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Jay Castro’s 2012 NFL Predictions: NFC North

To get myself into the mood for my second installment of the series, I’m working on a batch of ghost chili and habanero buffalo wings. The wings are red hot, and if my predictions are correct, so will be the NFC North this year!

DISCLAIMER: Do not exhaust your bank account, mortgage your home, or sell your children over my prophecies; if they were that accurate, I’d keep them to myself while the money rolls in. Besides, the Fantasy Football Gods enjoy tormenting you…so please, merely enjoy my rants, and consider them somewhat entertaining, kind of as you might Bubbles and Bunny from the Nudie Bar…

NFC north NFL football

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers: 13-3
2. Detroit Lions: 11-5
3. Chicago Bears: 10-6
4. Minnesota Vikings: 3-13

Green Bay Packers: Skill Positions: QB: Aaron Rodgers, WR: Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, RB: James Starks, TE: Jermichael Finley, Notable DEF/ST: Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, B. J. Raji, A. J. Hawk, Mason Crosby

I have a pretty good reason to ask you all not to take my ranks very seriously. Last year, The Green Bay Packers were my choice to win the Super Bowl. I was even sure of how they would do it…a 15-1 record with a single loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving (I don’t think Nostradamus could even have foreseen Kansas City). After all, they won the Super Bowl a year prior with fifteen players on injured reserve. I figured they would do it again quite easily. Imagine my surprise!

But last year was last year, and the Packer offense will continue giving opposing defenses a full day workout. There’s video game-type talent on that team, and Aaron Rodgers is the perfect QB to man the controls. Once they get past tough matchups with the 49ers and Bears in weeks 1 and 2, most of their schedule is soft through their week 10 bye. Assuming that Rodgers and his receivers stay healthy and upright (their backup QB is the unheralded Graham Harrell), they should have little problem continuing to run up scores. The addition of veteran center Jeff Saturday to the offensive line gives a leadership boost to a young but extremely talented unit that will not only have to protect Rodgers, but also open up holes for a rushing unit that might be quite subpar if they can’t woo back free agent Ryan Grant.

In my opinion, the difference will be made on defense. There’s no shortage of talent there, with first round pick Nick Perry expected to play opposite Clay Matthews at outside linebacker and Charles Woodson performing like a cornerback who thinks he’s a safety. But this is also a unit that flirted with disaster at times, and played the NFC Championship game like a toddler who repeatedly touches the stove. Still, it looks to me like the necessary changes have been made to the defense, and with the Colts, Rams and Jaguars on the slate, they actually have a daisy of a schedule for a team that finished 15-1 last year. They will repeat as division champs.

Detroit Lions: Skill Positions: QB: Matthew Stafford, WR: Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, RB: Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure, Kevin Smith TE: Brandon Pettigrew, Notable DEF/ST: Ndakumong Suh, Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Nick Fairley, Louis Delmas

0-16 sure was a long time ago. Much like Motown’s other formerly moribund feline-themed franchise (which nearly broke MLB’s modern-day single season futility record in 2003 and found itself in the World Series just three years later) these kitties are no longer saying hello to anybody. In fact, the welcoming mat in front of Ford Field’s opposing end zone has been removed, and replaced with a bunch of angry young men eager for a chunk of someone’s flesh.

Green Bay may have video game talent, but Calvin Johnson is a video game in himself. Much has been made of his raw abilities (6’5” tall with a wingspan of 6’10” and jumping ability that can allow him to reach as high as 12’5” for a ball), but lets face it—if the guy couldn’t catch, he wouldn’t be in the league (see Edwards, Braylon). He can make just about any quarterback look better…except for Matthew Stafford, who didn’t need the help (although he was surely better off for it). If you had the foresight to draft both of them in a fantasy draft, congratulations on your championship. Other key pieces of the passing game will include the up-and-coming Young, veteran Burleson, and stout Pettigrew. Assuming youthful backs Best and Leshoure are completely healthy, their 29th ranked rushing attack should improve dramatically as well.

But again, defense is what sets them apart. During their winless season, the Lions had the worst defense I’ve ever seen in all my years of watching football—who remembers that Matt Ryan’s first NFL pass ATTEMPT went for a 62 yard TD on those guys? How about the 47 points the Tennessee Titans (better known for their own defense than for the ability to blow opponents out) put up on them at home on Thanksgiving Day? Their offense that year was 27th ranked overall—not great, but better than several teams—while their defense gave up a whopping 517 points. Opposing teams beat them by an average score of (are you ready?) 15.6 points per game.

