Predicted Finish:

Green Bay Packers (13-3) (1st seed; NFC Championship Game)

Minnesota Vikings (9-7) (5th seed; NFC Divisional Round)

Detroit Lions (7-9)

Chicago Bears (5-11)

All eyes are on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers this season, but it would be foolish to ignore the up-and-coming Minnesota Vikings or, for that matter, the declining but still dangerous Detroit Lions.

The one thing it is safe to say about the NFC North: The Chicago Bears aren’t going anywhere.

The Packers’ path to the playoffs is relatively easy. They’ll benefit from a comparatively easy schedule and an average-at-best division. The problems for the Packers, however, will be the same as always — Aaron Rodgers health, a lack of depth in the weapons department thanks to Jordy Nelson’s injury, and the same old weaknesses on defense, especially against the read option. The No. 1 seed is very much attainable. The Super Bowl? We’ll see.

If there’s a team to get excited about in the NFC North, it’s undoubtedly Minnesota. Teddy Bridgewater certainly appears to be the premiere quarterback of the crop from two years back, and this year he gets Adrian Peterson to bolster the running game. And by bolster, of course, I mean inject with the kind of rocket fuel that saw him carry the Vikings to the playoffs practically by himself. The Vikings are still young and still have too many holes to be a Super Bowl contender, but they’ll make some noise this year for sure.

The Lions still have Calvin Johnson. They still have Golden Tate, who in Johnson’s absence last year gained over 1,300 yards. They still have Joique Bell, who may not be a household name, but is rapidly becoming a fantasy football hot prospect. And they still have Matthew Stafford, who has thrown for more than 4,000 yards four years in a row, including over 5,000 in 2014.

So why are the Lions being looked at as also-rans? For one, they’re big stick on defense, Ndamukong Suh is gone. Second, the organization has clearly lost confidence in Stafford, and that’s usually a recipe for disaster.  Finally, the Lions haven’t managed to put together back to back playoff season in something like 50 years. Would you be excited about their prospects?

While the Lions have problems, they’re nothing compared to the train wreck that is the Bears. Their quarterback has quit on them. Their defense is non-existent. Is there any good news? There’s no lack of talent at the skill positions, but that’s kind of like having a really cool sound system in a car that’s up on blocks. This team is in need of a total rebuild.

Come playoff time, I have Minnesota advancing a round before losing to division rival Green Bay. The Packers fall short of making the Super Bowl, however, when they run into the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game.

Games to Watch:

Week 2 – Seattle @ Green Bay: This is the Packers’ chance to show that they’ve learned some lessons defensively (yes, defensively) in terms of how to shut down an offense like Seattle’s. This is also the toughest test their offense will face all year

Week 5 – Arizona @ Detroit: This game finishes off a brutal first five for Detroit. Whatever chance they have depends on them coming out of this early maelstrom at or near .500. That would include winning this home game, one of the easier contests they’ll face.

Week 14 –  Washington @ Chicago: Occasionally the NFL offers up a late season game so bad the the only reason to watch it is to laugh. Don’t be surprised if this one is for the first overall draft pick.

Week 16 – New York Giants @ Minnesota: This is one of a handful of crucial games against NFC contenders that the Vikings need to win to be a playoff team.