We’ve arrived at my favorite divisional breakdown: the NFC North breakdown. Featuring the best team in any division, named by a completely unbiased source who has not been a fan since age 10: the Green Bay Packers.
I’m so excited.
The Chicago Bears
History: Founded in 1919 and becoming a charter member of the NFL in 1920, the Chicago Bears have one of the longest histories in the NFL. They are often identified with longtime leader and football pioneer George Halas (“Papa Bear”) and iconic player and coach Mike Ditka. The Bears are known for their defense (especially in the ’85 “Super Bowl Shuffle” season) and their historic rivalry with the Green Bay Packers.
Current Players to Know: Jay Cutler, the oft criticized quarterback, doesn’t always have the demeanor associated with the position, but has the arm for it. Brandon Marshall is a wide receiver who just relocated back to Chicago after a brief stint with the Broncos. Brian Urlacher is the leader of the defense – and really, the whole team – as an 8-time Pro Bowler at the linebacker position.
Head Coach: Lovie Smith
2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8
What to Watch For in 2012: As a Packers fan, the Bears make me nervous this year. The Cutler-Marshall connection was strong over the first weekend of NFL action…to the tune of 41 points in a 41-21 win over the Colts. Primarily known as a defensive team, this offensive explosion is really a revelation for the Bears.
The Detroit Lions
History: The Lions, originally the Spartans, were formed in 1929. Despite their long history, the Lions have never played in a Super Bowl (though they did win four NFL championships prior to the Super Bowl era), and also lay claim to the unfortunate statistic of being the only team in the NFL to go 0-16: a completely winless season. Barry Sanders, one of the best running backs of all time, played for the Lions from 1989 – 1998.
Current Players to Know: Matthew Stafford is the Lions young but experienced quarterback. If you hear the name “Megatron” on a Sunday afternoon you haven’t accidentally been switched to a showing of Transformers – that’s the nickname of the Lions incomparable wide receiver Calvin Johnson. And holding down the fort with big plays and big penalities on offense is Ndamukong Suh, who plays defensive tackle.
Head Coach: Jim Schwartz
2011 Regular Season Record: 10-6
What to Watch For in 2012: The Lions are kind of known as the punks of the league…and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Packers fan. Examples include last season’s head coach handshake debacle and Ndamukong Suh “unintentionally” stomping on a defenseless (Packers) player at the end of a play, resulting in a 2 game suspension. If they can get over themselves and be mature, they can increase the growth that has taken them from an 0-16 team to a playoff contender.
The Green Bay Packers
(Just so we’re clear, I’m going to be unapologetically biased while writing this review. I love the Packers more than almost anything.)
History: The Packers were founded in 1919 by Curly Lambeau. They were originally known as the “ACME Packers” as they were sponsored by the ACME Meat Packing Company. With 13 titles, the Packers have won more championships (not Super Bowls…yet) than any other team in NFL history, which is how Green Bay was issued the name “Titletown USA.” Eight of those titles came at the hands of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Prolific players include Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer, Paul Hornung, Ray Nietschke, Reggie White, and Brett Favre. The Packers are the only remaining publicly owned franchise in American sports. Fans are renowned as “cheeseheads” and are often referred to as the best fans in sports (an accolade with which I wholeheartedly agree.)
Current Players to Know: Aaron Rodgers is the Packers quarterback and current league MVP. The blond beast at linebacker is Clay Matthews, who is already off to a great start with 2.5 sacks in Sunday’s game. Charles Woodson is the leader on defense; this season he’s transitioning from cornerback to safety.
Head Coach: Mike McCarthy
2011 Regular Season Record: 15-1
What to Watch For in 2012: The Packers had an unbelievable regular season last year – 15-1!!! – despite having the 32nd ranked defense in the league. Unfortunately…they’ve already matched that loss total in Week 1 and the defense doesn’t appear to have improved much. The Packers were a popular preseason pick to make it all the way to the Super Bowl but with the NFC North as good as it is they’ll have a hard time making the playoffs if the defense doesn’t improve ASAP.
The Minnesota Vikings
History: The Vikings are the only team in the NFC North that wasn’t founded with the original NFL. Their franchise was awarded in 1960 and they’ve enjoyed moderate success ever since. You may remember the Vikings from the Metrodome collapse of 2010.
Current Players to Know: Adrian Peterson is the offensive name to know on this team. He’s been one of the league’s leading running backs ever since his rookie season. Jared Allen, famous for his post-sack celebrations, is the leader of the defense at linebacker. Christian Ponder is the quarterback.
Head Coach: Leslie Frazier
2011 Regular Season Record: 3-13
What to Watch For in 2012: The Vikings were less than impressive last year…and that’s being generous. This season, AP is back with a fully rehabbed knee (torn ACL and MCL) and looks to be back in winning form. Their quarterback situation is far from rock solid, but Christian Ponder has been decent so far.