Green Bay Packers - The Packers very well could be the team to beat in 2012. For the majority of the season they were a dominant team. Aaron Rodgers play was the biggest reason for that as he was simply off the charts with his efficiency ratings. He is in an offensive system that fits his skill set excellently and he has a host of weapons to take advantage of. It is that group of weapons that really sets the Packers apart. While smart money is going to be on Jordy Nelson to continue his ascent into super stardom, I think that Greg Jennings is also going to have a huge year. I know he just suffered a concussion, but he appears to be completely healthy. He also does not have a deal in place after this season. For many players this would be a distraction, but the classy Jennings has vowed not to allow it to affect his play. If anything, I believe that it could have a positive impact on him this season. Jennings will be 29 years old next season, and possibly looking for a new home. The reality that it could happen means that Jennings needs to perform at the highest level this year, so he will remain focused this season. I also believe that the increased attention paid to Jordy Nelson this season will actually benefit Jennings significantly, allowing him to see less coverage rolled his way.
Detroit Lions - Many of the voices around the NFL say that the Lions will fail to meet expectations this year for a variety of reasons. Some blame it on the lack of a running game. Others blame it on discipline. While some simply say that the Bears are just better. I have looked closely at both organizations, and I still think that the Lions will end up in a better position when the dust settles. I know all the attention goes to the Bears addition of Brandon Marshall, but the Lions offense is far more explosive. I believe that Titus Young is going to surprise a lot of people this year, and he is just one of many talented weapons on this Lions squad. With all the attention being paid to their offense, I have to shift my attention to the defensive side of the ball. Naturally people would expect you to think about Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley or Cliff Avril when you talk about their defense, but not me. Those guys are all going to have a major impact this season, but I want to highlight third year defensive end Willie Young. Willie Young was a 7th round draft pick in 2010 bout of North Carolina State. While not as heralded as his predecessor Mario Williams, Willie has quietly developed into a very dangerous edge rusher perfectly suited to Detroit's wide 9 scheme. He is quick off the ball with excellent burst and uses his long frame to disrupt the passing game. Willie has shown a knack at making impact plays from sacks and strips to interceptions. His strong showing this preseason is just another indicator that he is steadily improving, and I believe 2012 will be a break out year for the big fisherman.
Chicago Bears - The Bears are going to be a tough team again this year, but the age and health of their defense is a growing concern. And they still have yet to do any major upgrades to their offensive line. Perhaps Gabe Carimi will be healthy and able to contribute this season, but the rest of that line is still more than suspect. That is why what Matt Forte and Jay Cutler do is even more impressive to me. Cutler and Forte have taken a beating over the last few years, and all they do is continue to produce and carry this team offensively. This year I think things will be even better, but I don't think the line's improvement will have much to do with it. I believe the presence of Brandon Marshall in both the run and the pass game will have a big effect, especially on the development of Alshon Jeffery. But the player that perhaps is flying under the radar in Chicago is Michael Bush. Bush is not the most dynamic player in the game today, but he is a very solid player who knows how to move the chains and get the hard fought yardage. He is also an excellent weapon in the passing game, which Jay Cutler will take advantage of often. While Forte is the bell cow, expect the Bears to use Bush early and often to try to save some wear and tear on Forte. By season's end, Bush will be a big part of whatever the Bears accomplish.
Minnesota Vikings - It looks like this could be a long and frustration season for the Vikings this year. Who knows how Adrian Peterson's knee is going to respond this season. The jury is still out on Christian Ponder being a franchise quarterback and we have no idea how long Percy Harvin is going to keep his cool. Oh yeah, and their defense is nothing like what it used to be. This is life in rebuilding mode. It isn't pretty, but it is where they are right now. This season the Vikings need to find a way to keep Percy Harvin highly involved in the game plan from start to finish. He is one of the most explosive players in the league, and yet he is not utilized nearly enough. If they don't find ways to take advantage of his enormous talents, his good behavior may quickly come to an end. One player that shouldn't be a problem though, is Toby Gerhart. The former Stanford Cardinal is not flashy, but the bruiser finds a way to get it done. Gerhart should be expected to make the start this weekend, and if they are smart, he will eat up the majority of the touches for the next two months as AP continues to strengthen his surgically repaired knee. Gerhart will be very productive this year in this time share.