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NFC North Review: Week 4

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The Vikings continue to roll, Green Bay looks to build consistency, and the Lions’ hex is over.

NFL: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

**NFC NORTH**

1- Minnesota Vikings: 4-0

2- Green Bay Packers: 2-1

3- Chicago Bears: 1-3

4- Detroit Lions: 1-3

Is the sun finally rising on the lakefront following the Chicago Bears’ 17-14 win over the Detroit Lions? Well, not quite. But it does solidify Detroit in the NFC North cellar for the time being and that’s the biggest development this week.

With the Vikings, you’re running out of adjectives for their defense following their 24-10 win over the Giants on Monday night, but it’s nothing new. We know they’re currently the class of this division and are ready and able to win now. The Packers meanwhile had a bye week to try and sort through their issues. Do we see a revitalized squad against the Giants in Lambeau? We’ll see.

That and more in this week’s NFC North look.

Minnesota Vikings (4-0): Win vs. New York Giants, 24-10

Maybe it’s a little too early to start talking Super Bowl contenders and prospects around the league, but the undefeated Vikings certainly have that feel. You have to consider that the Broncos won a championship last year on the strength of their dominant defense while dragging around the Nationwide-era Peyton Manning.

Sam Bradford is a much more capable quarterback than that, and puts the Vikings well in the driver’s seat of the NFC. Bill Barnwell of ESPN compared this team to the 2011 San Francisco 49ers and I think that’s more than appropriate. Loaded at every level defensively. A strong ground game. And an adequate quarterback who can make plays when called upon. But Bradford might just be a bit better than Alex Smith. The only thing that could derail this train is a rookie fumbling two punts in the NFC title game like Kyle Williams did for San Francisco.

Otherwise, it’s full steam ahead. Seriously, just take a look at the landscape of the conference.

The only other undefeated NFC team is the Eagles who are led by a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz. Dallas looks promising with a wall of an offensive line and a bright young rookie in Dak Prescott, but you’d be hard pressed to tell me Minnesota couldn’t force mistakes out of either of these two passers.

Arizona and Carolina- last year’s NFC title game participants- are both 1-3. Teams stepping into those current voids in the Rams and Falcons are both inherently flawed on one side of the ball. While they can score seemingly at will and Julio Jones is the biggest matchup issue in the league, I’m not sure the currently ranked 31st defense in DVOA in Atlanta can stop anyone. Los Angeles on the other hand, has a solid enough defense, but has Case Keenum at quarterback. Yeah, that shouldn’t strike fear into anyone.

Logistically, while the Vikings have offensive line issues- who doesn’t- right now they are the most complete team in their conference in conjunction with Seattle. Like Minnesota, Seattle too has a great defense, offensive line problems, but a better quarterback in Russell Wilson. In fact, that’s the NFC title game I think we’re headed for.

At this juncture, book late January for these two, and don’t be surprised if the Vikings are the ones laughing in the end.

Week 5: Vs. Houston Texans (3-1)

Green Bay Packers (2-1): BYE WEEK

There’s not much to write home about from Packer land at the moment.

They had their early season bye. Some players with some nicks and knacks had the opportunity to get healthy such as outside linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett. Now they’re looking to roll and build some consistency against a Giants team similarly looking to get off the schneid. All of this is typical bye week fluff and really good timing, for a team that was starting to get worked over by injuries to an extent.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think any of the issues Green Bay had last season are gone. If you don’t think Aaron Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy took a heavy evaluation during their time off, you’re mistaken. Things need to change drastically if the Packers are to unseat the currently immovable object Vikings.

The defense can’t have lapses where it almost blows a 21-point-lead and Rodgers and the offense can’t go missing for halves at a time too. Even while he threw four touchdown passes in the first half against Detroit, when there was an opportunity to put the game away in the second half, the offense and Rodgers couldn’t manage.

Whether it’s scheme issues in getting receivers open, a simple lack of talent on either unit, or both, the Packers better figure out what’s ailing them and play to their strengths soon. Otherwise they could be in for a rude awakening. Contenders aren’t enlightened in such fashion. Odell Beckham Jr. on national television might be the guy to take advantage of said lapses and be that awakening personified.

Week 5: ‘Sunday Night Football’ Vs. New York Giants (2-2)

Detroit Lions (1-3): Loss at Chicago Bears, 17-14

In our second inter-divisional skirmish of the young season, the Lions proved to not be past any of their faults. While it was a nice win for Chicago, Detroit became plagued by all too familiar problems. A healthier team with the NFL’s fourth ranked offense coming in has no excuse to put up only 14 points (enhanced by a punt return touchdown by Andre Roberts) and have just 263 net yards.

The Bears were every bit the wounded animal coming in and were in danger of going an entire year without a home win. If the Lions were supposed to take steps forward, they shouldn’t have been the cure for a Chicago team searching for literally any positivity. These were the same Bears they had beaten six straight times, yes, six. In this circumstance, they let them off the hook.

Yes, they had their own injury issues in linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive Ezekiel Ansah- two game changing players - but as you know, it’s not like the Bears aren’t going through the same woes right now.

What once looked liked a revitalized promising pace and space offense, now looks like it’s temporarily in pieces.

Matthew Stafford regressed to old gunslinger tendencies and had miscommunications with his receivers- particularly Golden Tate- leading to two interceptions by young cornerbacks Jacoby Glenn and Deiondre’ Hall. Your defense was gashed again and again by a team that hadn’t really run the ball in the first three weeks. Maybe the Bears had that capability before, but they certainly imposed their will on Detroit with Jordan Howard. A secondary that only features the talented Darius Slay as a premier player was gashed all day by a backup quarterback in Brian Hoyer.

Chicago controlled the time of possession, won the turnover battle, and had more big plays. All primary recipes for failure in a football game. With two consecutive divisional losses now on the docket to the Packers and Bears, it’s safe to eschew Detroit as a non-factor for the time being. At least, until they get healthier defensively.

Still, you can’t get very excited about this team otherwise, even then. If they continue this tailspin, Jim Caldwell likely becomes a lame duck coach.

Now the Eagles come into town. A team that looks like a playoff contender with a young rookie passer.

If they tear apart what is now a reeling squad and send them on a four-game losing streak, you can be sure the Detroit faithful won’t react well. Just look what happened here when Philadelphia did the same.

Week 5: Vs. Philadelphia Eagles (3-0)

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.