The NFC North has had 3 different division winners in each of the last 3 seasons (Green Bay in ’11, Chicago in ’10, and Minnesota in ’09). Is 2012 the Year of the Lions? Probably not. Detroit hasn’t done enough to upgrade their defense while the Packers and Bears remain strong.
Regardless, the NFC North features some of the truly elite performers in the NFL, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
A look at the 2012 NFC North’s preseason Pro Bowl Team:
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay – Coming off a ridiculous 122.5 QB rating in 2011, Rodgers has established himself as the best player in the NFL. The Lions’ Matt Stafford, who threw for 400 more yards than Rodgers in ’11, is starting to nip at his heals for NFC North bragging rights but it is the efficient, mistake-free football that Rodgers plays that makes him truly elite.
RB: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota – Matt Forte of the Bears is probably the more complete running back but Peterson is still the bell cow in the North. There isn’t a DB or linebacker in the league who wants this guy bearing down on him with a full head of steam. If AP is fully back from his knee injury expect him to reclaim his spot atop the list of all NFL running backs.
WR: Calvin Johnson, Detroit – The 3rd straight player who can easily argue that he is the best at his position not only in the North, but in the entire league. Megatron finally put it all together for that monster season in 2011. He caught 96 balls for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns from Stafford and then got his big payday in the offseason. Expect more of the same from #81 in Detroit’s wide-open attack in 2012.
WR: Brandon Marshall, Chicago – Reunited with Jay Cutler and freed from wide receiver purgatory in Miami, look for Marshall to reignite his career. And it’s not as if averaging 83 catches and 1,100 yards for 2 seasons in Miami was that of a dead man walking. At age 28, Marshall is ready to once again make some serious noise around the league.
WR: Greg Jennings, Green Bay – Jordy Nelson might be the sexy pick here, or maybe even Percy Harvin, but Greg Jennings is a proven game breaker in one of the best aerial attacks in the league. A December injury kept Jennings from his 4th straight 1,000 yard season. The new streak begins now.
TE: Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit – In 2011, his 3rd as a pro. Pettigrew took the next step. He caught an impressive 83 balls for 777 yards and 5 touchdowns. Jermichael Finely could make an argument that he belongs here but Pettigrew’s work ethic and improved ball-catching ability made him a sure thing in Detroit in ’11, and puts him atop the list.
T: Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay & Jeff Backus, Detroit – These two have the almighty task of protecting 2 of the star quarterbacks in the league. Bulaga has emerged as one of the bright young tackles in the game. Meanwhile, Backus has been doing it for years, never misses a game, and has improved his pass-blocking along the way.
G: Rob Sims, Detroit & Josh Sitton, Green Bay – Rob Sims came in 3 years ago and filled the revolving door at left guard in Detroit in fine fashion. He is the best lineman on the team. Sitton is a rock in the middle of the Packers’ attack.
C: Jeff Saturday, Green Bay – Peyton Manning’s old triggerman now takes his 37-year old body to the trenches of the frozen tundra to lead Aaron Rodgers’ front line of protection.
DE: Jared Allen, Minnesota & Julius Peppers, Chicago – Allen and Peppers are two of the most feared and prolific sack masters in the NFL. Allen led the NFL with 22 sacks a year ago while Peppers tied Detroit’s Cliff Avril with 11 for the 2nd best mark in the North.
DT: Ndamukong Suh, Detroit & Kevin Williams, Minnesota – Suh was in the news more than he should have been a year ago, and not for the right reasons. That aside, he is a talented load of humanity and one of the few true game changers at defensive tackle. Kevin Williams is one of the league’s ultimate disruptors. He recorded 5 sacks of his own in ’11 and helps clear the runway for Jared Allen.
OLB: Lance Briggs, Chicago & Chad Greenway, Minnesota – Briggs is arguably the best defender on the Bears, and that’s saying something. He notched 105 tackles a year ago, forced 2 fumbles, and grabbed an interception. Greenway was 3rd in the NFL with 154 tackles. He also collected 2 sacks.
ILB: Brian Urlacher, Chicago & Stephen Tulloch, Detroit – Urlacher had 102 tackles and 3 interceptions in 2011 and remains the quarterback of a talented Chicago defense. Tulloch solidified the middle of a porous Lions defense by locking down 111 tackles, 17th best in the NFL. He also had 3 sacks, 2 INT’s, and 3 fumble recoveries. Green Bay’s Desmond Bishop is likely out for the year with hamstring surgery on the horizon.
CB: Charles Tillman, Chicago & Tramon Williams, Green Bay – Tillman racked up a sparkling 99 tackles in 2011 to go along with 4 forced fumbles, 3 INT’s, and a sack. Not many DB’s put up numbers like Tillman. Williams has quietly become a productive member of the Packers’ secondary. He has 19 interceptions in the past 4 seasons.
S: Charles Woodson, Green Bay & Morgan Burnett, Green Bay – Entering his 15th season, Woodson just keeps on doing it. He has set himself apart as one of the all-time great NFL defensive backs and 2011 was no exception. He notched 74 tackles, 2 sacks, and 7 picks. His running mate, 3rd year man Morgan Burnett, is nearly as deadly. Burnett had 107 tackles and 3 INT’s a year ago.
K: Robbie Gould, Chicago – My heart wants to go with the 21-year veteran Jason Hanson in Detroit, but Robbie Gould is quite simply one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL. His career field goal success rate is 85.8% and he has only failed to convert 1 out of 246 career extra point attempts.
P: Chris Kluwe, Minnesota – In a division not known for standout punters, Kluwe leads the way. His 45.7 yard average/punt led the division but was just 13th in the NFL.
Coach: Mike McCarthy, Green Bay – McCarthy’s Packers are the front runners to win the NFC North for the 2nd straight year and the future looks awfully bright in Lambeau.