As our NFL preview continues, today we take a look at the teams of the NFC North, while also providing a pre-season power ranking of the division.
1. Green Bay – The Packers are obviously the top team in the division heading into the season with arguably the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers. With the loss of Greg Jennings, the Packers don’t have the deep collection of offensive skill players that they’ve had in years past, although Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb quality receivers. With the addition of rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay should have an improved rushing attack, which was well below average last season. There could also be some problems for Green Bay along the offensive line after the losing left tackle Bryan Bulaga to a season-ending injury.
Despite some of those questions, the Packers are solid on defense and with Rodgers running the show on offense Green Bay should be one of the top contenders in the NFC once again.
2. Minnesota – The Vikings may be on the verge of taking a step back, but with Adrian Peterson they have one of the most dominant players in the NFL who they were able to ride to 10 wins and a spot in the playoffs last season, and he’ll give them a chance to do the same this season. Of course, Minnesota won’t be able to rely on Peterson for everything, which is why they’ll need Christian Ponder to take his game to the next level in his third NFL season. The Vikings have done enough to give Ponder a good supporting cast around him; aside from Peterson, the Vikings added wide receivers Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, which should be enough to give Minnesota a more balanced offense if Ponder can prove to be a competent quarterback.
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Defensively, the Vikings aren’t in the best of shape, but they added two first round picks on that side of the ball, as well as linebacker Desmond Bishop. But despite some questions, having Peterson running the ball should be worth quite a few wins, and if the other pieces of Minnesota’s roster can put it together, the Vikings should be once again in the mix for a playoff spot.
3. Chicago – Entering the 2013 season, the Chicago Bears are in the rare of position of coming off a 10-win season while also replacing their head coach. The biggest factor in Chicago’s season will be whether new head coach Marc Trestman can help quarterback Jay Cutler take his game to the next level. Cutler has the talent and the marquee receiver in Brandon Marshall necessary to lead the Bears to another double-digit win total and possibly a playoff birth, but his performance has declined in recent years and he’s never been able to take that next step. Another big key to Chicago’s success in 2013 will be their offensive line, which was a disaster last season. The entire left side of the line has been made over with the free agent additions of Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson, while first round pick Kyle Long should provide a big boost to the unit as well.
The Bears were carried by their defense last season, and if Cutler and the offense can’t get it together, that may be the case again this season, although the Bears will no longer have Brian Urlacher to lead the way in the middle of their defense. Linebacker was a big point of emphasis this offseason, with the addition of James Anderson and D.J. Williams in free agency, as well as rookie Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene in the draft. Chicago’s defense should be reliable again this season to keep them in games, but Cutler is too untrustworthy on offense, which is why they head into the season looking like the third best team in the NFC North.
4. Detroit – The Lions have their work cut out for them in 2013, as they look to rebound from a four-win season in a division in which the other three teams all won 10 or more games last season. Detroit should have one of the best passing offenses in the NFL led by Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and a slew of other capable receivers, but Stafford and company will have to find a way to turn those high levels of production into wins. The x-factor on offense will be the addition of running back Reggie Bush, who could be used in a variety of ways and adds a different dimension to Detroit’s offense. Defensively, the Lions may have one of the most talented front lines in football with a trio of first round picks and one second round pick. If that unit can play up to its potential they could have a huge impact on the rest of the defense, which is average at best otherwise. Despite the questions facing the rest of the teams in the NFC North, the Lions still have the most to prove this season, which is why they start out at the bottom of the power rankings.