Coming into the 2012 season, the NFC North division was regarded as one of the best/toughest divisions in football. Before the year had begun, many sports analysts pick three teams from the north division (the Packers, Bears, and Lions) to make the playoffs. Majority of the analysts picked the Packers to win the division, and the Bears and Lions to earn the 5th and 6th wild card slots in the NFC. But after the first six weeks of the NFL, there have been many surprises to how teams have performed thus far, and the teams in the NFC north division have been a great specimen to what fans of the league have witnessed. So I will break down the teams in the north division, talking about the team’s success or misfortunes so far, and then give my bold prediction of how they will finish the 2012 season.
- The Chicago Bears (4-1)
Not much of a surprise to see the Bears off to a quick 4-1 start. With adding key acquisitions on offense like wide receiver (and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s former favorite target in Denver) Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins in a trade, and picking up ground and pound running back Michael Bush in free agency from the Raiders, has this team stable on all three sides of the ball. Everyone in the league knows the Bears have the most dangerous, explosive, and electrifying kick/punt returner in the game in Devin Hester. So great special teams play to go with a proficient offense is a great formula to feed off a team who still lives by the concept that defense wins championships. Oh by the way, is an old but restless Chicago Bears defense that has scored more touch downs on the defensive side of the ball than some teams in the NFL has scored on offense.
Bold Prediction: Even with this early success, I still believe the Bears will finish second in the division with an 11-5 record. I still don’t believe in Jay Cutler yet as being an elite NFL quarterback. You can’t expect people to respect you when you can’t even give the person whose sending you the play calls any respect. There are many ways a person can be a leader, and shouting and screaming at people for their mistakes is not one of them. Unless Cutler can figure out all the issues he has with his lineman and offensive coordinator, I believe these troubles will come back to haunt Cutler and the Bears at the end of the year. They’ll still earn a wildcard spot in the playoffs.
- The Minnesota Vikings (4-2)
Next to the Miami Dolphins and every team in the NFC West (except the San Francisco 49ers), I believe the Minnesota Vikings are this year’s most surprising team to start the year, especially the most surprising team in the north division. Only the Minnesota Viking players and majority owner Zygi Wilf believed in this year’s team being a real contender. Not even the fans in Minnesota thought this team will be in the position they are in so far. But after the first six weeks to the NFL season, the Vikings find themselves only a ½ game back of the division leading Bears. If the playoffs were to start today, the Vikings will be in as a wildcard team.
The success of this team begins with their stout defense which is highlighted by key veterans: defensive end Jared Allen and corner back Antoine Winfield. But the more surprising part to this team has to be the offense and the emergence of second year quarterback Christian Ponder and the comeback of Adrian Peterson. In six games so far this year, Ponder almost has the same amount of touchdowns, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and completions then he had his rookie year after starting 11 games for the Vikings. His completion percentage has increased by 14% and his quarter back rating has increased by 22%. Now Peterson on the other hand has to be the NFL’s feel good story of the year so far. Last year, Peterson’s season ended early after he tore his ACL and MCL late in December. People thought coming into this year Peterson will never be the same runner he once was. But after 6 games, Peterson looks like himself having over 600 yards in total offense and is projected to have almost 1300 rushing yards by the end of this year. I believe both Ponder and Peterson will be in competition with each other for the 2012 comeback player of the year award. But that’s not even mentioning the MVP of the team and may be the MVP of the league, Mr. Do it all himself, wide receiver Percy Harvin. He catches passes and can get you yards after catch. He can run the ball from the backfield or on reverses. And he returns punts and kickoffs for touchdowns when his name is called. He has been the Vikings most productive player, and staying healthy is been a plus for him and his team.
Bold Prediction: With all the optimism going around Minnesota these days, I believe it will eventually die down and the Minnesota Vikings will find themselves with a 9-7 record to end the year and just missing the playoffs. They’re still too young, and as a team I believe they are one big name wide receiver away to compliment Percy Harvin from being an explosive offense and a true contender.
