2010 NFL Preview: NFC North

2009: Minnesota Vikings, 12-4
2008: Minnesota Vikings, 10-6
2007: Green Bay Packers, 13-3
2006: Chicago Bears, 13-3
2005: Chicago Bears, 11-5
2004: Green Bay Packers, 10-6
2003: Green Bay Packers, 10-6
2002: Green Bay Packers, 12-4

The Vikings, Bears and Packers have all had to go through some rebuilding pains this decade, and have taken turns at the top of the division. The Bears are the only team to make the Super Bowl, and they got handled by the Colts. Of course, the Lions have been bottom feeders virtually every season.

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3). The Packers are the trendy Super Bowl pick and I am jumping on that train. It is for good reason. We all know about the offense. Things could not have gone better after the messy Brett Favre divorce, as Aaron Rodgers has entered elite status. After Peyton Manning, you can make a case for him being as good as anybody. He has a plethora of weapons to throw to, mainly Greg Jennings and emerging tight end JerMichael Finley. Ryan Grant overcame his problems in 2008 to have a Pro Bowl caliber season, rushing for over 4 yards per carry with 11 touchdowns. Grant is one of those rare running backs who gets the ball 20 times per game in 2010. He could fall apart quickly, but so far, they are riding him with good results. So who finished second overall in total defense last year. Including first against the rush and 7th in points allowed? You guessed it, the Packers. Charles Woodson led a stout defense that doesn't have a lot of stars, but are deep and versatile, and have adjusted well to the 3-4 defense. The Packers have talent all over both sides of the ball and have to be on the short list of Super Bowl contenders.

2. Minnesota Vikings (11-5). For the 84th straight year, Brett Favre's season ended with an interception. It was a crippling end to what may have been his best season ever, but he returns to try to lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl. They bring back essentially the same team this year, although there are injury concerns all over the field. But I did these predictions before the problems with Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice started. The Vikings still have Adrian Peterson to lean on on offense and the Williams wall to stop the rush on defense. The secondary is a concern, especially with gunslingers Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford in the division. And when they get to the playoffs, the will have to face up with Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and others. The Vikings were on the cusp of making the Super Bowl, and they return the same team, so you have to think they can get back there. The window is obviously closing fast, as Favre can't play forever, the defense and offensive line are aging, and Peterson's style could lead to him falling off a cliff physically at any moment.

3. Chicago Bears (5-11). The Bears have transitioned from a defensive force to a Mike Martz led passing attack. The Bears don't have an identity anymore, and I think that could lead to a disastrous season. The Bears also have neglected the draft the past few years, instead trying to win it all with veterans. Jay Cutler's first season was a failure. He threw for plenty of yards and touchdowns, but his 26 interceptions cost the team games. I think, led by Martz, he will be much improved this year. The Bears should be a fun team to watch even though Matt Forte had a bad second season and the offensive line is in ruins. Not to mention the defense is in the second half of the league now. Yes, Brian Ulracher is still in the league, but he hasn't made a difference in years. They added Julius Peppers after the tragic death of Gaines Adams, and they have to hope Mark Anderson can bounce back. If so they could have some pass rushers to hopefully help out a weak defense. The Bears seem to think they are a player or two away from making a Super Bowl push, but I think they are a player or two away from picking in the top five.

4. Detroit Lions (4-12). It has been a very slow climb out of that historic 0-16 grave Matt Millen dug for them, but things are starting to look up in the Motor City. Start with Matthew Stafford, who was as good as anyone could have hoped for last year. We all remember his gutsy performance against Cleveland. The Lions continue to surround him with talent, the latest addition being blazing speedster Jahvid Best. Pair him up with monster Calvin Johnson and that is something to get excited about. On defense, they added the best player in the draft in Ndamukong Suh. He is a rarity in today's NFL, a play making, difference maker at defensive tackle. The Lions brought in countless newcomers on defense, hoping an infusion of new blood can help out a group that was the very worst in the league last year. The Lions have drafted very well the last few years, adding several starters. Of course, when you don't win a game that's not hard to do. I still think the Lions are a very bad team, but if they can keep drafting well and the young guys on offense improve like they should, Lions fans might finally see some light emerging at the end of that long, dark tunnel.

Jonathan Carrano

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