The NFC North is set to be one of the NFL’s toughest divisions during the 2012-13 season, despite being home to the lonely Minnesota Vikings. The Packers are the reigning kings, but the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions are certainly formidable foes.
With so much talent in the division, there is a good chance the North could see three playoffs with the Packers, Bears and Lions continuing their season past the first weekend in January.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers aren’t only favorites to win the division, but likely the conference and possibly even the Super Bowl. Dominating their way through the regular season last year, minus a Kansas City hiccup, the Packers were able to bring back the majority to key contributors.
The team lost center Scott Wells via free agency and cut Chad Clifton due to financial reasons, but replaced Wells with veteran Jeff Saturday. Clifton had fallen out of rotation due to his back troubles.
The Packers didn’t lose much in terms of personnel and added reinforcements on the defensive side of the ball via free agency and the draft. Key draft picks Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward as well as free agent signing Anthony Hargrove (after his suspension) and many others will have opportunities to not only make the team but improve the defense.
After finishing 15-1 and sweeping the division last season, the Packers should be even better in 2012.
Following their first playoff appearance in more than a decade, the Lions will look to get back into the postseason rather than start a new streak of missing out. The Lions are filled with talent on both sides of the ball.
Wide receiver Titus Young is a player to watch while defensives focus their attention on stopping Calvin Johnson. With good health, Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best could provide more stability for the Lions offense in terms of a running game. With strong cores on both sides of the ball and even more young talent, the Lions are in good shape.
This offseason, the biggest and most frequent news out of Detroit has been the legal issues hanging over the team’s players. Leshoure and Nick Fairley have seen their names pop up in legal mess. In addition to the off-field issues Ndamukong Suh has had his separate issues on field.
While the Lions are plenty talented enough to get back to the playoffs, composure will determine how well they do. If they can mature as a team, they will likely be back in the playoffs.
It seemed the Bears would be playoff team in 2011 before Jay Cutler broke his thumb and Matt Forte hurt his knee. They were one of the hottest teams in the league, but with those injuries crumbled and faltered down the stretch.
Not only are Cutler and Forte back in good health, the Bears landed Brandon Marshall in a big trade and drafted wide receiver Alshon Jeffery to finally give Cutler some legitimate weapons at wide receiver.
The Bears defense is continually getting older, but somehow they have been able to stay productive. Brian Urlacher has a few seasons left under his belt and will continue to be the heart and soul of that defense. Incoming rookie Shea McClellin will be asked to bolster the Bears pass rush in hopes of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The Packers are as close as you can get in the NFL to being a lock to make the playoffs, leaving the Bears and Lions fighting for wild card berths with other NFC foes. Coming in to the season, the stiffest competition for wild card spots will likely come from the NFC East. The Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles are all capable of winning the division, with the other team capable of earning a wild card spot.
While the wild card spots will be hotly contested, it’s hard to imagine any team in the NFC that is much better than the Detroit Lions or Chicago Bears other than the Green Bay Packers. The NFC North could very well send three representatives into the playoffs this season.
Michael is a sports writer currently attending Seattle University. You can follow Michael on Twitter .