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NFC North preview

More from Ian Steven, @deevo82. Apologies, these should have gone up last week and thus prices may have changed.

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NFC North

Green Bay Packers

This is going to be a tough division this year as there are three teams with a lot of talent that will keep things very competitive. The good news for Green Bay is that they have the best quarterback in a bunch of good signal callers. Aaron Rodgers is judged just outside the elite Manning/Brady level and has already demonstrated his worth with a league MVP season as well as a Super Bowl ring.

Whilst Rodgers has a quick release and quick feet – his biggest knock is his durability and that is where the Pack’s season lies. The Cal graduate went down last year with a broken collarbone, missing seven games and coming back for the week 17 clash with Chicago to win the division with a touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with under a minute remaining.

The good news for the Wisconsin franchise is that they have finally found a featured back in Eddie Lacy. The powerful running back from Alabama allows Mike McCarthy to rely on the run more to move the chains than he has done in the past. Cobb and Jordy Nelson will remain the main targets for Rodgers.

As much as Rodgers is the talisman on offense, Clay Matthews is the standard bearer on the other side of the ball -and much like Rodgers – durability has been the outside linebacker’s problem. When fit, Matthews is almost unblockable and is a certified playmaker. To aid Matthews, Julius Peppers was brought in from Chicago to man the other outside linebacker spot opposite Matthews. Whilst the former Tar Heel may lack some burst, he is still a force to move out of the way.

Ha-Ha Clinton Dix (real name Ha’Sean) looks to be an ideal fit at safety after coming out of college from Alabama in a secondary that has some talent.

If the key players can stay fit then Green Bay have a great chance of repeating as division champions.

Chicago Bears

This has to be Chicago’s year. They have brought in too much talent to be afforded any patience from the fans in the Windy City.

Green Bay snatched the title away from the Bears last season who then loaded up on weapons to help out Jay Cutler who is starting to exasperate the Solder Field faithful. Two interceptions against the Bills in week one this season typifies his inconsistency, as Cutler displays flashes of dominance before some bad decisions undoes all the good work.

Matt Forte remains at tailback and will feature heavily in both the running game and the passing games thanks to some soft hands. Gargantuan wide receivers Alsohon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall are joined by Santonio Holmes who can be a bit of a diva but is also productive when focussed.

The offensive line is not the greatest but that is nullified by the fact that Marc Trestman’s offense allows for a lot of quick passes that neutralises the pass rush.

On defense, Jared Allen replaces the departed Julies Peppers at defensive end and lines up against alongside Lamar Houston who many experts considered the most talented player available as a free agent in the offseason.

John Bostic and the evergreen Lance Briggs shore up the linebacker positions ahead of a secondary that are weak at the safety positions and could be exploited during the season.

Detroit Lions

It is unlikely that any name other than “Jerry Rice” would be offered if you enquired as to who was the best ever wide receiver to play in this league. That could well change as Calvin “Megatron” Johnson continues to rack up the yards for the Lions. Almost unplayable at 6’5”, 235 lbs and with a 4.35 40 yard dash time, Johnson has already broken Rice’s regular season receiving record and now has more help at the receiver position with Golden Tate joining the Lions, taking some of the focus off of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket.

Matthew Stafford would already have a big grin on his face with Johnson and Tate confirmed on the roster before the Michigan franchise drafted Eric Ebron out of North Carolina. The speedy tight end was a physical marvel at the college level and joins Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria in a talented cluster of the roster.

Reggie Bush and Joique Bell share the load in the backfield behind a sub-par line that are the weak link on offense. The Lions like to take a lot of deep shots and need to keep Stafford upright if they want success. The Georgia grad is under-rated as a signal caller but he consistently passes for a lot of yards – although interceptions are a bit of an Achilles’ heel.

The front seven on defense is loaded with talent. Ezekiel Ansah looks to have progressed well in his second season and is a force off the edge. Ndamukong Suh is a force in the middle as always whilst Nick Fairley has had a fire lit under him by Coach Jim Caldwell by benching the former first round draft pick in the pre-season.

The secondary is not the best and this is an area where the Ford-owned franchise will stumble facing good passing attacks in Green Bay and Chicago.

The Lions should remain a threat for most of the season but consecutive visits to Soldier Field and Lambeau in weeks 16 and 17 in what will be harsh conditions will be the ultimate undoing of a roster set up to compete indoors. They capitulated in the snow against the Eagles last season – in what was the game of the year in my opinion – and it will be even colder in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings enter a new era under head coach Mike Zimmer and the former Bengals defensive co-ordinator is in the enviable position of having some established talent to work with.

Quarterback is king for success in the league and Teddy Bridgwater was drafted with the intention of becoming the face of the franchise but was unable to beat out Matt Cassel in the pre-season.

Whoever lines up under centre should expect to hand the ball off to stud workhorse Adrian Peterson. The running back was arrested last night for assaulting his son and will miss this weekend’s clash with new England. You would normally expect Paterson to re-join the team quite swiftly but fall out from the Ray Rise spousal assault could lead to an extended punishment for Peterson by a league skittish over recent criticisms of leniency.

As you run through the roster on offense you can reel off names such as Cordarrelle Paterson, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph, Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt and you realise how close they are as a franchise for having a special offense.

Defense is Zimmer’s speciality and the Vikings will be a lot more disciplined and physical under their new head coach. Anthony Barr was drafted high with a view to being a force off of the edge but he is still raw.

The most intriguing thing about the Vikings this season is that a new stadium is being constructed and they have moved out of the Metrodome and will play at the University of Minnesota’s TNF Bank Stadium which is outdoors and there can be some harsh winters in that part of the world. That is exactly how football should be played in my opinion with the week 17 clash with a playoff chasing Bears team looking particularly enticing.

Verdict

Aaron Rodgers will be the difference in this division – but it will be very close. He is the elite quarterback in the NFC and with the added help of Eddie Lacy and a fit Clay Matthews, Green Bay will win the division but it could go down to the very last week. Their loss to the Seahawks has worked out in our favour as their odds have lengthened.

2 pts on Green Bay @2.00 with Bet 365.

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