Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 7/9/12

Despite earning the nickname "black & blue" division for its' physical, defensive-minded football - and while still embodying this style of play - the NFC North has evolved into something different. 

Draw plays on third and five are a thing of the past and high-octane offense is the budding future.

The once defensive-oriented division has transformed into a deadly offensive juggernaut.

Thus, making the NFC North the best division in football. Here are the four reasons why.

Nominations for the AFC North and the NFC East were taken under consideration, but from top to bottom, the NFC North has earned the title “Class of the NFL.” 


Let's get down to brass tacks.



Reason 1:  Aaron Rodgers and Co.  

They didn't win it all last year, but they were close. Defensively they can cover receivers and despite an underwhelming 2011 season for Clay Matthews, the Packers can still get after the quarterback. This team can really play D, and their ability to force turnovers (38 in 2011) stops red zone drives and sparks good offensive field position.

But it is quarterback Aaron Rodgers that makes this team great.  After compiling one of the best regular seasons in NFL history, (4,643 yards, 45 TD, 6 int) there is no sign of him slowing down in 2012. The Packers don't have a stud running back or wide receiver, but collectively, they're amongst the top offenses in the game.  

Although father time might be catching up to Greg Jennings and defending Dancing With the Stars Champion Donald Driver, this offense has plenty of stars on the rise. Jordy Nelson might see a little more attention from the secondary this year, but the young wideout should have an outstanding year.  

Both tight end Jermichael Finley and running back James Starks give Rodgers a well-rounded offensive attack.
The immense amount of talent in America's dairyland doesn’t question whether the Packers will make the playoffs, but rather how far in January they will go.  

Reason 2:  Brandon Marshall and a motivated Matt Forte

Word around Chicago (where I currently reside) is that this may be the Bears' last year to make a Super Bowl run. The Bears' defense, led by future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher has been the cornerstone of the franchise for the past decade. Even taking a Chicago team led by, wait for it... Rex Grossman to the Super Bowl in 2006.  

But all great things must come to an end, and unfortunately for Bears fans, this heralded defense is on the El approaching 95th Street and Dan Ryan. Luckily for the Bears, they have an offense this year that might even be better than their defense.  

When healthy, Jay Cutler is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the game. Giving him any receiver other than Devin Hester and Johnny Knox is a tremendous improvement. Giving Cutler a former Pro Bowler who once caught 20 passes from another Chicago quarterback legend, Kyle Orton, has success written all over it. Yes Marshall has some baggage, but bottom line is the guy can ball.  

Reuniting him with Cutler suggests this offense will have no trouble keeping up with their storied defense. But let's not forget about Matt Forte, whose electrifying 2011 season was cut short due to a knee injury. Forte has solidified himself as one of the best backs in the league, both by catching and running the ball out of the backfield. 

Entering the last year of his contract, Forte is in hopes of a new deal, if not by July 16 then at the end of the year. If terms aren't reached, expect a motivated Forte, under a franchise tag, to run like he has something to prove. The three-headed monster of Cutler, Marshall and Forte, along with the Bears' reliable defense, will ensure a second team from the NFC North makes the playoffs.  

Reason 3: Megatron & the rising Detroit Lions

A few years ago it would be ludicrous to say the Lions are one of the reasons why the NFC North is the best division in football. But the combination of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson makes them hard to ignore. The two Pro Bowlers carried their offense last year to the playoffs and the young superstars are only getting better.  

It's no secret what Stafford and Johnson, along with running back Jahvid Best and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, can accomplish offensively.

It's the defensive side of the ball that will need to improve in order for the Lions to get deeper in the playoffs. With defensive studs like Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the talent is there, but the maturity isn't. Suh, however, seems like an intelligent man who is going to figure out how to channel his emotions. Year three in the league seems like the perfect time to do so.  

With new leadership from Suh and continued mentoring from Kyle Vanden Bosch, second-year man Fairley will keep his head on straight, for the most part. With those three on the D-line, and Stafford and Megatron on the other side of the ball, Detroit will be the third representative from the NFC North to reach the postseason.  

Reason 4:  The worst team in the division really isn't that bad

The division's worst team, the Minnesota Vikings, who are in more need of offensive weapons than Antonio Cromartie is in need of a vasectomy, are still not that bad. 

Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder showed moments of being an average quarterback in the NFL.  Newly signed free agent Jerome Simpson made quite possibly one of the greatest end zone plunges in history last year; his athleticism will be much appreciated. And let's not forget about the Vikings' superstar running back, Adrian Peterson.

Overall, the Vikings aren’t playoff contenders, but let us look at the rest of the NFL’s division cellar dwellers. You look at the Redskins, Bucs, Rams, Browns and Colts -- any of which aren’t very good.  Looking at the roster top to bottom, the Vikings have a considerable advantage over them. Even though it wouldn’t shock me to see either of those teams win their division, which the Vikes have no shot at doing, Vikings are still a respectable last place team.  


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