1. Chicago Bears
(+350 on NFL odds to win)
The Bears haven't made the playoffs since last winning the division in 2010, but they also haven't had a losing record in those following three years. The hiring of Marc Trestman as the team's head coach before last season was a huge success as the Bears, formerly one of the most conservative, defense-first organizations in the NFL, became an offensive powerhouse. Trestman worked wonders with backup QB Josh McCown, who was forced into action for eight games because of injuries suffered by Jay Cutler. That's the one major worry with the 2014 Bears: Cutler's backup. Right now it's vastly untested (and frankly not very good) Jordan Palmer because McCown took big money and a starting job in Tampa Bay.
Otherwise, the offense looks terrific if Cutler can stay healthy. Few teams can match the Bears' collection of skill position talent of running back Matt Forte, receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is on the spot after that unit was arguably the worst in franchise history last year, especially against the run. Chicago added a ton to that side of the ball in free agency and the draft, led by former Vikings pass-rush specialist Jared Allen.
2. Green Bay Packers (-140 on NFL odds to win)
It's still rather amazing that Green Bay won the division last year despite having Aaron Rodgers for essentially only eight games. He returned in Week 17 with that epic last-minute touchdown pass against the Bears in the winner-take-all game in Chicago. The 2013 Packers also had something the previous few Green Bay teams didn't: a pretty good running game. Eddie Lacy was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 scores. Think of what he might do with Rodgers under center for all 16 games as defenses won't be able to stack the box.
The Packers re-signed most of their key free agents, added free agent defensive end Julius Peppers from Chicago and were able to select the top safety in the draft, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, after the Bears somewhat surprisingly passed on him for Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller. Rodgers has proven durable other than last year so there's probably no need to worry about his health. The best player on the defense, Clay Matthews, has been injury-prone the last two seasons and the team needs him to stay on the field.
3. Detroit Lions (+400 on NFL odds to win)
I would argue that no new head coach is going to have more wins in 2014 than Detroit's Jim Caldwell, only because he walks into a high-powered offense featuring QB Matthew Stafford, unparalleled receiver Calvin Johnson, new addition WR Golden Tate, first-round draft pick TE Eric Ebron, and running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. This team will score. The questions are: Will the offense stop turning the ball over and will the defense, the secondary in particular, stop anyone? I expect a drop in mental mistakes with Jim Schwartz gone. The Lions were perhaps the most undisciplined, knuckle-headed team in the NFL with Schwartz as head coach.
4. Minnesota Vikings (+2200 on NFL odds to win)
At least it will be fun to see the Vikings return to their outdoor roots this year (and next) while their new stadium is being built. The offense likely will be Adrian Peterson left, Adrian Peterson right, incomplete pass and punt on most drives. Don't be shocked if Peterson is traded before the deadline this season while he still has massive value. The Vikings know they aren't likely going anywhere for a few seasons and are going to be starting rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater under center sooner rather than later; Matt Cassel no doubt will begin the season as the starter. Peterson doesn't want to be around for a rebuild. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Vikings finished with the fewest wins in the NFC.
Free NFL picks: Bears are the choice on NFL odds, presuming Cutler plays a full 16 games for the first time since 2009. The Bears can perhaps make do without him for one, but if he misses multiple games, slide the Packers up to No. 1, the Lions to No. 2 and the Bears down to third.