1. Green Bay PACKERS
2011 RECORD: 15–1
Green Bay 's early playoff exit last season disappointed Cheeseheads everywhere, but Packers fans shouldn't have to wait long for another crack at the Lombardi Trophy. The Pack have the league's most dangerous offensive attack (35 points per game). All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers (4,643 yards, 45 TDs) spreads the ball around to his playmakers better than any other NFL passer. WRs Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings and TE Jermichael Finley combined for 190 catches last season. On defense, Green Bay ranked last in the league last season in yards per game, and a deep playoff run will depend on the Packers' ability to shut down opposing ground attacks. Green Bay added five new players to their defensive front seven, most notably LB Nick Perry out of USC in the first round of the draft.
BOTTOM LINE: The Packers have something to prove this season. They are our pick to win the Super Bowl.
2. Detroit LIONS
2011 RECORD: 10–6
QB Matt Stafford, the Number 1 pick in the 2009 draft, lived up to expectations last season. The third-year pro had 5,038 passing yards and 41 touchdowns to lead Detroit to the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons. It will be up to Stafford and All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson (1,681 yards, 16 TDs) to deliver a repeat playoff performance. The Lions still have question marks in the secondary after ranking in the bottom third of the league in pass defense last season. CB Chris Houston (five INTs, two TDs) will be counted on to force turnovers.
BOTTOM LINE: The Lions have a lot of bite. The playoffs are now expected in Detroit.
3. Chicago BEARS
2011 RECORD: 8–8
After a 7–3 start, Chicago watched its playoff chances slip away after losing QB Jay Cutler (2,319 yards, 13 TDs) to injury. With Cutler at QB, the Bears had the NFL's sixth-best scoring offense (26.8 points per game). Chicago traded for WR Brandon Marshall (1,214 yards with Miami), who will be a great complement to RB Matt Forte (1,487 total yards). To keep up with the young stars in the division, Chicago will need another big season from LB Brian Urlacher (102 tackles) an d DE Julius Peppers (11 sacks).
BOTTOM LINE: If Cutler stays healthy, the Bears will be contenders in football's toughest division.
4. Minnesota VIKINGS
2011 RECORD: 3–13
The Vikings made a smart move during April's NFL draft by adding OT Matt Kalil of USC to help pave the way for RB Adrian Peterson (970 yards, 12 TDs). But Peterson's status is uncertain after a serious left-knee injury last season. Even if he is at full speed, Minnesota has too many holes to contend in the NFC North. Leading WR Percy Harvin (87 receptions, 967 yards) has demanded a trade, and QB Christian Ponder (1,853 yards, 13 TDs) is unproven. The team's lone bright spot is DE Jared Allen (22 sacks), who has had at least 10 sacks in five straight seasons.
BOTTOM LINE: Sorry, Vikings fans. Minnesota will finish in the NFC North cellar again.