NFC North Race Doesn’t Disappoint
The Green Bay Packers are in the middle of a very interesting race for the NFC North title. While the Packers enjoy a bye week, let’s look at how the other NFC Northers are doing.
Chicago Bears (7-1): Eh. They’re okay, I guess.
Minnesota Vikings (5-4): I don’t think anyone saw their 4-1 start coming. This is a team that won only three games last year. The fast start is a fluke to a large extent, but the Vikings have made huge strides since last season and have much to be hopeful about. Christian Ponder is struggling currently, but began the year with several strong performances. The defense has been a pleasant surprise, ranking top ten in pass defense.
Things are about to get a whole lot worse for this team, however. In the final seven games of the year, the Vikes have to play the Houston Texans, Chicago twice, and Green Bay twice.
MVP: Adrian Peterson. This guy is incredible. He had a horrific knee injury last December and somehow, someway managed to come back to play in the first game of the season. The recovery time alone is amazing, but Peterson has not only played in every game, he has played at a high level. Peterson leads the league in rushing yards with 957 yards through nine weeks. Running backs just don’t come back from knee injuries like the one Peterson suffered, yet it looks like he never left. Peyton Manning has been quite impressive this year, but Peterson gets my vote for Comeback Player of the Year.
Detroit Lions (4-4): It seemed a foregone conclusion that the Packers and Bears would fight for the top two spots, Detroit would make things interesting by pushing for a Wild Card spot, and Minnesota would be the same terrible team for last year. As impressive as the Vikings’ start was, Detroit’s 1-3 start was equally disappointing. Receiving stud Calvin Johnson has struggled this season so far. He has the yards – 767 yards – but shockingly has only pulled in one touchdown. One! From one of the top three receivers in the league! The Lions need to get him the ball in the endzone if they want to turn this thing around. The biggest problem for the team is the same thing they struggled with last year: discipline. The Lions have lost 539 yards on 57 penalties this season. Personally, I have no faith in Jim Schwartz’s ability to manage this team in from a non-X’s-and-O’s standpoint: mindset, attitude, focus.
That said, the Lions are improving. They’ve played well in the fourth quarter and I’ve always been a believer in Matthew Stafford. The Lions will move up as Minnesota moves down, but this is not a playoff-caliber team.
MVP: Stafford. Detroit’s quarterback has completed 63.3% of his passes for 2,393 yards. His team ranks number one in passing yards per game. But Stafford needs to step up his game in a big way if the Lions want to be competitive. Stafford has seven interceptions to only eight touchdowns thus far.
Okay, okay, fine. I’ll go back to the Bears. I hate to say anything positive about the Bears, so these next few paragraphs aren’t going to be any fun for me. Chicago has been a dominating team in the league, particularly on defense and special teams. I was one of the many people who expected the Bears to move to a much more offense-oriented team as the defense continues to age, but the defense has been ferocious in eight games. The Bears defense has intercepted opponents 17 times while recovering 11 fumbles for a league-leading +16 turnover differential. They have allowed just seven passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, all while scoring seven touchdowns of their own.
The offense has been less impressive. Jay Cutler finally got what he wanted in a receiver with Brandon Marshall, but the two have failed to be the firecracking duo we expected, at least not consistently. Cutler is still Cutler – he’s thrown eight interceptions, fumbled four times, and has been sacked 28 times. While Chicago was right to bring in a wide receiver and acknowledge the existence of a passing game, they spend too much time passing for a team that has a killer one-two punch in the backfield with Matt Forte and Michael Bush.
Furthermore, the Bears have yet to defeat a team with a winning record. Some of their stats deserve a big ol’ asterisk – playing Tony Romo will pad a defense’s stats (thanks for those five interceptions, Tony!). They’ve beat the Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit, Carolina Panthers, and Tennessee Titans. Not exactly murderers’ row there. They have a tough two weeks coming up with the Texans and the San Francisco 49ers. They’ll have a harder time in the rest of the season, but they still have a strong chance at the NFC North title.
MVP: Charles Tillman. The 31-year-old cornerback is out of control! He’s forced seven fumbles, including four last Sunday. Add that to two pick-sixes on the season. Along with Tim Jennings, Tillman forms one of the best cornerback tandems in the league and the two cause a lot of problems for opposing quarterbacks. Tillman deserves serious Defensive Player of the Year consideration.
A lot can happen in a week in the NFL. While the Packers are resting up, Chicago will face a 7-1 Houston team with a DPOY candidate of their own. Detroit has a chance to leapfrog Minnesota when the two play on Sunday. We’ll check back in next week to see how we all feel about the teams a week from now.