Bears will lean on running game, defense

This is a division that features new head coaches at three of the four franchises. The only team that seems to have continuity and stability is Chicago, which returns all 22 starters from a year ago, in addition to the same coaching staff. The Bears also have the easiest schedule in the NFL.

New Minnesota coach Brad Childress has a great roster on paper and the Vikings were very active in free agency. But will they jell? New Detroit head coach Rod Marinelli is a tough guy who will bring discipline to a non-disciplined team. But will that be enough, even with a pretty talented roster? Green Bay still has Brett Favre, but the Packers also have a rookie head coach and marginal personnel on both sides of the ball.

This division should be dominated by the talented Bears and 2005 NFL Coach of the Year Lovie Smith. We will know early how the NFC North will shake out as Chicago opens the season with Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota. The Bears should win the division, but Minnesota is very dangerous and Detroit and Green Bay are capable of playing better than expected, which adds up to a very competitive race in 2006.