Rotation: Plays the NFC South and the AFC East
Given the alternatives, that's a fairly forgiving rotation for another division that is a pure joy to watch. The NFC North offers arguably the best quarterback currently playing (Rodgers), the best running back (Peterson), the best receiver (Megatron) and the best receiving tandem (Marshall and Jeffery), all on different teams. If you think about, however, the true potency of this division is in fantasy football. (Ohhhhs Noes, who do I start, Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall. Hint, cupcake, the Bears start them both.) Unfortunately, the quality of the division seems skewed by that fantasy perspective. I'll show you what I mean.
In the popular age of Fantasy Football, pundits get virtual rhetorical erections when discussing Aaron Rodgers. It is nye impossible to count how many MVP awards he's won based on pre-season predictions for the last 6 years, in which (again by pre-season prediction) he's single handedly won 6 Super Bowls. Quite literally, the talkers at the NFLN have annointed him the 'best quarterback in the game' for 5 straight years, some even calling him the best QB ever, despite all evidence handed them by Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, Bret Favre, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and most especially Peyton Manning. That, my friends, is the Fantasy Football effect.
Yes, Rodgers is a truly elite, a truly great, quarterback. I love the guy, and I'll watch him any day. But Aaron Rodgers does not equal wins or championships. The NFC West has rather unceremoniously booted the Packers from the playoffs for several years in a row, and frankly, I expect the same this year ... if the Packers make the playoffs. The Packers, and all the teams in the NFC North, have proven that they can score points. The question is not on that side of the ball. Can any of them stop the opponents from scoring *more* points. That's the question.
The Packers have the biggest name star (fantasy-think again) in Clay Matthews. He plays balls to the wall at all times. And because of that, he ends up dinged, hurt and injured. AJ Hawk has slowed down considerable. Still NFL capable, but not against young linemen and the new breed of tight end. Of course they now have Julius Peppers, Julius Peppers who through pre-season has looked slow and tired, easily handled by young aggresive O-linemen. This defense does not look a whole lot better than last years. I blame Dom Capers (never have liked him, and I wish he'd retire.) The offensive line is also in disarray. That is the perfect opportunity for Eddie Lacy and Aaron Rodgers to prove themselves worthy for your fantasy teams, but it won't win championships, and I'm not convinced it will win the division.
The Vikings, (sad facepalm), have unlimited potential with Adrian Peterson and have sadly decided that they will ride that train, straight into the ground. They have a young man at receiver who is, my opinion, one of the best to enter the game in years. Cordarelle Patterson is almost breath-taking in talent. And who do the Vikings have throwing to him? Matt Cassell. Yup, Matt Cassell. Or ... Christian Ponder. Ponder that. Or, the Vikings could do what should be done and let Patterson grow with the skills of Teddy Bridgewater, using Peterson as a necessary veteran insurance policy. That's what I'd do, but I'm not a coach. Either way, Minnesota will remain in the celler of the NFC North. At least my way, they'd have the chance of rocketing up.
Da' Bears. Forget Peterson, forget Rodgers or Lacy. Forget Megatron, for now. No team in the NFC North is as talet rich on offense as Chicago. I'm a Bronco fan, and I've done my share of slapping Jay Cutler upside his whiny little head. But the facts are these, he has grown as a quarterback and he has exceptional tools to work with ... if the offensive line keeps him standing upright. Marc Trestman addressed that difficulty last year, and those young blockers are looking even better coming into this season. Matt Forte is probably high with the giddy right now. Add to that that the Bears have purged the weak in their defense (Peppers) and added an older player whose motor will be reenergized in Chicago (Jared Allen) ... I'm thinking this is the North's team.
The wildcard is Detroit. As harsh as the collapse in Atlanta and Houston was last year, nothing could beat the Lion's freefall. In three games, they went from the lead in the NFC North to missing the playoffs entirely. That is somewhat mysterious. With all due respect to Jerry Rice and Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson is not only the best receiver playing the game, but likely the best there's ever been. Them other three guys played with legendary quarterbacks; Megatron makes Matthew Stafford look like an All-Pro. Now, Detroit has Golden Tate and young capable recievers to give Johnson even more opportunity. If I had to start a team with a whole defensive line (fantasy think, again) I could do a helluva lot worse than Detriot's. Their cover guys aren't that bad, but the defense as a whole hasn't gelled in years, if it ever will. I can't say that I trust Jim Caldwell to bring them together but if he does, the Lions could be a formidible playoff presense.
Green Bay Packers