Jay Cutler, Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford (left to right) during NFL games during the 2012 season.

Division Predictions: NFC North

Each week, Rishi Pochiraju will predict the placement of teams in an NFL division. Today: the NFC North.

One word comes to mind when I think about the NFC North: firepower. The offenses of this division are arguably the best four, when put together with any other division’s offenses, in the league. This offensive output makes this division arguably the best in the league.

Aaron Rodgers is, well, himself, and Green Bay boasts one of the best offenses in the league under his control. Detroit features the best receiver in the league in Calvin Johnson with a quarterback who can make any throw on the field. Chicago’s offense is solid with an excellent trio of Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall. The Vikings possess the best running back in the NFL.

The offensive fireworks certainly aid each team, but when the teams play against each other, and the rest of the league, only one team can come out on top.

1st Place:  Green Bay Packers

Green Bay is still the class of the division. Aaron Rodgers should, once again, put up monster numbers. He will still have viable targets in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones after the departure of Greg Jennings to what some Packers players call “The purple team over there.”

The defense should improve after not playing well over the past two seasons. I expect defensive coordinator Dom Capers to turn the defense around. Even with so-so players at some positions, Capers should be able to focus his players to his system, and the defense will excel as they did during their Super Bowl run in 2010.

Although Green Bay has the sixth-toughest strength of schedule in the league, the team has enough weapons and coaching staff to beat difficult teams on the schedule, such as 49ers, Giants, and Falcons. Green Bay will take the division crown for the third straight year.

2nd Place:  Chicago Bears

Chicago fired Lovie Smith after a 10-6 season and is possibly attempting to put an emphasis on offensive improvement with the hiring of Marc Trestman. He can be instrumental in Jay Cutler’s development and will boost the offense.

The offensive playmakers will certainly help the Bears win games, but the o-line is a work in progress. Chicago hopes Trestman can turn the line’s fate around. This will only help Cutler’s growth. The team is solid in general and has an easier strength of schedule than Green Bay, but a first-year coach, a bad offensive line, and an aging defense will not push them over the top of the division.

Chicago can have a solid season, but I believe the Packers are the better team. However, the Bears can push for a wild card spot in the playoffs as they did late last season.

3rd Place:  Minnesota Vikings

How far can Adrian Peterson take his team? 2013 will be all about Christian Ponder’s development as a passer. The team cannot rely on Peterson to rush for 2,000 yards again (although he is shooting for 2,500).

The team signed Greg Jennings this offseason and drafted receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to fill the void of Percy Harvin.  But Minnesota competes in a tough division and has a tough schedule. Although the team has all the pieces it needs to be solid, solid is simply not enough.

Adrian Peterson will win multiple games single-handedly for Minnesota, but if Ponder does not develop into at least a solid passer, the Vikings will have trouble competing with tough-nosed defenses. Although I have them in 3rd place in the division, they could still be a .500 team or better in one of the best divisions in the game.

4th Place:  Detroit Lions

Detroit has everything going right for them in terms of the passing game. However, the running game and the defense is a different story. Quarterback Matthew Stafford attempted more passes than any quarterback in the history of the game last season and the Lions ran the ball on only 35 percent of plays last season – lowest in the NFL.

That lack of balance was a reason the Lions finished 4-12 last season. The defense did not play well, either, giving up many big plays and forcing the offense to play catch-up in many games. If the defense is able to generate more turnovers and stop opposing offenses, and if Reggie Bush can produce, Detroit may be able to win more games, but I don’t see them overtaking the other three teams in the division.

In a difficult division, Detroit will not be going anywhere soon. However, team could turn its fate around with a well-balanced offense and a defense that should be able to generate more turnovers in 2013.

Tags: Aaron Rodgers Adrian Peterson Brandon Marshall Chicago Bears Christian Ponder Detroit Lions Divisions Dom Capers Green Bay Packers Jay Cutler Matt Forte Matthew Stafford Minnesota Vikings NFC North NFL Reggie Bush

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