Games of 2012
The Packers entered last season as defending Super Bowl champions and were picked by many to repeat as champions. Unfortunately, after a dominant 15-1 season, the Packers were eliminated in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This season will once again see the Packers as one of the Super Bowl favorites, thanks to MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who should have another All-Pro-caliber year in 2012.
Projection: Green Bay has one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and when you have a QB of his level, you'll have a great team. The NFC North will be tough this year, but expect the Packers to sit atop the division standings at the end of the year.
Top Vikings Games of 2012
The NFC North is one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, but the Vikings won't be part of that. Adrian Peterson, the team's best player, is coming back after tearing both his MCL and ACL last season. The team's QB, Christian Ponder, is in only his second season and struggled most of his rookie year. The team also did nothing to really improve their roster. After going 3-13 last year, it will be another long year in 2012.
Projection: The Packers, Lions and Bears will all be in the hunt for a playoff spot, and the Vikings will be the team that the other division teams beat up on. There is no doubt Minnesota will finish at the bottom of the NFC North in 2012.