Today is the division I follow the closest because well my favorite team resides in this division, the Green Bay Packers. With the additions the Bears have made and the strides the Lions have made, this will be one of the toughest divisions in football.
How much will Christian Ponder improve this year and how will Adrian Peterson return from a torn ACL? These are two lingering questions over this offense. I love what Percy Harvin brings to this offense but who is going to be the number two? Jerome Simpson is suspended for the first three games of the season but he is probably the best bet to take over that role when he returns. Kyle Rudolph is in his second year and is a tight end who can stretch the field. I look for him to have a better season. I think it will take Peterson about three or four games to get back into the swing of things so look for Toby Gerhart to handle a bit more of the workload. Overall this team needs a couple weapons to step up for this offense to become more balanced.
On defense they have one of the premiere pass rushers in the league in Jared Allen. While the Vikings weren’t as dominant against the run as they have been in the past, they still ranked 11th overall but the pass defense was ranked 26th. They have had huge holes in the secondary for a number of years now. First round pick Harrison Smith out of Notre Dame will be counted on a lot to improve this horrendous pass defense.
Biggest Question- Will Adrian Peterson rush his return?
This is an offensive that has some of the most explosive play-makers in the league. Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford form one of the most lethal QB-WR tandems in the league. Sprinkle in underrated tight end Brandon Pettigrew and emerging second year man Titus Young and this passing attack is easily one of the best. However the running game is to put it nicely, crappy. Jahvid Best can’t stay healthy and Mikel Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the year. They need to find a way to improve on their 29th ranked rushing attack from last year. However anytime you have Calvin Johnson who is able to out jump just about anyone in the league your offense will find ways to score.
The defense also needs to find some people to play in the secondary and shutdown opposing receivers. Four of the games on the schedule are played against the best QB in the league in Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler who now has weapons. Someone in that secondary needs to step up. The secondary would look even worse if it weren’t for the rush of the d-line which boasts Suh, Van Bosch, Avril, Williams and Fairley. The Lions defensive line is absolutely stacked and for the defense to hang in games they must be as dominant again this year.
Biggest Quesion- Can this team keep it’s composure on and off the field?
2nd- Chicago Bears
I am buying into what the Bears did this offseason by bringing in Brandon Marshall to reunite with quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler’s best years were when he had Marshall lining up out wide. Matt Forte now has his deal and is a happy camper and they have one of the best back-up running backs in the league in Michael Bush. While the former Raider won’t get as many touches as he did last year I am sure he will be a key portion to this offense and be able to pick up the tough yards. Brandon Marshall is the clear cut number one of this team but they need someone to step up into the number two role and this offensive line needs to give Cutler time to make some plays happen. If rookie Alshon Jeffery develops this offense will get deadly. Plus Devon Hester is always a threat to take a punt or kick return to the house.
On defense the Bears still have plenty of play-makers. Juluis Peppers is always a threat to get into the backfield and blow up the play. Peppers and Henry Melton had 18 of the teams 33 sacks last year so someone else needs to step up on defense. They were very good against the run ranking fifth but were 28th against the pass. Someone needs to step up in this secondary and tighten up coverage. Also Brian Urlacher is coming back off surgery and might miss the opening game.
Win meter- 9-11
Biggest Question- Can this team avoid costly injuries?
1st- Green Bay Packers
No I am not being a homer by picking the Packers to win the division. I have them winning it because they are the best team in the division. They boast one of the best pass attacks in the league led by reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers set a record for the best passer rating in the NFL last year with a 122.5 rating. Rodgers has two legit number one targets in Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings to throw to. Also having James, Jones, Donald Driver and Randall Cobb to throw to isn’t bad. At tight end Jermichael Finley needs to avoid the mental lapses that had him dropping some very easy passes last year. Where I worry about this offense is in the run game. Cedric Benson has looked good in limited action but I am not going to say he is a savior until I see him run in the regular season. James Starks can’t stay healthy and Alex Green and Brandon Saine have limited game action. One of these guys needs to be the go to guy in crunch time.
On defense this was a team that gave up a horrendous amount of yards in the passing game, the most given up in NFL history to be exact. This team lived and died by the takeaway. When your defense gets more interceptions that sacks it can mean two things. One, you have a great ball-hawking secondary and two, your front seven can’t generate a pass rush. Well in the Packers case it meant both. This team NEEDS more pressure. Drafting USC lineman Nick Perry to play linebacker and defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels should help. The Pack spent their first six picks in the draft on defensive players. This defense must improve or they will have another glorious regular season with an early exit out of the playoffs.
Biggest question- Can this defense improve to avoid another early exit?