The NFC North. Arguably one of, if not the toughest divisions in the NFL. Apart from perhaps the Minnesota Vikings, you have three teams who could quite conceivably take the title. But who are the best players in the NFC North? Who makes the All-NFC North team? Read on to find out.
Just a quick note to say that this team is not a complete starting lineup. It is what I consider the top players at their respective positions. The team is also assuming that everyone is healthy. And not every player will have anything written about them, because let's face it, offensive lineman aren't usually something to write home about. OK, let's do it.
Quarterbacks - Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) & Jay Cutler (Chicago)
Rodgers is coming off a huge year and there is no reason to think that he can't carry on playing to the same level. Just having him on the team gives the Packers a chance of winning nearly every game, and it makes them most people's favorite to take the NFC North title. Over the last three seasons he has thrown just eight interceptions and a massive 133 touchdowns. Say no more.
I was close to choosing Stafford, but I feel Cutler is the better overall quarterback. If we are talking fantasy football, then it's clearly the other way round. Cutler has the arm strength, and the leadership qualities to take this team all the way. Forget everything I say about him, he's one of the league's better passers, and this year he has the supporting cast that should enable him to showcase his true talent.
Running backs - Adrian Peterson (Minnesota) & Matt Forte (Chicago)
Of course Peterson is coming off and ACL injury but when completely healthy he is still one of the best rushers in the league. He has averaged 4.8 yards per carry throughout his career and has over 1,300 yards receiving. He has also had double figure rushing touchdowns every year. He's the real deal.
Forte has proved he belongs in the upper echelons of the NFL's running backs. He was rewarded with a new contract by the Bears, and is one of the league's best all-purpose RBs. He is an excellent rusher and contributes significantly as a receiver. Apart from his injury last year, he has proved very durable and has a career rushing average of 4.2 yards. The Bears need Forte to have a big season if they want to make a return to the playoffs.
Wide receivers - Calvin Johnson (Detroit), Brandon Marshall (Chicago) & Greg Jennings (Green Bay)
Johnson is pretty much at the top of the heap when it comes to wideouts. He's a two-time Pro-bowler, and last year he had his best campaign with 96 receptions for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. That's impressive.
Brandon Marshall has been reunited with Jay Cutler and many see him having a great season. And I agree. What we saw in preseason was very promising and if he and Cutler can get their groove back, they could be one of the league's most feared tandems. Marshall gives the Bears that legitimate number one receiver they have been missing for so long now. If Marshall has a big year, the Bears should be in good shape.
Could also have put Jordy Nelson here, but I gave the nod to Jennings. He may not be the biggest of receivers, and he did miss three games last year, but he has a career average of 15.9 yards per catch which is not to be sniffed at. He may not be in the same class as Johnson, but he sits quite comfortably with Marshall in the next tier of great receivers.
Offensive line - Dominic Raiola (Detroit), Josh Sitton (Green Bay), Matt Kalil (Minnesota), Roberto Garza (Chicago) & Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay).
No disrespect to offensive linemen, but for the sake of space, let's just say all these players excel at their positions and that's why they made the team. Why does no one care about offensive linemen? It's not right.
Defensive line - Jared Allen (Minnesota), Julius Peppers (Chicago), Cliff Avril (Detroit) & Israel Idonije (Chicago).
So, Suh me!! Ndamukong doesn't make the list. These are some of the best linemen in the league. Jared Allen nailed 22 sacks last season and is one of the league's most feared rushers. Peppers is still playing at a high level and is amongst the best athletes in the NFL. A man his size should not be as quick as he is. Avril is another one who had a good year and Idonije remains one of the league's most underrated defensive players.
Linebackers - Brian Urlacher (Chicago), Stephen Tulloch (Detroit) & Clay Matthews (Green Bay).
Of course, questions still remain surrounding Urlacher's knee, but I think he has one, if not two really good seasons left in him. The pro-bowler who should make the hall of fame is the leader of the defense and his presence definitely makes a big difference come game day. Tulloch had 111 tackles last year and could well be the best player on an improving Lions defense. Matthews' production suffered a little last year and this season will hope to bounce back. He is well sized and athletic and plays with an intensity that should see his numbers go up again this year.
Secondary - Charles Tillman (Chicago), Tramon Williams (Green Bay), Aaron Berry (Detroit) & Chris Conte (Chicago).
Perhaps Conte is the biggest surprise here, but I feel he has improved tremendously and has great potential. Tillman is experienced and can still cover the big receivers. Berry is a fast physical corner and Williams has picked off 19 passes in the last four seasons.
Special Teams - Devin Hester (Chicago), Percy Harvin (Minnesota) & Robbie Gould (Chicago).
Still capable of changing games, Hester gets the people on their feet every time he fields a punt or kickoff. Might not get as many chances this year, but he can still take it to the house. Perhaps not to the level of Hester, but Harvin is an excellent return man and on his day can also change the face of a game. I like Robbie Gould. He is one of the best kickers in the league, and I feel confident every time he steps up to the ball.
So, there you have my All-NFC North team. What do you think? Who would you add, and who would you drop? Jump on board, and let us know.