The NFC North comes into this season, as one of the most improved divisions in all of football. With three viable playoff teams, and a slowly improving team in Detroit, the division is up for grabs.
The defending NFC North champions the Minnesota Vikings had a whirlwind of a summer. Their much publicized courtship of former Green Bay Packer great Brett Favre, had everyone speculating. In the end Favre stay retired, and left Minnesota wondering "What the heck just happened here?". Now the duo of Tavaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels will compete in training camp for the starter position. Neither would be considered a top tier talent, but in this run heavy offense shouldn't be expected to do much more than protect the ball. With one of the best RB tandems in the league, Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, Minnesota will try to pound their way to another division title.
The Vikings are also in a possible bind with their run stopping extraordinaires, the Williams Wall, facing a four game suspension TBD by August 18th. If the NFL's appeal to make it a federal case instead of a state case holds up, the Williams' could be suspended for the first four games of this season. If the appeal doesn't go through and it stays a state case Minnesota will have their top two defensive tackles for the entire season without punishment. This is still the best defense in the North, but this court case could go a long way in deciding Minnesotas season.
The Chicago Bears made the biggest splash this off season when they acquired QB Jay Cutler from Denver. The strong armed Cutler quickly elevated Chicago from playoff contenders to possible Super Bowl contenders. There are still questions about this offense like "Who is going to catch Cutler's passes?" and "Can Cutler have the same kind of production without a great supporting cast?". The Bears have good young players in RB Matt Forte and TE Greg Olson, but beyond those two the play makers seem to be limited on offense.
On defense Chicago will need to return to its former self. Last season Chicago was 21st in overall defense. They were solid against the run, but need to improve that horrid pass defense (30th) if they want to challenge for the division title and beyond. The health of DT Tommie Harris will be the key to this defense, and if the front four can't get pressure it could spell disaster for Chicago. This is a defense that has gotten a step slower, and made no major improvements. They don't seem like the vaunted Bears defense of years past.
The Green Bay Packers have flown under the radar this off season. Without the circus that has become Brett Favre surrounding this team; it has been peaceful in GB. The offense was one of the better ones in the NFL under first year starter Aaron Rodgers. Injuries, a sloppy defense, and an offense that was inconsistent at big moments derailed GBs shot at another division crown. Rodgers will need to show more command and poise during the two minute drill and in the red zone if GB looks to improve upon last seasons 6-10 record.
On defense GB has made a complete makeover. Taking Bob Sanders and his vanilla 4-3 defense, and trading it in for Dom Capers and his explosive 3-4 scheme. The defense ranked 20th last season, and was one of the worst against the run; 26th to be exact. If GB wants to get back to a championship caliber team it will start with becoming more physical in the trenches, and bolstering their much maligned run defense.
The Detroit Lions have vanquished themselves of team obliterator Matt Millen, gotten themselves a new HC Jim Schwartz, a new QB in Matthew Stafford, and even a new LOGO to help put behind the most embarrassing season in NFL history.
With the additions of Larry Foote, Bryant Johnson, Dennis Northcutt, Grady Jackson, Julian Peterson, Phillip Buchanon, and Anthony Henry it should help a team that was inept on both sides of the ball last season. If Miami and Atlanta can make huge one year turn arounds, is it far fetched to think Detroit can do it too? Probably, but they're headed in the right direction.
This division is as wide open as they come with no clear cut favorite to run away with it. This should be an amazing year to be an NFC North fan, and to be a football fan in general.
GO PACK GO!