2012 NFC North – Contenders and Pretenders
The NFC North. The Black and Blue Division. When we think of our division, we think of physical play, and intense rivalries. Obviously I’m a little biased, but I couldn’t imagine being a part of any other division. That being said, I wanted to construct my first Pocket Doppler piece reflecting on the NFC North Division this year and discuss who I think are actually playoff contenders, and who I think are pretenders.
Every season there are a couple teams in the division that rush out to great records giving their fans hope, only to dash those same hopes as the season wears on. See, in most sports the cream always rises to the top. The real contenders show their stuff in November and December. Without fail each year by the time weeks 9 or 10 go by, you can already start to see which teams look like they’re the real deal and will most likely be there in the end. Conversely, the pretenders also show their hands and start to lose games they have no business losing.
So here it goes. I’m going to list the division in order with how I think the teams will finish. Be gentle.
Green Bay Packers -
The Packers really control their own destiny. They beaten Chicago once already, and their remaining schedule outside of the Giants on the road, is pretty soft. Sure they play Chicago again and on their turf, but then they have the Vikings twice, and the Lions and Titans at home.
The Packers survived against the Lions despite being without four defensive starters and three offensive starters. They are much better against the run this year giving up 99 yards per game.
The Packers offense is solid, scoring 26 points per game. The only problem I see with the Packers offense is the running game. Once again this year it looks like the team relies too heavily on Aaron Rodgers. The Packers are 24th in the league in rushing offense. Sometimes I feel like the Packers are too finesse, and when the weather turns nasty, the teams that can pound the rock in the cold, wind, and snow will have the advantage. Also, teams with solid pass rushes are kryptonite for pass heavy attacks. I had the joy (sarcasm) of seeing this play out in person for both the Chiefs and the Giants game last year. Mason Crosby also has me a little concerned. When teams can’t rely on their kicker, it changes the whole complexion of the game. We saw this in the Lions game.
Bottom line for the Packers is they have the experience, the leadership, the coaching, and one of the best front offices in the business. As we saw in 2010, this team can survive a plethora of injuries and keep on ticking. My pick for the NFC North Champion is the Green Bay Packers.
Chicago Bears -
The Chicago Bears have really become our arch rival over the last decade simply because they’ve become more of a challenge than the Vikings. The Bears are as physical as they come. Their special teams are top notch, and they can run the ball, averaging 122 yards per game good for 10th in the league. Jay Cutler is an above average quarterback if given time to work, and finally has his receiving weapon in Brandon Marshall.
The Bears are built for bad weather, and we all know how bad it can get in the upper Midwest in November and December. They can run the ball and they stop the run. (8th in the league in rushing defense).
The Bears weakness is their offensive line. The Bears offensive line has allowed 34 sacks so far this season. They are 31st in the league averaging 177 passing yards per game. Jay Cutler is currently nursing a concussion suffered in week 10 and is expected back for week 12. The Bears are especially vulnerable to teams that can stop the run and pressure the quarterback as the 49er’s showed on Monday night.
The Bears schedule is a little tougher than the Packers in that they face the Packers at home before ending the season with two on the road at Arizona and Detroit.
I think the Bears make the playoffs as a wildcard, and their special teams are strong enough to win, but their offensive line will keep them out of the Superbowl.
Minnesota Vikings -
The Purple People Eaters. Our hated rival to the west. The Vikings have had a better than expected season thus far. Christian Ponder has raised some eyebrows with some early season solid play. Lately however, he’s fallen back to earth somewhat. Adrian Peterson is a man amongst boys. He’s a weapon of mass destruction. He’s one of those guys that can win a game for you all by himself, and that’s exactly what he’s done.
You can’t sustain success relying on one guy however, so I fully expect the Vikings to come slamming into earth starting this week. Their schedule is absolutely brutal from here on out. Starting this week they face a very angry Bears team on the road, have to play the Packers twice, the Bears again, then the Rams and Texans on the road.
The Vikings have been solid defensively, but overall they just don’t have the personnel to match up with the Packers and Bears.
Detroit Lions -
The Lions are an enigma. They have talent, but they lack maturity. As with most teams the players take on the persona of the head coach. Jim Schwartz is a fiery guy, but I’ve never been impressed with his leadership. His players have had plenty of off and on the field lapses in judgement, but there never seems to be any accountability. Throw in his confrontation with Jim Harbaugh, and I’ve seen all I need to see of him. The Lions will never progress under Schwartz, and in fact as many predicted they regressed this year. I’m not sold on Matt Stafford as well. I think he’s talented, but needs some good coaching. Until the Lions get some better leadership, they will continue to bring up the rear in this division.
I’d like to close this by sending out a huge thank you to Wally for bringing me aboard Pocket Doppler. There are a fantastic group of writers here and I’m very excited to be in such great company. Go Pack!