Now that the 2013 season is officially in the books for the teams of the NFC North, let's look back at some of the best and worst performances for each of the Detroit Lions' division rivals.
Green Bay Packers: 8-7-1 (0-1 in postseason)
Chicago Bears: 8-8
Detroit Lions: 7-9
Minnesota Vikings: 5-10-1
Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy - After years of being a pass-first (and second) team, the Packers were forced to rely on their bruising rookie running back this season after Aaron Rodgers went down with an injury in Week 9. The results were impressive. Even though Lacy missed several games early in the season with a concussion, he still finished with 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lacy's between-the-tackles running style is a great complement to the Packers' aerial assault and helped control the clock during the games Rodgers missed.
Mason Crosby - After nearly losing his job in 2012 due to inconsistency, Crosby turned in the best season of his career by going 33 for 37. While that conversion percentage of 89.7 is impressive on its face, it is made more so considering Crosby attempted most of his kicks in the "friendly" confines of Lambeau Field and all four of his misses came from beyond 40 yards.
Davon House - In his first full season, House showed flashes of brilliance. While his contributions did not always show on the stat sheet, he was a vital component in the Packers' top-10 ranked passing defense. The playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers was a great summary of House's season. He found the boundaries of where the referees were calling penalties and walked that line like a veteran.
Quarterback depth - There were really two teams sporting the green and gold (or that terrible brown and blue throwback uniform): the Packers with Rodgers and the Packers without Rodgers. With Rodgers, the team went 6-2 and averaged 442 yards per game. When the combination of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn were at the helm, the Packers went 2-5-1 and averaged 357 yards per game. While losing a starting quarterback will hurt any team, the most troubling thing for me was that the Packers brass was so unprepared for Rodgers going down. Wallace and Tolzien were totally ineffective and the Packers' best option was finding the unemployed Flynn in an attempt to turn the clock back to 2010. If I were the Packers, I would be thinking about a real Plan B this offseason.
Pass protection - The Packers entered the season with one of the least experienced lines in the league, and it showed when the Packers dropped back to throw. Rodgers and company were sacked 45 times, ninth worst in the league, and hit another 75 times. The two primary culprits were tackles David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay, who gave up consistent outside pressure, as seen in the wild-card game. Both players are young and learning, but when you have an important investment at quarterback, the learning curve is steep.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery - After searching for a legitimate receiving threat for years, the Bears have finally found an answer. Marshall, in his second year in Chicago, had another great year with 100 receptions, 1,295 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also did the "little" things, like earning a +17 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus when the next highest receiver had a +6. Jeffery, however, stole the show. After a slow start to the season, the second-year receiver dominated the middle of the season and finished with 89 receptions, 1,421 yards and 7 touchdowns to go with a full highlight reel of circus catches. Given a few more years to gel, these guys are going to be a scary tandem.
Offensive line - The Bears rebuilt their offensive line last offseason, including adding two rookies, and the results were impressive. The line allowed only 30 sacks, compared to 44 last year, and opened up enough holes to allow a 4.5 rushing average (seventh best in the league).
Jay Cutler - I don't think Cutler is a bad quarterback. I think he is above average and should be starting somewhere, as he is easily a top-15 quarterback. However, is he worth the seven-year, $54 million guaranteed deal ($127 million if he plays all seven years) he received? No. Is he the long-term savior in Chicago? No. Despite injuries, Cutler had arguably the best year of his career. However, he wasn't even the best quarterback on the team. Journeyman and career backup Josh McCown bested Cutler in every single statistical category. That includes averages, efficiency percentages and ratings. Literally everything, even including winning percentage. The Bears' general manager must see something I don't in Cutler to reward him with a long-term, big-money deal.
Michael Bush - Terrible. Just had to throw that in one last time for the year.
Age on defense- The Bears had the oldest group of starters of any team in the league to start the season. That was especially true for defenders, with an average of 28.63 years for starters. While this experience can often be an attribute, it also means that the group is vulnerable to injuries. That is exactly what happened to the Bears this season, and it killed their playoff hopes more than the injury to Cutler. At one point in the season, the defense could only field three of its opening-day starters. A lot of Chicago's old defenders, like Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers, are still top playmakers, but it is time to look to the future.
Cordarrelle Patterson - I rode the Cordarrelle bandwagon all season and there is no point in getting off now. Patterson only received 57 total touches on offense, but he turned that limited opportunity into 627 yards. He also had 10 plays of more than 20 yards on offense, which means he got a big gainer every 5.7 times he touched the ball. The biggest mystery is why he didn't get the ball even more. If he can develop his hands, he will be scary down the road. Oh yeah, he's also the best kick returner in the league.
Quarterback - It is safe to say that the Christian Ponder era is definitively over in Minnesota. The combination of Ponder, Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel struggled through the season and assured that the Vikings will be one of the teams looking for a new signal caller in the 2014 draft. Unfortunately for the Vikings, by the time their eighth overall pick goes up on the board, experts are projecting at least the top three quarterbacks to already be drafted. The last time they settled on the next "best" quarterback, they got Ponder, so they may rethink that strategy this time.
Forcing turnovers - The Vikings' -12 turnover ratio ranked tied (with the Lions) for fourth worst in the league. While the Vikings were not exactly stingy when taking care of the ball, this was mainly because they struggled to force turnovers. They finished with only 8 recovered fumbles and 13 interceptions. A run-heavy team like the Vikings is always going to struggle to climb uphill against a negative turnover ratio. As the Lions found out this year, overcoming a -12 turnover differential is tough even with an allegedly high-powered offense.