Athlon Sports will preview the upcoming 2012 NFL season with in-depth roundtable debates with our editors and other experts from around the world of football.
Q: Who is more likely to knock off the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North this fall, the Detroit Lions or the Chicago Bears?
Mark Burzawa, BearGoggleson.com
The NFC North looks to be one of the toughest divisions in the NFL with the Packers expected to be at the top of the heap. Not so fast, Green Bay. Just like the message on your rear view mirror say, "Images closer than they appear." That's the case with the next two teams in the division, the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions.
While the Lions finally appeared to turn the corner in 2011 and actually made a playoff appearance, they're not ready to overtake the Packers just yet. Big questions in their secondary and the maturity of the team will keep them from rising to an elite level. In fact, if anyone is going to pass the Pack in 2012, it's going to be the Bears.
The Bears were 7-3 last season and appeared poised to make another deep playoff run when tragedy struck. Jay Cutler broke his thumb while chasing down an interception return and the season went down with him. In large part, the season went down the tubes because the Bears didn't have a capable backup. They addressed that by picking up a starter-caliber backup in Jason Campbell. They also bolstered their rushing attack by adding Michael Bush to be the thunder to Matt Forte's lightening. But the biggest offseason coupe was landing a legitimate #1 wide receiver in Brandon Marshall, who changes the entire complexion of the Bears offense.
With an up-and-coming offense built to score points, a veteran defense with Pro Bowl performers throughout and added depth at key positions, the Bears are set to knock off the Packers in 2012.
Nathan Rush, AthlonSports.com
The Lions are a team on the rise, thanks to a foundation comprised of several of the league's most talented young players -- namely Megatron, Matt Stafford and Ndamukong Suh. Meanwhile, the Bears hope they've got one last gasp of relevance left before Brian Urlacher rides off into retirement. Take the hot hand. Detroit is a team no one wants to face; it boasts an explosive offense and a physical defense that is not afraid to play dirty. The Lions are not only more likely than the Bears to supplant the Packers as NFC North champs, coach Jim Schwartz's club is a dark horse Super Bowl contender this season.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Packers are still the class of the NFC North, but the Bears would be my candidate to win the division if Green Bay was to slip. Chicago was 7-3 last year before falling apart to end the season and finishing 8-8. Two main factors for the Bears late failure were injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte, and that dynamic duo will be back healthy in 2012. The acquisition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall gives Chicago a true No. 1 option on the outside, and the defense will be solid once again. Detroit’s offense is formidable with Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford, but it’s difficult to see the Lions improving on last year’s ascension to 10 wins from six in 2010. Both Chicago and Detroit could make the postseason, but I see the Bears as the bigger threat to the Pack.
Zac Snyder, SideLionReport.com
I feel like I need to preface what I'm about to write by stating that I firmly believe the Packers will win the NFC North. That being said, if the Packers stumble and get surprised by a division rival, it will be the Lions. I expect the Lions and Bears to run neck and neck for most of the season but I see two teams on very different trajectories. The Lions are the up and comers with the type of team that most resembles the blueprint for success in today's NFL. The Bears are closer to the end of their competitive window than the beginning with their aging defense. Anyone that is looking for a team to surprise the Packers has to pick the team on the up swing and that is the Lions.
Mark Ross, Athlon Sports.com
Detroit has an offense on par with Green Bay’s, but Chicago has the defense and I’m a firm believer that a great defense can beat a great offense more times than not. Now whether this season’s Bears D will be “great” remains to be seen, but I like the Monsters of the Midway’s chances of at least slowing down the Pack attack better than the Lions. The offense also should be more productive this season, thanks to the addition of Brandon Marshall and a few others. If the Bears can put it together on both sides of the ball, I think they are a real threat to dethrone the Packers.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Certainly, the Packers are the team to beat in the NFC North. But the defense had its struggles and the team withered at home in the playoffs against the Giants. So the question in the North becomes which unit has improved the most, the Lions defense or the Bears offense? With the addition of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery (as long as they stay focused) packaged with a healthy backfield that also added Michael Bush, the Bears offense might actually match the production of the defense. As long as Brian Urlacher doesn't miss much time with his knee issue, this Chicago defense could be one of the best in the NFC. Detroit will score plenty of points and will still be in the hunt for a Wildcard, but it's deficiencies at stopping the opposing offense will keep it from winning the division. If a team is going to knock off the Pack, Jay Cutler and company could close the gap on the North Division defending champions.
-by Braden Gall