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Rick Lubbers column: Packers should rule NFC North

What Super Bowl hangover? Apparently the Green Bay Packers are intent on giving the rest of the league a hangover after defeating a very good New Orleans Saints team Thursday night in a battle of the past two Super Bowl champions. No one should b...

Rick Lubbers
Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter.

What Super Bowl hangover?

Apparently the Green Bay Packers are intent on giving the rest of the league a hangover after defeating a very good New Orleans Saints team Thursday night in a battle of the past two Super Bowl champions.

No one should be surprised.

Last season, the Packers seemed to put players on injured reserve every day, but they still fielded enough players to win a Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers, rapidly becoming one of the top two or three gunslingers in the league, oversees an offense that will overrun most defenses with wide receivers like Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley and running backs James Starks and Ryan Grant. Not that they will need to do that with a defense led by LB Clay Matthews and super CBs Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson.

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You can bet the mortgage (that's a figure of speech, not sound betting advice) on the Packers winning the NFC North and advancing far into the playoffs.

Super Bowl?

Well, let's not get too ahead of ourselves. The Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons might have something to say about that.

Let's stick with the NFC North for now. Crown the Packers again.

Second through fourth place?

Well, that's when things get a little fuzzy. But this much is clear, as weird as it seems, the Detroit Lions have the second-most complete team in the division.

Yep, that's right. Read it again. I'll wait. ...

The Leos finally have turned a corner after their recent season of infamy -- losing games faster than the Dow Jones loses points during 2008's 0-16 campaign -- and possess a roster with actual -- gasp! -- talent.

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Offensively, a healthy Matthew Stafford runs a dynamic offense that features top-notch receiver Calvin Johnson (and pals Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew) and speedy running back Jahvid Best. It's not the "Greatest Show on Turf" by any means, but they will put up points.

And defensively, Detroit will run opposing QBs ragged with a defensive line anchored by a man named Suh -- Ndamukong Suh -- who has the benefit of a bolstered linebacking corps to add support.

The Lions were so beat-up last year that they played all three of their quarterbacks and won six games with them, including a four-game winning streak to end the year.

The last team to beat the Packers?

Detroit.

The Lions might not catch the Packers in the standings this season, but they will press them into December.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the Vikings and Bears.

If you could somehow meld the Vikings' offense with the Bears' defense, then you might have something, but right now their strong points aren't enough to overcome their weaknesses.

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Now that the great soap opera of 2010 is over and coach Brad Childress, 40-something QB Brett Favre and diva WR Randy Moss are long gone, the Vikings should be better simply because of all that subtraction.

And while they probably reached a bit much to draft QB Christian Ponder, they were smart enough to sign a veteran QB in Donovan McNabb to help drive an offense that still features playmakers RB Adrian Peterson, WR Percy Harvin and TE Visanthe Shiancoe.

The only question will be whether McNabb will more closely the player he was in Washington (awful and often benchable) or Philadelphia (moments of greatness mixed with perplexing inconsistency).

McNabb better be closer to the QB he was in Philly or else the Vikings' offense will stall once defenses focus all their energies on A.P.

Defensively, the Vikings need defensive end Jared Allen to hit quarterbacks early and often because their secondary will be shredded often if they can't.

Then there are the Bears. Last year's team won the NFC North and advanced all the way to the NFC championship.

This year they will return to the NFC North basement, by a nose, over the Vikings.

Last year's Bears were talented, certainly, but they also received every break imaginable along the way, including two wins over the Lions greatly aided by questionable calls (i.e. the Calvin Johnson TD catch that wasn't).

Chicago's Brian Urlacher-led defense is still stout, but its offense is not quite the scoring machine offensive coordinator Mike Martz wants it to be. QB Jay Cutler may or may not be soft, but he also is clearly the fourth-best QB in a four-team division. Too mistake-prone at the worst times.

Plus, the Bears were not granted any favors by the schedule makers. During the first three weeks they play the Falcons, Saints and Packers and finish their season at Green Bay and Minnesota.

Ouch.

To recap:

2011 NFC North

Green Bay Packers, 12-4

Detroit Lions, 10-6

Minnesota Vikings, 8-8

Chicago Bears, 7-9

Contact sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Rick Lubbers has been in his role since 2014 and at the News Tribune since 2005. Previous stops include the Superior Telegram (1999-2005) and Budgeteer News (1997-1999). Prior to that, he worked at the St. Cloud Times and Annandale Advocate in Minnesota, and the Greenville Daily News and Grand Rapids Press in Michigan. He received his journalism degree at Central Michigan University.
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