1- Minnesota Vikings: 3-0
2- Green Bay Packers: 2-1
3- Detroit Lions: 1-2
4- Chicago Bears: 0-3
Given the bevy of injuries at this juncture, you can safely embed the Chicago Bears in last place in the NFC North and the cellar of the conference. This week’s matchup against the Lions will do a lot to tell us about the current state of the team. If the Bears don’t win, it will have been over a year since they last won a game at Soldier Field. It’s hard to find a non-negative superlative for that idea.
This week’s NFC North look has the Vikings looking invincible (particularly their defense), the Packers “solving” their team issues, and the Lions on the danger of a similar collapse to Chicago. There’s no doubt that we’re starting to get a concrete picture of this division and the league as a whole. Spoiler: It’s a bleak outlook for the Bears.
Let’s take a gander at the recent happenings in the NFC North and preview what to expect in Week 4.
Minnesota Vikings (3-0): Win at Carolina Panthers, 22-10
If you thought you needed to see more quality from Minnesota with Sam Bradford at the helm, well, it’s safe to say you can make a judgment now.
After harassing the reigning MVP in Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to the tune of eight sacks, and three interceptions in his own stadium, the Vikings are the new league terror. With the defense they possess under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, there shouldn’t be any offense in this league that scares them. Carolina, a 15-1 powerhouse last year, had no answers and was dominated throughout.
No Teddy Bridgewater. No Adrian Peterson. No problem. Minnesota just keeps humming along.
Every level of the defense has an answer for everything from fast spread attacks to power running games. Plus, they have all of the athleticism and youth afforded that is just entering it’s prime. Harrison Smith is one of the best best safeties in the league. Anthony Barr is an incredible versatile weapon used as a Swiss army knife by Zimmer. Eric Kendricks and Chad Greenway help finish quite the linebacker core. The multitude of pass rushers in Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, and Linval Joseph etc. is something to envy.
This is a scary good team that should be able to coast off of it’s defense for years to 10-11 wins barring health. They are definitively on the level of the Broncos defense that just won last year’s Super Bowl. This is currently the NFL’s third best defensive unit DVOA-wise according to Football Outsiders (playing third fiddle to Seattle and Philadelphia).
Yet, the crazy thing is, that feels misleading and does a disservice to the talent in play. Minnesota leads the NFL in with 10 turnovers forced and 15 sacks, collectively. They have the league’s best rushing defense and fifth best passing defense. Basically, they are dominating in the two most important defensive statistics in the modern era and can shut you down in any facet.
I would take Minnesota over any defense except Denver and run.
The question to ask now: Are they the NFC favorites for the Super Bowl? Through three weeks, can you make a more compelling argument for someone else?
They just dominated two of the league’s best quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Newton in back-to-back weeks. Seattle’s offense is sputtering around with an injured Russell Wilson. Green Bay is working through obvious issues dating back to last season. Arizona’s offense seems up and down like their quarterback Carson Palmer. Meanwhile, the Eagles seem destined for contention following a beat down of the Steelers. But would you really pencil a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz against Minnesota?
We’ll get a taste of this matchup in Week 7 as a better litmus test, but I wouldn’t put any stock into that thought. That’s a bet you’re likely to lose. All Sam Bradford needs to do is manage the game with the team around him. What a fun job.
Pencil them in for a deep January run. The Vikings have finally arrived and are here to stay. All division alliances aside, as a football fan, this is the greatest treat to watch.
Week 4: Vs. New York Giants (2-1)
Green Bay Packers (2-1): Win vs. Detroit Lions, 34-27
Through a half at Lambeau Field, it seemed like all concerns about Green Bay were alleviated. How could you not get comfortable? A 31-10 lead boosted by touchdowns on the first three series. A depleted Lions defense on the ropes. Detroit’s offense under the hot Stafford sputtering. Everything seemed like an easy Sunday stroll for the Packers.
But when you let your foot off the gas or the other team adjusts, old issues begin to rear their head.
Even with a half no one would be proud of, Stafford and company lit the Packers up to the tune of 385 yards and three touchdowns, including a 73-yard bomb to Marvin Jones. Detroit held every relevant offensive advantage from time of possession (35 minutes) to overall yardage, 418 to 324.
Green Bay’s offense was built on big plays, which is exciting to watch, but not exactly the most efficient endeavor. When Rodgers is still only throwing for a little over 200 yards, and Eddie Lacy averages six yards a carry with 107 yards, you’re very boom-or-bust.
This is a good problem to have at this point though. Take every positive sign you receive. You can build on explosive performances like this. The Jordy Nelson we know and love also appeared with six receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
But Detroit was heavily depleted defensively, particularly with it’s two best defensive players in middle linebacker DeAndre Levy and the stalwart Ezekiel Ansah. If these two played, there would likely not have been as many glowing reviews of the Packers offense. When or if the familiar Packers return, they need to do this against a fully complimented elite defense for 60 minutes. When you struggle as they did against the Lions, you leave yourself vulnerable to another one-and-done in the postseason, especially with the defense still getting ripped apart. Individual efforts from Nick Perry won’t be enough.
A bye week comes at a convenient time.
This should give a great chance for preparation to get to the bottom of what’s made the Packers look so human recently. Save for the Bears, the schedule doesn’t soften over the next month. The Giants, Cowboys, and Falcons are all up next on the docket, all teams that can rip apart a mediocre defense.
I sound like a broken record at this point, but if Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy don’t steer this offense and overall operation under together in time, we’ll continue to ask more and more questions.
Forget any hot seat conversation on the Chicago lakefront. I wouldn’t want to be up in Green Bay with that kind of destructive fervor rising.
Week 4: Bye Week
Detroit Lions (1-2): Loss vs. Green Bay Packers, 34-27
This is one of the more topsy-turvy seasons for Motown in recent memory.
Matthew Stafford currently is third in the NFL in passing yards and has the sixth highest passer rating in the league at a flaming 105.0, yet the Lions are below .500. You light up the Colts in the first week, shoot yourselves in the foot with an almost record amount of penalties against Tennessee, and a deploy a depleted defense with not much consistency against Green Bay. You saw the less than satisfactory results against Rodgers.
Coach Jim Caldwell isn’t being dealt the best hand here, but save for Minnesota, you would think a wild-card berth can be up for grabs in the NFC. There are enough struggling preseason hyped teams like the Cardinals and Panthers, to figure that if the Lions pull it together enough, they can seize one of those spots.
But that seems to be a complicated question Detroit can’t answer the moment. Every possible pillar of adversity-from officiating to injuries-has been thrown at this team. Quite frankly, they are lucky Stafford finally has come into his own as a franchise passer. If Stafford hadn’t reached this plateau, the Lions would have more than likely been in the gutter of the league.
Please, find me some kind of photoshop of Stafford carrying the weight of this franchise on his shoulders. It’s oh so appropriate. With Ansah and Levy out for an unknown period of time (they still haven’t practiced this week), it seems unfair but Stafford’s going to have to do even more.
A consistent wunderkind virtuoso effort is needed at this point to keep this season afloat. This defense won’t stop anybody save for the bottom feeders so we are in full shootout mode. Maybe that’s what Stafford prefers as a gunslinger.
There’s now a nice little tune-up coming against the Bears. This should no doubt be a welcome reprieve against a team wheezing for breath that’s even more banged up. However, let’s remember that nothing is ever a foregone conclusion for the Lions.
Week 4: At Chicago Bears (0-3)
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.