Ranking the units in NFC North

PackerReport.com's Doug Ritchay ranks the top eight units - offense and defense - within the NFC North Division as each team prepares to enter training camp. Not surprisingly, Chicago's defense leads the way.

The NFC North Division isn't the one it once was about 10 years ago when three teams were making the playoffs. It's quite possibly the worst division on the NFL.

Inside this division, however, there is a clear favorite as training camp approaches – the Chicago Bears. Their defense is among the best in the NFL (at least it was last season), and with that in mind the Bears' defense ranks as the best unit (offense or defense) in the NFC North. Following up on this, how does the rest of the division's units fare?

To be honest, there's not much to write home about, but the list below is a ranking of the division's units, 1-8, starting with the Bears' defense.

Ranking the NFC North Units

1. Bears defense. Brian Urlacher is one of the best linebackers, maybe players, in the NFL. He's a true playmaker and leader. However, he has help up front with the likes of Tommy Harris and also fellow linebacker Lance Briggs. This defense is clearly the best unit in the NFC North. Second place is way behind.

2. Packers defense. Maybe a surprise to be this high, but this unit ranked in the top 10 last season. Then you add linebacker A.J. Hawk and defensive back Charles Woodson, which pushes Ahmad Carroll to the bench, and yes, this unit is No. 2. Also, if free-agent defensive tackle Ryan Pickett can play above average, losing defensive coordinator Jim Bates may not be a big deal as new coordinator Bob Sanders will have more to work with.

3. Vikings defense. Strange to say their defense is better than the offense, but look at the talent. Darren Sharper had nine interceptions last season; Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot are good corners, linebackers Napolean Harris and E.J. Henderson are solid; and the defensive line, headed by tackle Kevin Williams, is stout. By the end of the year, don't be surprised if this unit becomes No. 1 in the division.

4. Packers offense. I know Brett Favre threw a gazillion bad passes last season, but he still is the best QB in the division, and he's the only offensive player in this division who is capable of taking games over. The offense will only go as far as Favre's supporting cast goes. Donald Driver is the best WR in the division, TE Bubba Franks is solid when healthy, but the running backs are more banged up than a car just finished racing in a demolition derby. The offenses are weak in this division, but the Packers' figures to be the best or the weak.

5. Lions offense. Based off talent, this unit should be lethal. However, Kevin Jones, Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Charles Rogers have struggled because of poor quarterback play, injuries and off-field problems. If Jon Kitna or Josh McCown can play adequate at QB, and the skill players stay healthy, maybe this unit finally explodes. Also, having former Rams coach Mike Martz as the offensive coordinator should help. Maybe he's not a head coach, but he can design an offense.

6. Vikings offense. Brad Johnson is 38 and his best playing days are way behind him, although the Vikings thought enough of him to trade Daunte Culpepper (insert laughing here). Who does Johnson have to throw to? Randy Moss? No. Nate Burleson? No. How about TE Jermaine Wiggins, and underachieving WRs Koren Robinson, Marcus Robinson and Travis Taylor. And who's at running back? Chester Taylor, a free agent from Baltimore. He could impress, but he's never been a workhorse. This unit is a far cry from the one two seasons ago, and the rest of the division is happy about it.

7. Bears offense. They have the best running back tandem with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. QB Rex Grossman is good for four games before he gets hurt and WR Muhsin Muhammad is solid, but not the gamebreaker he was with Carolina a couple years ago. Grossman could raise this unit's ranking, if he avoids injury for once.

8. Lions defense. This unit has struggled forever. Shaun Rogers is a Pro Bowl tackle, but the rest of this defense is bleak. Linebacker Boss Bailey has potential, but this unit is a long way from moving out of the No. 8 spot.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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