Julius Peppers Packers

Julius Peppers (56) gets acquainted with his Packers teammates during OTAs in May. (Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media / May 29, 2014)

As Packers coach Mike McCarthy prepares for his ninth season the rest of the NFC North is in the reloading process to make a run at his team.

The Packers are coming off their third consecutive division title and have had three such stretches now — 1995-97, 2002-04, 2011-13. With former MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers healthy and a rare entry into free agency for general manager Ted Thompson to sign defensive end/outside linebacker Julius Peppers, the Packers are confident heading to training camp.

For good reason. They're 14-3-1 in division games over the last three seasons.

Bears coach Marc Trestman prepares for his second season after an 8-8 run when his team fell one victory short of the division title in a season-ending loss to the Packers at Soldier Field. The Bears' focus has been on overhauling a porous defense. Competing in the division was a problem for the Bears, who were 2-4 in the North in 2013.

The Lions replaced Jim Schwartz with former Colts coach Jim Caldwell, a respected offensive mind inheriting a talented quarterback in Matthew Stafford. The Vikings fired Leslie Frazier and hired Mike Zimmer, considered one of the better defensive coordinators in the league. So new leadership and fresh ideas abound.

"Any time you have a change within your division, you feel like you know the personnel pretty well, so (you) continue to watch how that changes," McCarthy said. "We'll go back and look at the history of their coaches, particularly the coordinators."

McCarthy said the Packers spend one week in June on each NFC North opponent. Now, with camps opening, the focus shifts within. Here is an overview of the Bears' opponents in the division.


2013 record: 7-9 (third)

Offense/defense rank: 6/16

Points scored/allowed rank: 13/15

Returning starters offense/defense: 10/9

Training camp site/first practice: Lions facility, Allen Park, Mich., July 28

Key newcomers: WR Golden Tate, TE Eric Ebron, LB Kyle Van Noy, S James Ihedigbo, FB Jed Collins.

Key losses: DE Willie Young, CB Chris Houston, S Louis Delmas, WR Nate Burleson.

Top camp storylines:

•Discipline — or more accurately the untimely lack of it — often doomed the Lions in five seasons under former coach Jim Schwartz. He inherited an 0-16 mess from Rod Marinelli and Matt Millen and got things headed in the right direction but never could maintain momentum created by one playoff appearance (2011). The Lions often found a way to make it tougher on themselves. Over the last five seasons they had 565 penalties and 156 turnovers, both ranking worst in the NFL, according to ESPN.com.

"We're going to be smart," coach Jim Caldwell said when he was hired. "We're going to be a football team that's not going to shoot itself in the foot. We're going to be a team that is disciplined, that's focused, that understands situational football. It's going to be drilled and drilled and drilled and not just given lip service."

•Caldwell needs to bring out the best in Matthew Stafford, who looked poised to lead the Lions to a division title last season when injuries knocked Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler out for extended periods. But he played badly in the second half. Stafford, 26, is three years removed from completing 63.5 percent of his passes and throwing for 5,038 yards with 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. With the free-agent signing of wide receiver Golden Tate and selection of tight end Eric Ebron 10th overall, Stafford has complementary targets to go with Calvin Johnson.

•The Lions are banking on a defensive line anchored by three first-round picks — Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah — wreaking havoc on a consistent basis. Suh and Fairley are entering contract years and Ansah had eight sacks as a rookie last season.