What a difference the years make! Instead of facing a defensive unit slightly better coached in the 4-3 defense than the Stanford marching band, opponents now have to deal with Ndakumong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril (if he re-signs), Nick Fairley, and various other monsters around the line of scrimmage. This meant a 2011 point differential of +87 (compared to -249 in 2008) and 140 less points allowed than their 2008 counterparts. As long as they stay healthy, that number is only going to get better, and the Lions will return to the postseason in 2012.

Chicago Bears: Skill Positions: QB: Jay Cutler, WR: Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester, RB: Matt Forte, Michael Bush, TE: Kellen Davis, Notable DEF/ST: Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Julius Peppers, Robbie Gould

While jotting down the names above, I’ve just realized something—we will see either A) the surprise team of the 2012 season or B) the biggest letdown of the 2012 season. There’s no in-between here. If you don’t agree, read the list of names again. Potential waiting to manifest.

Personally, I thought the trade that brought Jay Cutler to the Windy City (note: Windy City) was one of the dumbest I’d ever seen. He seemed to be a polarizing figure in Denver, while unspectacular Kyle Orton was a game manager who could excel in the short passing game. Sure, Cutler has the arm, but Chicago Bear football was never about the arm. Does it matter that your QB can throw a football 95 yards downfield from his knees, when your home stadium likes to flip a middle finger made of swirling winds at you every now and again?

But a couple of years have passed, and it seems Cutler has grasped what’s being asked of him. Furthermore, Mike Martz has finally taken his circus out of town, which snaps the chains off the running game. With new offensive coordinator Mike Tice promising a more traditional Bear offense and Brandon Marshall offering Cutler a familiar set of hands, these guys could be surprisingly potent. I have nothing to say about the defense—they’re going to be a top five unit if everyone stays healthy—so it’s up to the offense and the special team unit (with the ever-dangerous Hester still returning kicks) to lead the charge. They will either be the one of the best in the league, or one of the most disappointing…so I’m going to hedge my bets here. Their schedule looks fairly easy to start, but things get tougher after their bye, so don’t be surprised if they cool off after a red-hot September. Double digit wins but they’ll need a top team to falter in order to make it to the dance.

Minnesota Vikings: Skill Positions: QB: Christian Ponder, WR: Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson RB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, TE: Kyle Rudolph, Notable DEF/ST: Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Kevin Williams

Ah, the City of Angels. So long has Los Angeles gone without a pro football team, since the days of Marcus Allen and Howie Long and Jerome Bettis and Jim “Chris” Everett. And now, the purple and gold will get to bask in the wonderful fall temperatures and enjoy America’s second biggest media market, which they will have all to themselves…NOT. Instead, fans will try not to break their frozen noses off while plowing out their cars in September to drive to the beat up old Metrodome (or is it Mall of America Stadium now?) and watch their team stink up the league.

Already, these Vikings have two of the three “I’s” that kill a team’s season—injuries (Adrian Peterson coming off devastating ACL/MCL tears) and issues off the field (Peterson’s recent arrest, Percy Harvin’s Philly flirtation). Inconsistency is what’s left, and with such a young team, I expect it in spades. Christian Ponder has shown brilliant flashes (especially in the red zone—according to Ron Jaworski, his QB rating was 114 inside the 20), but still apparently needs to work on his coverage reads. However, Minnesota did make a brilliant splash in the draft’s first round by grabbing every young quarterback’s best friend—an offensive tackle to protect his blind side. If Matt Kalil can secure the LT spot on the O-line, Ponder should post a better overall QB rating than his 70.1 in 2011. And if the aerial targets there play to the best of their ability (I’m talking about you, Mr. Somersaulting Simpson), they might be able to spread the field. And if A.P. comes back and does his thing all day, and if their aging defenders can turn back the clock, and this one time, at band camp…Bueller?

Don’t be surprised if they appear okay to start (they get the Colts and Jags early on), but the only thing they’ll be fighting for come season’s end is the first overall pick. Six wins look possible, but I’m halving that.

2012 NFC East Predictions

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About Jason E. Castro
Jason E. Castro isn’t here to govern your Caribbean island, sell your convertible furniture or sing you a top 40 hit. He is a writer from New York City and you can find more of his work online at literary websites such as Danse Macabre or Mediavirus Magazine. And while you're at it, feel free to check out his full length novel, "Rowdies", or his on-line novella, "Cricket for Souls"; both are available from Amazon.

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