The NFC North could quite possibly be the best division in football. The Green Bay Packers went into their 2011 season as World Champions and both the Packers and the Detroit Lions made the playoffs in the 2011 season. The Chicago Bears were on their way to the playoffs until injuries plagued their team late in the season. The Minnesota Vikings are at the bottom of the totem-pole right now, but what cannot be ignored is that they have some of the best players at their position being Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen. All in all, the division has a great deal of talent and it will be interesting to see how the division race breaks down in 2012.
(2011 Record) 2012 Projected Record
1. Green Bay Packers (15-1) 13-3
The Green Bay Packers entered this off-season with many question marks at many positions. And although the Packers are not known for being active in free agency, they were forced to make some moves that brought in veteran Jeff Saturday at Center and Anthony Hargrove at Defensive End. Going into this draft in April, the Packers received an extra four compensatory picks (2 fourth rounders, and 2 seventh rounders), and have a total of 12 picks in April’s draft. The Packers still have needs at Defensive End, Outside Linebacker, Defensive Tackle, and if Nick Collins does not return, Safety will be a huge concern. A few names to keep tabs on for the draft in April would be: Andre Branch (DE/Clemson), Whitney Mercilus (DE/Illinois), and Nick Perry (DE/USC). With the 2011 MVP Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, everyone knows how dangerous the Packer’s offense is, so don’t be surprised if the Packers draft another Running Back as early as the third round and another Wide Receiver in the 4th or 5th round. The Packers are currently the early odds favorites to win another Lombardi Trophy but it won’t be easy with how difficult the division will be in 2012.
2. Chicago Bears (8-8) 11-5
The Chicago Bears were on their way to the playoffs in 2011 but injuries to Matt Forte and Jay Cutler hindered their record as they fell short of a post-season run. In this off-season the Bears opened up as the main headliner to free agency but is was not due to a free agent that they signed. Ten minuets before free agency started, the Chicago Bears traded two third round picks (2012 and 2013 picks) to the Miami Dolphins for Pro Bowl Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall. The enormity of this trade is just too huge. The Bears have not had a big name wide receiver in years and to top off how good Marshall is, he is reunited with his quarterback Jay Cutler. Both were a dynamic duo in Denver and were up there as a top 5 contender for a Quarterback/Wide Receiver combo. Other acquisitions the Bears had this off-season were: RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, WR Eric Weems, CB Kelvin Hayden, WR Devin Thomas, (re-signed) CB Tim Jennings, (re-signed) TE Kellen Davis, (re-signed) DE Israel Idonije, (re-signed) S Craig Steltz, and (re-signed) QB McCown, Josh. Entering the draft, the Bears will most likely target an Offensive Tackle, Safety, Wide Receiver, and Cornerback.
3. Detroit Lions (10-6) 9-7
The Lions finally made the playoffs in 2011 after a 12 year drought. Going into this off-season, Detroit has needs in their secondary, they could use help on the offensive line, and could use help at linebacker. When regarding free agency, Detroit has not been active in this off-season but they have re-signed many of their free agents. Going into this draft, players like Stephon Gilmore (CB/South Carolina), Janoris Jenkins (CB/North Alabama), and Dre Kirkpatrick (CB/Alabama) are all solid prospects at the cornerback position and one of these players may wind up in Detroit when it is all said and done. Detroit is a very talented team but they are an undisciplined team at the same time. They received many unsportsmanlike like penalties last season, Ndamukong Suh received a two game suspension after he stomped on a Packer player, and now in this off-season, Mikel Leshoure and Nick Fairely have both been arrested on charges of marijuana possession. The Lions must address this new identity that they have, and do something about it quick.
4. Minnesota Vikings (3-13) 5-11
The Vikings are still in their re-building stages as they enter this off-season. They drafted Christian Ponder last year in the first round, and he may very well be their next franchise quarterback. With that being said, the Vikings must start building around Ponder and protecting their investment. When addressing the offense in free agency, they have not been very active and have only signed Tight End John Carlson to replace Visanthe Shiancoe. As for the draft, many speculate that the Vikings will draft Offensive Tackle Matt Kalil from USC with their first overall pick. But the Vikings GM has come and stated that their is much interest in trading down from the 3rd overall pick. What ever they end up doing in April’s draft, they must identify their needs going in to the draft and hitting on them. This year is very important for the Viking’s rebuilding process, and if it fails, the Vikings could be on the bottom of the division for the next three seasons. Their needs going into this draft are: Offensive Tackle, Wide Receiver, Cornerback, and Safety. Their needs are very similar to that of the Chicago Bears. With the enormity of talent by the teams in the North, the Vikings could very well be at the bottom of the division at the end of the 2012 season.
Written By – David Rantisi- NFL Draft and NFC North Writer
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