1- Minnesota Vikings: 2-0
2- Green Bay Packers: 1-1
3- Detroit Lions: 1-1
4- Chicago Bears: 0-2
It can’t get any worse, can it?
Following their listless loss on Monday night, for another week, the Bears sit in last place in the NFC North. But there’s still time to right the ship in what could figure to be a fascinating division race, even if the Bears aren’t wholly involved by season’s end. Only time will tell.
This week’s NFC North look has the Vikings primed to be absolutely terrifying and our Wisconsin brethren showing more chinks in the armor. The theme in this first month will still be finding the identity of each of these teams.
Let’s take a spin around the North again, and preview what to expect in Week 3.
Minnesota Vikings (2-0): Win vs. Green Bay Packers, 17-14
At the moment, who is laughing at the Vikings for trading for Sam Bradford? Everyone was skeptical of the draft haul they gave up for the veteran quarterback, including me. Yet, after the game he had at home against the Packers on Sunday night, Bradford’s going to start to garner some belief.
Bradford lit up the stadium, to the tune of 286 yards and two touchdowns, with the NFL’s leading receiver, Stefon Diggs, possessing 182 yards of that mileage. What was the question with Bradford was whether he could force the issue and test defenses while surrounded by an extremely talented team.
Minnesota’s faith, for now, has merit.
And Bradford can take comfort in the fact that if he does have a misstep, he has one of the very best defenses in the NFL to compliment him. While the Packers offense has been inherently mediocre for the last 14 games or so, it’s still shocking any time a defense so easily humbles a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers. 213 yards and a touchdown along with a game-ending interception is hardly what you expect from one of the sport’s brightest stars. The only time Green Bay really moved the ball against the Vikings was off of pass interference penalties, mostly on Minnesota cornerback Trae Waynes, who ended any chance of a rally late with an interception to make up for it.
Otherwise there was no discernible rhythm or reason to a haphazard attack.
Receivers like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were locked down with no separation (maybe the reason for all of the interference penalties), the Vikings routinely pressured Rodgers and for the most part kept him in the pocket while sacking him four times, and the running game of 83 yards was non-existent.
The Vikings made a jump to NFC North champions last year mostly because of their defense and on the strength of Adrian Peterson, who is now out until at least December.
They’ll admirably try to replace Peterson with a committee of Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, and we’ll see how it works out. Just a hunch, but maybe more offensive diversity for Bradford instead of solely using a running back that has lost a step, could be beneficial. With playmakers in Diggs, tight end Kyle Rudolph, rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell, and these two running backs, Minnesota may transition into more of a modern successful offense. You can never have too many options.
On the other side, that defensive unit is growing and coming together and is what sets them most apart from their division counterparts. They don’t have a weakness per say. There’s a quality or even premier starter at each of their three defensive levels and they have depth. Safety Harrison Smith, linebacker Anthony Barr, and company are a legitimate force to be reckoned with that deserves notice. Head coach Mike Zimmer has built himself a machine.
They have another litmus test on the road in Carolina on Sunday and don’t be surprised if they harass Panthers quarterback Cam Newton enough to come out undefeated. It could be an NFC championship preview and is definitely among the headline games this week. Both teams are legitimate contenders for the conference.
We’ll see how the offense progresses and Rodgers can always become Rodgers again, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the Vikings and everyone else in the North until further notice.
Week 3: At Carolina Panthers (1-1)
Green Bay Packers (1-1): Loss at Minnesota Vikings, 17-14
Is it panic time in Wisconsin? It’s difficult to say.
On one hand, the offense with Rodgers and company hasn’t looked like the terrifying consistent buzz-saw we’ve come to expect. They looked like they were returning to that level against Jacksonville, but the competition became more meaningful against Minnesota.
Maybe the run-and-gun Packers of old are back, it’s just the Vikings are that good. We won’t know until there’s more of a sample size. Still, there are play calling issues here, receivers aren’t getting open either off of individual efforts or play design, and everything seems off. The problems of 2015 reared their ugly head again on Sunday and the Packers better hope they were only temporary in a heated rivalry, otherwise the questions will grow.
If Green Bay makes the playoffs again, but with the offense struggling and the defense not exactly elite by any standard, and they lose their first game, head coach Mike McCarthy could be on the hot seat. The conversation has already centered around why you don’t have multiple Super Bowls with a generational quarterback. Repeated playoff failure to go with now inconsistent regular seasons won’t be tolerated according to the previous standards the Packers have set.
It’s very hard to win the championship in this league obviously, but when you have another once-in-a-lifetime talent like Green Bay does, the failure to come through is magnified the longer the drought goes. Eventually the opportunities with this player will evaporate, and there’s always the risk of fading into obscurity afterwards. Needless to say, it’s only Week 3, but there’s a lot of pressure on McCarthy and friends.
The chance to start to right the ship theoretically gets easier this week at home against the Lions. Winning a division game is always a boost, regardless of competency of opponent. Detroit’s defense is by no means a juggernaut and that time and spacing offense I lauded struggled against Tennessee.
If the Packers are still the contender they think they are, they better take advantage of this chance. The county seat of dissent will only get hotter from here.
Week 3: Vs. Detroit Lions (1-1)
Detroit Lions (1-0): Loss vs. Tennessee Titans, 16-15
When I said I was eager to see Jim Bob Cooter’s blazing offense against a more disciplined defense than that of the Colts, I didn’t think it would be the Titans to slow the hype train. But this league is built on turnovers i.e taking care of the ball and staying disciplined penalty-wise. While you can debate the legitimacy of some of the penalties they took against the Titans, both those facets are something Detroit struggled with on Sunday.
The turnover in particular isn’t as egregious, considering Stafford threw it while trying to drive to win the game. You question his decision-making in the process but he was forcing the issue, nothing more. 17 penalties for 138 yards screams out bad fortune and a lack of composure though. That ties a franchise record they set against the Cowboys in the 2015 playoffs, also a game with questionable officiating. Combine that with eight penalties in their first game against Indianapolis, the Lions are now on pace for 200 penalties this year, by far another franchise as well as NFL record.
Three touchdowns were taken back from the Lions and four automatic first downs were awarded for Tennessee on offense among all of that baggage. The Titans are in their own rebuilding process so they’ll take all the help they can get from a team seemingly willing to gift it to them. One of those touchdowns seemed like a ticky-tack push-off call on tight end Eric Ebron, but human error is always involved.
Basically, the Lions inflicted most of these wounds on themselves and they need to tighten the reins if they’re to reach whatever potential it is they possess. There’s a semblance of a core here with Stafford, the now injured Ezekiel Ansah, Golden Tate etc. But they need to put it together. The thing is, we still don’t know whether this team is truly quality or another also-ran. What we do know is that right now they have a problem with yellow flags that will keep us from obtaining an answer as to their quality. Coach Jim Caldwell knows it’s a problem and so do they.
Detroit will likely only be in this division race as long they can corral this issue. We’ll see who these Lions are soon enough.
Week 3: At Green Bay Packers (1-1)
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.