Grizzly Detail’s NFL Preview: NFC North

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The NFL season is just four days away, and Grizzly Detail will be going through our predictions for each of the NFL’s eight divisions, as well as our picks for the Super Bowl and the various awards available after the campaign.

With seven divisions already previewed, there’s only one left, and it’s the NFC North. Where will the Chicago Bears finish? Can they overtake the Green Bay Packers? It’s time to find out.

Green Bay Packers: 11-5

There are plenty of question marks about the Packers heading into this season, but with an offense that’s one of the most potent in the league and a defense that is underrated by many, we have them once again besting the Bears and finishing atop the NFC North.

Aaron Rodgers, who missed a good chunk of last season after breaking his collarbone on a hit by Shea McClellin, will be back at full strength to begin the year, and he’ll have plenty of weapons to play with. Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are both back, and Jarret Boykin and Davante Adams both figure to get some serious touches as well. In the backfield, Eddie Lacy is a one-man wrecking crew, and he’ll be looking to prove his 2013 season wasn’t a fluke.

The Packers’ defense also got some new faces to go along with the familiar folks like Morgan Burnett and Clay Matthews, as former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers will play outside linebacker in the Packers’ 3-4 defense. The Packers also drafted safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix out of Alabama in the first round of May’s NFL Draft, and he could make a big impact in the team’s secondary.

Chicago Bears: 9-7

The Bears made some serious moves in the offseason to shore up their defense, and their offense is still intact after making some huge steps forward in 2013. Why do we have them picked to finish at just 9-7 this season?

Two words: their schedule.

While they may not have as tough a slog as the teams in the NFC West and AFC West this season, they have a ton of really tough games right off the bat, and we have them opening up the season at just 4-4 through the first eight weeks. Road games against the San Francisco 49’ers, Carolina Panthers, and New England Patriots will all be big challenges, and they have to hit the road against the Atlanta Falcons in that stretch as well.

Fortunately for Chicago, several things are working out in their favor. The back half of their schedule is loaded with home games, and contests against the defensively-deficient Dallas Cowboys and Lovie Smith-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers are both highly winnable. There are still some tough tests in those closing weeks, including a trip to Lambeau Field in Week 10 and a home tilt against the New Orleans Saints in Week 15, but if the Bears are going to make a push for the playoffs, they’ll have to do it during the final eight weeks of the campaign.

Detroit Lions: 8-8

The Lions have a pretty easy schedule to begin the year, with home games against the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills on the slate, but they have their fair share of tough competition as well. From Week 8 to Week 12, the Lions have a bye, one home game against the Miami Dolphins (whose run game will be a tough task for the Lions to stop), and three really tough road contests against the Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, and New England Patriots.

Matthew Stafford has some great weapons to work with in Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, and new draft pick Eric Ebron, but the Lions’ defense is what should ultimately prove to be their undoing. Their front four on that side of the ball are incredible, with Nick Fairley and N’damukong Suh forming the best defensive tackle tandem in the NFL, but their secondary is littered with question marks. Teams like the Bears and Packers are going to torch that group with their array of passing weapons, and that inability to stop the pass will hurt them as the season wears on.

Minnesota Vikings: 4-12

The Vikings are a team that’s in transition, and while they have some really good offensive weapons, they don’t seem to be quite ready to make the leap into NFL contention.

Their wide receiving tandem of Greg Jennings and Cordarelle Patterson is quite impressive, as is tight end Kyle Rudolph. Those three will work well with Teddy Bridgewater once he’s fully immersed in the NFL game, but with Matt Cassel at the helm, you can’t help but feel a whiff of missed opportunity about the whole thing.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings will be trying to replace Jared Allen at the defensive end position, but they did get a great new linebacker through the draft in Anthony Barr. He’ll fit in nicely at strong side linebacker for the Vikes, and along with Chad Greenway should provide some nice play in the second layer of their defense.

The Vikings are a team that could end up far exceeding expectations this season, but we’re going to play it cautiously on them and pick them to finish in the running for the top overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

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