- The Green Bay Packers (3-3)
So much for the Green Bay Packers starting last year 14-0 and having an unstoppable offense. Before week sixes dismantling of the Houston Texans, its safe to say that the key players on the Packers offense have under achieved tremendously compared to their statistics last year. With Greg Jennings out with an injury, people wanted to know who would be Aaron Rodgers number one target. Jordy Nelson? James Jones? Jermichael Finley? After a 2-3 start, people started wondering if it was time for the Packers players to push the panic button, as they were about to go up against one of the NFL’s best defenses and an undefeated Houston Texan squad. But all that fuel fired up MVP Aaron Rodgers as he threw for six touchdown passes, which three went to Nelson, two went to Jones, and one went to backup tight end Tom Crabtree. But from those players that were named, none of them has the potential and success that second year wide receiver Randall Cobb can have and has had with this team. ESPN.com writer Kevin Seifert wrote in article Wednesday that “Speaking Tuesday on his ESPN 540 Radio Show, Rodgers said Cobb ‘“is probably going to go down as one of the best picks in [Packers general manager] Ted Thompson’s career, if not the best.’” Cobb was the No. 64 overall pick of the 2011 draft, but remember, Thompson’s résumé includes Rodgers himself (No. 24 overall in 2005), along with Jennings (No. 52 in 2006), linebacker Clay Mathews (No. 26 in 2009), guard Josh Sitton (No. 135 in 2008) and safety Nick Collins (No. 51 in 2005).” That says a lot coming from your MVP quarterback.
Bold Prediction: Even with the slow start I still believe the Packers will finish first in the NFC North division with an 11-5 record (own tie-breaker with the Bears). We saw Sunday night what their offense can do to one of the best defenses in the NFL. As long as the Packers defense continues to stop the big play and continue to bring pressure to cause turnovers and give the ball to their offense and their MVP quarterback, I believe the Packers will be just fine. Let’s not forget the Packers should be 4-2 in the first place, just a bad call from a replacement referee has them sitting at .500.
- The Detroit Lions (2-3)
Probably the most surprising team in the division if you’re talking about a team having a disappointing start, the Lions find themselves less than .500 going into week 7 in the NFL season. The defense continues to give up free yards on penalties, and the offense has taken a big drop in terms of scoring touchdowns compared to last year. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has not look like the 5,000 yard quarterback from last year, throwing 4 touchdowns to his five interceptions thus far. And the Lions special teams have given up four touchdowns already, two on punt return and two on kickoff returns, which have practically loss the team two of their five games. But all this misfortune didn’t just come from out of anywhere . As a Detroit Lions follower my own self, I could’ve told you the Lions would have had started the year the way they have before this season even had begun. In the offseason, the Lions dealt with 7 arrests from four different players on the team. There was a stat on ESPN where announcer Chris Berman pointed out that 25% of the leagues arrests during the offseason came from Detroit Lions players. For a person who don’t like percentages, that means one out every four arrests had to do with a player from the Detroit Lions organization. My point is, before the year had even begun, the Lions were a team who lacked discipline. Even during spring training there were scuffles during practice between two Lion teammates that led to head Coach Jim Schwartz asking the players to go home for the day. Not being disciplined off and on the field can rub off to how your team performs during games, and it has showed so far for this season for the Lions.
Bold Prediction: Even with all the problems this Lions team has faced, they still find themselves in the top ten in the offensive and defensive categories in the league. Don’t get me wrong, this Lions team is one full of talent, that’s not the problem here. The problem is figuring out how all this talent can come together and produce as a winning club rather than filling up someone’s fantasy stat sheet. I believe the Lions will miss the playoffs and finish the year 9-7 at best. They put themselves too deep in a hole to come out of to start the year, with games still remaining on their schedule against playoff contenders like Atlanta, Arizona, Seattle, Houston, Minnesota, two against Chicago, and two against Green bay.