Wednesday, June 20, 2012
NFC North: More or Less
By Kevin Seifert
After running the numbers, ESPN.com pro football writer John Clayton arrived at a win total for every team in the division for 2012. Is the figure too high, too low or spot on?
CHICAGO BEARS: Given that they were 7-3 last season before quarterback Jay Cutler was injured, I would think 10-6 and a wild-card bid would be the low end of the Bears' expectations this season.
The Bears have surrounded Cutler with the best offense he has had since arriving in Chicago, and it could be among the league's most explosive if the offensive line can settle in. The Bears' defense is going to get old at some point, but it appears to have at least one more season of high-level play in it.
The real question is whether the Bears can challenge for the division title, which they claimed just two years ago. I think they can.
More or less? I could see the Bears with 11-plus victories in 2012.
DETROIT LIONS: There is every reason to believe the Lions are on their way to a second consecutive winning season and will once again challenge for a playoff spot. Clayton suggests they will fall short of that latter goal, and that isn't a totally unreasonable thought.
Remember, the Lions trailed the Bears in the playoff race last season before Cutler was injured. They will return the same team, presumably one that can build off last season's performance, but the division is more competitive now than it was when the Lions clinched last year's playoff spot.
More or less? Give or take a game, this is a reasonable prediction.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: History suggests the Packers won't match their 2011 record, but 12-4 would give them the NFC North championship in this scenario and put them on pace for another playoff run. As long as the Packers have a healthy Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, there is every reason to think they will be an annual Super Bowl contender.
Some of the Packers' 2012 success depends on how their attempts to shore up the defense work out. You can cover for a leaky pass defense in the regular season, but it can spell an early end to a playoff run.
More or less? A 12-4 record sounds about right to me.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: The Vikings have made some improvements to quarterback Christian Ponder's periphery and, at the moment at least, have a healthier and more skilled defensive backfield.
But the Vikings are competing in one of the NFL's toughest divisions, against three legitimate playoff contenders. There remain some serious personnel holes -- especially at middle linebacker, safety and nose tackle -- and it will take some time for some of the young players they are counting on to develop.
This is a better team than last year's 3-13 team, but even doubling that win total will leave them at 6-10.
More or less? I think they'll win more than three games.