2012 NFC North Preview

By Kevin Goodwin

Each offseason NFL teams have to reload via the draft, free agency or trades. With these moves bring new issues every year, which is part of the reason fans love the build-up to the next season. In this series of blogs I'll address an issue facing each team in the NFL. Some may be bigger than others and some teams may have more issues to deal with as well, but I'll only focus on one for now. Let's take a look at the NFC North.

Chicago needs Jay Cutler to make it through the entire season if the Bears want to make the postseason. He missed six games last year due to injury and suffered the worst completion percentage (58 percent) of his six-year career. In his three seasons with the Bears, Cutler has seen a decrease in production. To his credit he really hasn't had a go-to receiver to throw the ball to. Don't try to sell me on Devin Hester as a receiver either, especially a No. 1. He's a role player for the Bears that can play on both sides of the ball, but is most valuable as a returner. Period. This season should be different though as Chicago traded for Brandon Marshall.

Back in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Marshall caught an average of 103 passes from Cutler in Denver and totaled more than 1,200 yards both years. Chicago is banking on this duo to pick up where they left off a few years ago and improve an offense that averaged less than 200 passing yards per contest in 2011. The Bears also drafted Alshon Jeffery out of South Carolina in April's draft, which fills a need at the receiver position too. If he can get up to speed with the NFL playbook, he'll take some pressure of Marshall being the savior for the offense.

The Lions have one thing they need to fix in 2012. Stay out of trouble. Detroit players can't seem to stay out of the spotlight (for the wrong reasons). This offseason six players have been arrested for various infractions, including: driving under the influence, eluding police and possession of marijuana. Linebacker Justin Durant had this to say about his teammates and the offseason. The veterans on this team need to step up and mentor these young guys on how to handle the spotlight and conduct themselves off the field. Nick Fairley has apologized for his multiple arrests, but apologizing goes just so far.

2012 NFC North Preview
Courtesy of www.detroitnews.com

Fairley and his teammates need to show the fans and management that they are committed to winning; and that comes on the field. Players that are suspended for games won't be able to contribute in a positive way. I think Jim Schwartz is a good coach, but he has to get his team in line or he'll be getting shipped out of the Motor City.

The Packers have one of the best teams in the league and are coming off a stellar 15-1 regular season. They need a lot of help on defense, as they gave up just under 300 passing yards per contest. While that is a big issue heading into this season, there is something else that worries me about this squad. Aaron Rodgers has shown he's one of the best in the business, rising to elite status. But he needs a presence on the ground, just to keep opposing team's defenses honest. The Packers ranked 27th in the NFL last year, averaging 97 yards per contest, which has to improve a bit. I'm not saying Rodgers can't throw for 4,600 yards and 45 touchdowns again, but it will be hard if his team can't gain anything on the ground. Ryan Grant is no longer with the team, leaving James Starks as the main back.

He found the end zone just once in 2011 and gained a team-high 578 rushing yards. I know Green Bay will be in the mix come playoff time, but this running attack has to improve. With just Starks as a proven back on the current roster, the Packers need to add some depth. There are some free agent backs out there still, but Green Bay will likely wait to see how the team looks in training camp before adding a new back to the mix. But if someone gets injured, look for the Packers to make a move and trade for a starting back.

2012 NFC North Preview
Courtesy of cbssports.com

As for the Vikings, a few things standout this offseason that will affect how the year unfolds. First, Minnesota needs to keep Percy Harvin happy so he doesn't hold out. Second, Adrian Peterson (who was recently arrested) needs to get back on the field after he had surgery on his left knee to repair torn ligaments. He's aiming to be ready by Week 1, but that is a very optimistic outlook. And third, the Vikings need to give Christian Ponder some time to throw the football. Ponder was sacked 30 times last season. Quarterbacks on the roster were taken down a total of 50 times during the year and that is just unacceptable.

Minnesota drafted offensive lineman Matt Kalil with the fourth pick and he should bolster the line and be an immediate starter. Minnesota is hoping he brings stability and can open up some holes for Peterson to run through. But if Harvin remains unhappy, Peterson doesn't come back as soon as he would like to and the offensive line continues to struggle, than this will be a rough campaign for the Ponder and the Vikings.

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