As announced yesterday, each day bustasports will be predicting the winner of an NFL division. Yesterday we analyzed the NFC East, which can be seen here, and today it will be the NFC North.
The NFC North is a bizarre division. Its two best teams, the Packers and Bears, might be two best in the NFL, but the next two teams in the division, the far from that. The Lions have some hope for the future and the Vikings have a young QB, but neither team will be able to get ahead of the Bears or Packers. That’s why, instead of debating about all the teams in the division, we’re just debating two. The Packers and Bears. Who will win the division?
Once you’ve done that, vote on the poll at the bottom of the article. Make sure you vote wisely, because the winner of the debate gets $5.
[one_half] By: Ron Clements:
The Green Bay Packers are the clear choice to win the NFC North in 2012.
The Packers were the best team in the NFL last year, rolling out to a 13-0 record before finishing the season 15-1. The defending Super Bowl champions won the division last year before a disappointing playoff loss.
The Packers flirted with perfection, but couldn’t bring home another Lombardi Trophy. That disappointment will serve as motivation this season to not only win the division, but win the Super Bowl.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the reigning NFL MVP and has the best receiving corps in the NFL. Rodgers will again have a huge season with wideouts Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and James Jones to go along with tight end Jermichael Finley. New running back Cedric Benson will create some offensive balance.
Green Bay had the NFL’s best scoring offense last year and could do it again this season. Where the Packers struggled last year was in pass defense. The Packers were historically bad against opposing air attacks. The Packers missed safety Nick Collins, who was out all of last year with a neck injury. He was released and the team moved Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson to safety. Coupling Woodson with Morgan Burnett, along with rising talent M.D. Jennings should secure the backfield.
The Packers will also have a fully healthy Tramon Williams back at cornerback and drafted Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward. Green Bay is also high on rookie Davon House, who has had a very good preseason.
What will also help the secondary is a consistent pass rush. The Packers added Nick Perry to bookend Clay Matthews. Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy should help with the interior push alongside B.J. Raji.
Green Bay’s defensive talent is much more in line with the team that was ranked second in the NFL in 2010 than the team that was the league’s worst a year ago. The Packers have addressed their needs and should again roll through the division, and the rest of the league, as they did a season ago.
The Minnesota Vikings are nowhere near the Packers in terms of talent and will finish at the bottom of the division. The Chicago Bears have upgraded on offense, but the unreliable Jay Cutler is still Chicago’s quarterback; Chicago’s offensive line is suspect and linebacker Brian Urlacher could be out for the year. Detroit is talented on both sides of the ball, but will be missing some key pieces because of suspensions. The Lions have always been a helter skelter team that trend will likely continue.
The Packers are the team with the fewest holes, fewest questions marks and most talent. Repeating as NFC North champions should just be the first step on the way to Super Bowl redemption. [polldaddy poll=6515139] [/one_half]
[one_half_last] By: Arif Hasan Bears
Besides the host of reasons we rarely find repeats in football, the Packers are not set to reprise their spectacular performance.
Despite having talent at the top end of their rosters, the Packers have one of the worst set of backups in the league.
On defense, their depth is laughable. Inconsistent rookie Casey Hayward is the backup to an injured Davon House, who will be playing in a brace that will prevent him from grabbing interceptions—a key part of their offense. With Woodson at safety, they don’t have options to help Tramon Williams at corner.
Rotating Woodson won’t help either, given that MD Jennings and Jerron McMillian cannot play safety at an NFL level.
At linebacker, Erik Walden serves as a terrible backup to raw Nick Perry, and the injury to Desmond Bishop makes them weaker up the middle than they were before, even with the rise of D.J. Smith.
They don’t have depth anywhere on the defense.
The Packers’ offensive line is shaky and losing Clifton hurt them. Injury worry Newhouse is one hit away from dooming the Packers.
Teams have proven that pressure is the formula to beat the Packers, and they only have two backup offensive linemen—and they may be the worst in the league.
The NFC North has pass rushers in abundance, including 5 Pro Bowlers.
If Rodgers goes down, they will have to rely on the abysmal Graham Harrell.
Injuries happen to every NFL team to decide their fates. The Packers are not equipped to handle those injuries.
The Bears, surprisingly, are.
With Jason Campbell and Michael Bush, they have starting-level players as backups in critical positions. The additions of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery instantly upgrade a receiving talent that already gave underrated Jay Cutler the tools to lead his team to a 7-3 record.
There’s no doubt that Forte can take advantage of the newly open field to do even more damage than before—to the tune 123 combined yards a game, more than anyone else in the division.
Even the line shouldn’t worry Bears fans: that’s not how you beat them. Cutler and Forte both exceed the value their line offers and the new scheme Mike Tice is imposing will resolve issues by deploying blocking tight ends Spaeth and Davis in dynamic roles.
On defense, the Bears’ pass rush is one of the best in the league, and Julius Peppers will be joined by Shea McClellin.
The return of Okoye along with the development of Paea, will give the Bears more rotational depth than any other team in the division. Price is a great addition, and his size will give the other linemen freedom to rush the passer.
The Bears also have the best back seven in the division by far.
Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are easily the best in the NFC North, and Nick Roach provides versatility that allows either Blake Costanzo or Geno Hayes to take snaps as the situation sees fit; and they provide the best backup options in the divsion at linebacker as well.
While the cornerback situation with the Bears isn’t phenomenal, the fact that they have two average corners puts them miles ahead of everyone else. Even their worrisome safety situation puts them ahead of their divisional rivals.
From top to bottom, the Bears are the most complete team in the NFC North, and they’ve added depth to their holistic squad. It’s hard to look past Chicago to pull a repeat of their 2010 season and become divisional winners again. [/one_half_last]