NFC North Preview
With the NFL season starting today, training camps is over and teams prepare for Week 1. As part of that, William Hill will be previewing all eight divisions, continuing in the NFC with the North.
A strong offseason for Chicago has seen them develop their previously under-performing offense, meaning that they are likely to improve after a lackluster 2011 season. After acquiring former All-Pro WR Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins, and highly underrated RB Michael Bush, they drafted projected first rounder Alshon Jeffrey 45th overall. Giving Jay Cutler more options was Mike Tice's first job as Bears' offensive co-ordinator, and with the team taking a strong DE in Shea McClellin, who provides a great edge rush presence, and bolsters an already strong front seven.
Lovie Smith heads into his ninth season as Bears head coach, and has only had two consecutive winning seasons. His inconsistent record has only seen Chicago advance to the post season three times, including a Super Bowl loss in 2006, and this season they face a tough task in a division with Green Bay. Expect the Bears to challenge the Packers, but settle for a wild card spot.
Prediction: 11 wins, 2nd NFC North
After a great year of development in 2011, the Detroit Lions reached the post season for the first time in 12 years. However, an off-season mired by arrests and disciplinary problems has seen many fans fall out of love with the team. Of course, the organisation itself could doubtless not care less about the opinion of the majority, as long as the roster continues to breed results. The issue is that, although the passing game is one of the strongest in the league, they have no concrete backfield option, and the once feared defensive line now appears to be overrated rater than the most aggressively powerful in the NFL.
Assistant head coach Gunther Cunningham has revealed he enjoys the challenge of developing those with attitude issues, and I think we can agree that he has a lot of work to do! The Lions are a talented unit, but in a strong division, could fail to reach the playoffs.
Prediction: 9 wins, 3rd in NFC North
Green Bay Packers
The Packers were dominant throughout the regular season in 2011, but after a couple of losses in the tail end of the regular season may have had some effect as they chose the wrong game to pay poorly, being knocked out of Super Bowl contention by eventual champs, the Giants. With superstar Aaron Rodgers under centre, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson at wide out, and a strong TE, the GB offense could again dominate. However, a poor defensive collective last season was ignored due to the team's success.
It may be that the defense continues to play as poorly as they did in patches last year, however it is unlikely. Drafting Jerel Worthy, Nick Perry and Casey Heyward was a statement of intent, and the Packers could again lead the league in wins this year.
Prediction: 13 wins, 1st in NFC North, NFC Championship runners-up.
This is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, and for a team with questionable quarterback production and injury issues with their main skill positions on offense, it could prove to be the toughest. The Vikings are a team with a history of not getting the job done when it matters, but this season, their most realistic goal should be survival. Drafting a strong T in Ryan Kalil from USC will help greatly in their attempt to protect the young QB Christian Ponder, and the return of Adrian Peterson is a boost, however his questionable fitness still looms large.
Leslie Frazier has a massive job on his shoulders to re-establish this franchise as a major player; however this season is as much about development as anything else. If the offense can remain productive all year round, strong defense containing Jared Allen and Chad Greenway could well win a few games.
Predictions: 5 wins, 4th in the NFC North