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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - NFC North

Rick Gagliano | July 18, 2012

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

2011 record: 15-1

Predicted finish: 12-4

Head Coach: Mike McCarthy

Departed: S Nick Collins, OT Chad Clifton, OT Chris Campbell, WR Marcus Rivers

Incoming: LB Nick Perry, DE Jerel Worthy, CB Casey Hayward, DT Mike Daniels, S Jerron McMillian, LB Terrell Manning, OT Andrew Datko, QB B.J. Coleman, G Don Barclay, RB Duane Bennett, G Jaymes Brooks, FB Nic Cooper

Strengths: Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. Led the league in points scored per game (35.0) and were third overall in passing. Rodgers has a fleet of capable receivers, led by Jordy Nelson, who caught 68 passes for 1263 yards in 2011, Greg Jennings and TE Jermichael Finley.

Weaknesses: Lack of a rushing attack. The Pack was 27th overall in rushing offense, led by James Starks, with 578 yards. Ryan Grant had 559, but the Packers just don't feature the run much, though it didn't seem to matter. The defensive secondary needs to be retooled after being torched for 299.8 yards per game in 2011, the worst in the NFL. That's why safety Nick Collins was released and Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian drafted in early rounds.

Key Games: Sun, Sep 9 vs. San Francisco; Thu, Sept 13 vs. Chicago; Sun, Sep 30 vs. New Orleans; Sun, Nov 18 at Detroit; Sun, Nov 25 at NY Giants.

What if?: The Packers find better coverage men in the secondary?

If the Packers somehow rework their secondary into a quality unit, it spells trouble for the rest of the league, because Rodgers and the offense will once again prove nearly unstoppable. However, the unit isn't likely to jell until later in the season, if at all, which means the Packers have to wade through a rough first four weeks and are likely to suffer a couple of losses.

The Packers have a trio of road games in a row come October, but they are against Indy, Houston and St. Louis, so a 2-1 or 3-0 record there is likely. In November they travel back-to-back to Detroit and then New York, both games sure to be big tests for the defense.

Green Bay looks poised to win the division again, and are many people's choice for the Super Bowl, but the defense must improve markedly if they are to advance in the playoffs.

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Detroit Lions

2011 record: 10-6

Predicted finish: 11-5

Head Coach: Jim Schwartz

Departed: S Sam Proctor, CB Aaron Berry, WR Troy Burrell, OT Quinn Barham, WR Jared Karstetter

Incoming: QB Kellen Moore, WR Ryan Broyles, DE Ronnell Lewis, LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Chris Greenwood, CB Jonte Green, LB Travis Lewis, G Rodney Austin, G Pat Boyle, DT Michael Cosgrove, K Derek Dimke, WR Patrick Edwards, TE Alex Gottlieb, RB Stephfon Green

Strengths: Offense. At 300.9 yards per game, the Lions were the 4th-ranked offense in the league and could have been the best if Jahvid Best had remained healthy. His absense for the final ten games made the Lions more of a throwing team and easier to defend, though Matthew Stafford and his wideouts had outstanding seasons.

Weaknesses: Defense. The Lions were sub-par in 2011, and there wasn't really one area which could be blamed. Overall, the Lions allowed 24.2 points per game and gave up 367.6 yards of offense. They were equally mediocre against the pass and the run, ranking 22nd and 23rd, respectively.

Detroit made some id-round draft picks for defensive players, but still need experience in the linebacking corps and secondary.

Key Games: Sun, Sep 16 at San Francisco; Sun, Oct 14 at Philadelphia; Sun, Oct 21 at Chicago; Sun, Dec 9 at Green Bay; Sat, Dec 22 vs. Atlanta

What if?: The Lions develop a credible running game?

They actually had one in 2011, before Jahvid Best went down for the season with an injury in week six. Should Best return healthy - and there's no reason he shouldn't - the Lions should have one of the best, and most balanced, offenses in the league, provided that Matthew Stafford and most of his receivers stay healthy.

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Chicago Bears

2011 record: 8-8

Predicted finish: 9-7

Head Coach: Lovie Smith

Departed: S Winston Venable, RB Alvester Alexander, CB Donovan Warren, OT Levi Horn, TE Andre Smith, G Reggie Stephens, DT Anthony Adams and OL Frank Omiyale, RB Marion Barber

Incoming: RB Lorenzo Booker, DT Nate Collins, DE Shea McClellin, WR Alshon Jeffery, CB.PR Greg McCoy, CB Isaiah Frey, TE Evan Rodriguez.

Strengths: Rushing defense. The Bears were the fifth-best in the NFL against the run, yielding only 96.4 yards per game, but that's probably because teams tended to throw more against them. They were 28th against the pass. Offense. Overall, when Matt Forte and Jay Cutler are both playing, the Bears are quite productive with the ball and have options in key third down situations.

Weaknesses: The secondary, age and moving parts. Chicago's secondary has been second-tier or worse for a few years and changes are underway, but adding bodies isn't going to help if everyone isn't on the same page. Also, some of the linemen, especially, are getting on in years and may not last the season.

Key Games: Thu, Sep 13 at Green Bay; Mon, Oct 1 at Dallas; Mon, Nov 9 at San Francisco, Sun, Dec 30 at Detroit.

What if?: Jay Cutler stays healthy the full season?

The Bears began 2011 with a 7-3 record, then stumbled home 1-5 as both Jay Cutler and RB Matt Forte went down with injuries. Having Cutler for the whole season should be a profound improvement, as the Bears won the division in 2010 with Cutler playing the whole way.

The trouble for Chicago is that they were rankeed 28th overall in passing defense, though that's partially due to having to play both Green Bay and Detroit twice each season. Still, if the Bears can't beat those teams (they were 3-3 in their division) winning the title may prove too tough a task.

Additionally, they have a tough road schedule including at Dallas and San Francisco.

Minnesota Vikings

2011 record: 3-13

Predicted finish: 5-11

Head Coach: Leslie Frazier

Departed: T Darrion Weems, DT Terrell Resonno, CB Asher Allen, TE Daniel Hardy, G Butch Lewis, WR Kris Adams, K Ryan Longwell, OT Jose Valdez, DE Kevin Cyrille, T Kevin Murphy, CB C.C. Whitlock

Incoming: WR Jarius Wright, WR Greg Childs, DB Robert Blanton, K Blair Walsh, LB Audie Cole and DT Trevor Guyton, WR Jerome Simpson, LB Marvin Mitchell, LB Elimimian Solomon

Strengths: Besides RB Adrian Petereson, there aren't any, except possibly the rushing defense, ranked 8th last season, and the defensive line, which recorded 50 QB sacks.

Weaknesses: Everywhere. A young QB - Christian Ponder - with some, but not a great deal of, upside potential. Sporadic passing game. Ranked 26th against the pass, and, in a division with Green Bay and Detroit, that's a problem.

Key Games: All of them.

What if?: The Vikings are 2-0 when they host the 49ers in Week 3?

They might end up 2-14, but they'll probably be better than that. They play at home against Jacksonville in Week 1 and at Indy, week 2. Those are two of the weaker teams in the AFC South. The Vikes also have teams like Washington, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Tennessee on their dance card and should win a share of those.

If Minnesota can find ways to finish games, hey may actually outdo their expectations. They lost eight games by six or fewer points in 2011.

Copyright 2012, 2013, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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