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2012 NFC North Preview

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

2011 Common Opponents: NFC South, AFC West
2012 Common Opponents: NFC West, AFC South
The NFC North is perhaps the best division in the NFL right now. And it will take a large sum of wins to become division champions considering their 2012 common opponents are likely the two worst divisions in the NFL. Likewise, the easy out of division schedule should counteract the tough division schedule for teams like the Bears and Lions, making playoff runs very possible. As in 2011 though, the division will be the Packers' to lose. Green Bay should be able to use the easy schedule to yet again position themselves as a high seed in the playoffs and a strong threat to win the Super Bowl. Minnesota is the only team not likely to be competitive in the division, but with QB Christian Ponder entering his 2nd season, improvement is definitely possible. Like Robert Griffin for the Redskins, Ponder's possible improvement would create one of the strongest divisions the NFL has seen since the 2002 realignment.

Chicago Bears
2011 Record: 8-8
2011 Rating: -0.5 (16th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 7.1
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 7.6
In 2010, the Bears rode some luck to make the conference championship as a mediocre team. In the first part of 2011, Chicago was actually a better team, but were met with a tougher division. The Bears carried a 7-3 record through Week 11, at which point QB Jay Cutler was lost for the season to injury, and were only able to manage 1 more win the rest of the season. The injury means that we can more or less throw the above ratings out the window. The most likely true rating for the Bears would be about 2 points higher like it was before Cutler went down, making them a better than average team. Add to that the addition of free agent WR Brandon Marshall and the Bears are good enough to generically be considered worthy of the playoffs, but face an uphill battle in a tough division and conference. With the NFC likely having as many as 10 of the top 16 teams in the league, the Bears will be in the middle of a crowded fight to make the playoffs.

Detroit Lions
2011 Record: 10-6
2011 Rating: 3.1 (6th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 9.1
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 9.7
Last season the Lions joined the Texans as franchises that finally broke through after very long playoff droughts. And our ratings show that both have much reason to believe that their new found success will be a trend rather than a fluke. The 2011 Lions won games the most reliable way possible: with a strong passing offense. Young QB Matt Stafford has proven himself to be a capable NFL quarterback, and with the most dominant wide receiver in the league to throw to in Calvin Johnson, there's no reason to think that the Lions won't sport a quality passing attack again in 2012. The biggest obstacle to growing success for the Lions is the Green Bay Packers. The Packers have been so good recently that it is hard to imagine them as anything but strong favorites in the division for the foreseeable future. As a result, Detroit is most likely to again position themselves with a wild card spot in 2012.

Green Bay Packers
2011 Record: 15-1
2011 Rating: 8.6 (2nd of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 12.3
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 12.5
The Packers have been the only team to finish in the top 3 of our overall ratings in each of the past 3 seasons, making them the surest bet to be a Super Bowl contender of any team in the league. Green Bay, along with New Orleans and New England (each in the top 6 the past 3 seasons), are clearly the class of the NFL at the moment. This fact was abundantly clear last season when all 3 finished well above the rest of the league in our ratings. Despite the Packers' tough loss to the Giants in their first playoff game, our ratings show the 2011 Packers were clearly even better than the 2010 team that won the Super Bowl. This positions the 2012 Packers for at least a top 2 seed in the NFC. The one thing the Packers can't expect though is another 15 win season. They were lucky to accumulate so many wins in 2011, as a team truly deserving more than 13 wins in a season in the NFL is extremely rare. Green Bay are absolutely favorites in the NFC North, but it would not be totally crazy if the rising Lions or Bears stole the division from them. Missing the playoffs altogether, however, would be.

Minnesota Vikings
2011 Record: 3-13
2011 Rating: -2.2 (25th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 6.2
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 7.0
The Vikings finished 2011 with a pathetic record, but were often competitive, and it showed in our ratings. They deserved twice as many wins, which is still bad but provides some hope. Rookie QB Christian Ponder stepped in and wasn't great, but more importantly, wasn't terrible. The bigger issue for the Vikings was actually their defense. Minnesota finished as our most effective team at sacking opponents, but was otherwise hopeless on defense. The good news for the Vikings is that their biggest deficiencies are historically some of the more easily fixable from year to year. If Ponder can continue to develop, the 2012 Vikings should be a decent team. But being decent is not likely to be enough in the NFC North any time soon.

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

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