On the surface, the Packers don't appear to be a contender, but the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings haven't exactly had the kind of off-seasons that would make anyone overly confident about their chances, either.
The Bears may be coming off a Super Bowl appearance, but it's easy to imagine them coming unraveled this season. Their defensive coordinator is gone. Linebacker Lance Briggs may be in for a lengthy holdout. They traded their best running back, Thomas Jones to the New York Jets for virtually nothing. Plus, no matter how strong the defense may be, it's hard to have too much confidence in any team with Rex Grossman as its quarterback.
It's hard to look at the Minnesota Vikings and picture a contender. Mike Tomlin, the architect of the defense last season, has bolted to become the head coach in Pittsburgh. The Vikings may enter training camp without knowing who their starting quarterback will be and, unless a trade is made, will enter the season with a very inexperienced player under center. The acquisition of running back Adrian Peterson is a huge plus, but Minnesota's running game was hardly the problem last season. Even if Peterson is as good as advertised, it's hard to imagine a team quarterbacked by Tarvaris Jackson and coached by Brad Childress could make the playoffs.
That brings us to the Detroit Lions. Sure the Lions may have one of the NFL's best young receiving tandems in Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson, but the Lions have been bad for so long that it's hard to imagine any team built by Matt Millen can be respectable, much less a playoff contender. Running back Kevin Jones hasn't even come close to rushing for 1,000 yards since his rookie season. Jon Kitna is a respectable quarterback, but it's a bit difficult to believe he could lead a team to the postseason.
The Packers are hardly a guarantee to finish .500 this season much less make the playoffs, but when you look at the other teams in their division it seems possible that Green Bay could rise to the top, even if it's by default. With players like A.J. Hawk, Justin Harrell, Aaron Kampman and Nick Barnett, the Packers have a young defense that seems to get better by the minute. The offense will struggle, but as long as Brett Favre and Donald Driver are there, the passing attack will be feared. Mike McCarthy showed during his first season as coach that he's more than capable of overachieving, which is exactly what he did when led the Packers to a surprising 8-8 record last season.
The NFC North is almost certainly the NFL's weakest division. The Green Bay Packers are also certainly capable of winning that division.
Dylan Tomlinson is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.