2012 Division Predictions: NFC North

The Packers are numberFire's #1 overall team, but they're not the only NFC North team we expect to make the playoffs this year.

You thought the AFC North was crazy? It must be something in the snow, because the NFC North is just as nuts. How could it not be when you have the Discount Double Check himself, a team that had 2734 arrests during the offseason (rough estimate), a Pro Bowl running back who seems more depressed than all the Nickelback fangirls who thought they had a future with Chad Kroeger, and oh yeah, the Minnesota Vikings? If you want intrigue, this is your place to get it. While ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley predicted this morning on Sportscenter that the division would get three teams in the playoffs (keep dreaming Minnesota fans), numberFire isn't as siked about the division's chances. At least two of the teams are likely to be stuck making snow angels on the weekend long before that second weekend in January hits.

NFC North Division Predictions

1. Green Bay Packers
Overall Rank: #1
Projected Record: 13.6-2.4
Playoff Odds: 79.2%
Super Bowl Odds: 15.4%

Looking at the overall numbers, the Packers might not be the immediate choice for the #1 team in the entire NFL. They rank third in projected offense behind the Saints and Patriots, a dead average 17th in defense (almost last in their own division), and will be featuring only numberFire's 29th best fantasy back. But if you think that's all there is to the Packers, you haven't been watching Aaron Rodgers these past couple of seasons. numberFire's #1 QB comes into 2012 having passed for at least 3900 yards and 28 touchdowns in each of his four seasons as a starter in GB. But perhaps more importantly, especially last season, Rodgers was efficient - he added a total of 246.22 expected points to his team last season over the average quarterback while only going back to pass 538 times. That 0.46 NEP per play value was the highest of any player in the league with a significant number of downs played. Due to a relatively weak NFC North schedule (the division plays the not-too-tough AFC South this year), the Packers have the highest projected record and largest playoff odds of any team in the NFL. Let's put it this way Packer fans - you have a better chance of contracting hypothermia at Lambeau in January than not making the playoffs.

2. Detroit Lions
Overall Rank: #7
Projected Record: 9.1-6.9
Playoff Odds: 40.0%
Super Bowl Odds: 2.8%

I've had loads of fun pointing out the Detroit Lions' numerous offseason troubles, but all signs point to the Lions being able to clean up their act before the season actually gets underway. With the league's 11th best offense according to the numberFire rankings and the seventh best defense, there really is no weak point on this team to try and exploit. One position to surely keep an eye on will be that running back spot - Kevin Smith hasn't exactly been effective as I noted in my Fantasy Busts article, and Mikel Leshoure hasn't yet played an NFL down (and won't until week three at least because of a suspension). If that running game can't get underway, expect defenses to play much more nickel and dime coverage; Matthew Stafford won't be sneaking up on as many people this season as he did last year. numberFire does not take any offseason troubles into account, but I'm not sure that it will matter - the Lions are third-ranked NFC team in our rankings and would have to fall a ways to be out of the playoff picture.

3. Chicago Bears
Overall Rank: #19
Projected Record: 9.4-6.6
Playoff Odds: 36.3%
Super Bowl Odds: 2.3%

It's not too often that you get a team with a projected record above 9-7 and still have playoff odds below 40%. A lot of people are high on the Bears this year, and on the surface, it's easy to see why. I have no worries about Matt Forte, and Michael Bush was a solid pickup to back him up either way. And of course Brandon Marshall is an upgrade over the pu pu platter that has comprised the Bears' receiving corps since the George W.'s first term (you do realize that the last Bears receiver to gain 1,000 yards in a season is the immortal Marty Booker in 2002, right?). But unlike seemingly everybody in the nF comments section, I'm not yet sold on Alshon Jeffrey. The numberFire algorithm agrees - he's only ranked as the #73 wide receiver in the NFL. And if Jeffrey doesn't step up and Marshall is double covered, Cutler will be throwing to... Lovie Smith? The defense will be solid, but the projected #29 offense in the NFL is a huge detriment in a division built on the passing attack.

4. Minnesota Vikings
Overall Rank: #22
Projected Record: 5.5-10.5
Playoff Odds: 22.6%
Super Bowl Odds: 0.8%

If you're a Minnesota Vikings fan, you're used to not being able to catch a break. This time, it's potentially one of the most talented players in the entire league in Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings just seem completely incapable of surrounding him with solid talent. Let's do a quick quiz - after Peterson and Percy Harvin, who do you think numberFire has rated as their third highest fantasy option? I'll give you a second. Still waiting. Almost through an entire episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show... and you still haven't gotten it. With a FireFactor of -4.3, rookie kicker Blair Walsh, ranked 22nd at his position by numberFire, is the third best fantasy option on this sorry team. The individual units aren't terrible - the offense is ranked #19 and the defense is ranked #20. But in this particular division, that's good for last both offensively and defensively. They might not have stadium troubles any longer, but they have about as much of a chance of making the Super Bowl as an L.A. team does this season.