Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 7/13/12

The NFC North looks like a thrill ride this season with a virtual lock for at least two playoff teams, and some incredible divisional battles.

Let's take a look at six bold predictions for the upcoming season in the Black and Blue Division.

Breakout Player of the Year

In a division stacked with talent, it's tough to call out a breakout player, but this year that breakout player will be Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder.

The Vikings secured USC left ackle Matt Kalil to protect Ponder's blindside and rolled the dice on a number of offensive weapons including Jerome Simpson (after he serves his suspension), a pair of rookie WRs from Arkansas and TE John Carlson.

With a full offseason under his belt, look for Ponder to live up to his potential and elevate the Vikings to at least an 8-8 season, especially with their soft schedule this year.

Rookie of the Year

The Lions grabbed slot receiver Ryan Broyles in the second round due to his late-season ACL tear, but if he can recover and get on the field in the later half of the season, he has the potential to be a special player with Calvin “Megatron” Johnson drawing double coverage on virtually every down. Broyles has the speed and talent to break a long run on every play, and will add a new dimension to the Lions' passing game this season.

Most Improved Player

The running game was virtually non-existent last year with the Packers, but look for James Starks to break out this year and to give the Packers that extra dimension that they need. Starks averaged 4.3 yards per carry last year in his limited playing time and that should be enough for the Green and Gold to give him more carries and more opportunities this year to shine. By the end of the season he will solidify himself as the starting back for the Pack.

Most Disappointing Player of the Year

Matt Forte has fought long and hard for a top 5 RB contract in the NFL, but with the addition of WR Brandon Marshall and RB Michael Bush, Forte is now simply another cog in the machine in Chicago.

Forte is a talented runner and is a true pass -catching threat, but if he continues to play hard ball, the Bears' Brass will simply stonewall him and move on with the pieces that are already in place proving once again that the position of unning back has become completely interchangeable in the pass happy NFL.

Best Free Agent Acquisition

The NFC North didn't exactly light it up in free agency this year, but the key acquisition was RB Michael Bush for the Chicago Bears. Bush is a beast near the goal line, and also has the talent between the tackles to take over full time if things get sticky with Matt Forte. Look for Bush to have a breakout season with Chicago, especially late in the year when the weather turns frightful in Soldier Field.

Game of the Year

In Week 17, the Detroit Lions will travel to Soldier Field to meet the Bears in the final regular game of the season. This game will very well determine which of these teams either wins the divison or at the very least, makes the playoffs as a wild card team. The NFL did all fans a favor when they moved a final divisonal matchup to week 17, and in the NFC North this game could make all the difference!

I hope that you have enjoyed my bold predictions for the NFC North, and please follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more insight as the season approaches!



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