The two NFC North teams that made the playoffs in 2012 currently bring up the rear in the division after three games. What does that mean at this point? Not much. There are 13 games left to play before any of these games truly mean anything, but we’re reaching the point in the season where the good starts to separate from the bad.
There certainly is clear definition between the teams in the NFC North to this point, but absolutely nothing is certain just yet. Even the Vikings, who pretty clearly look like bottom-feeders this year, have plenty of time to turn things around. We’ll get a much better idea of who has control in the division in the next two weeks, when the Lions play the Bears and Packers in consecutive weeks at Ford Field.
Here’s how things look after three weeks of NFL action.
Chicago — 3-0 (1-0)
Detroit — 2-1 (1-0)
Green Bay — 1-2 (0-0)
Minnesota — 0-3 (0-2)
The teams at the top of the standings don’t really look as good as their records, and the teams at the bottom don’t really look as bad. Realistically, the entire division is up in the air at this point. If there’s a sure thing in the NFC North right now, it’s that the Vikings aren’t very good. But if we learned anything in 2012, it’s that counting out a team with Adrian Peterson is a bad idea, especially if he ever gets some support.
If you asked me to summarize the Lions’ performance against the Washington Redskins in a word, I would say “Joique,” and drop the mic. While he didn’t post the gaudiest stat line of the day, it was Joique Bell’s performance in relief of the injured Reggie Bush that kept the Lions’ offense rolling. Of course, it also helped that the Redskins’ anemic secondary gave up 100-yard receiving days to both Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson.
The Lions made some mistakes in this game, but they forced the Redskins into several more. The big win in Washington, where the Lions had never won previously, sets up a huge Week 4 showdown in Detroit with Chicago. The winner of that game will determine the leader of the NFC North after the first quarter of the season.
Next Game: 9/29 vs. Chicago (3-0)
The Chicago Bears did what they could to quiet the critics of their ugly wins in the first two weeks of the season with a domination of the once-mighty Steelers. Some will point to the fact that the Bears’ last two wins have come against a pair of 0-3 teams, and that’s fair. However, their other win was against the 2-1 Bengals, who just beat the Green Bay Packers. Besides, when it comes to determining playoff positioning, ugly wins over bad teams don’t count any less than blowouts over great teams.
At this point in the season, both the Bears and the Lions have reason to claim legitimacy, and there’s equally reason to argue against them. Both teams are talented, but flawed, so it comes down to who can bring results on the field. It’ll be hard to argue with whoever wins the matchup next weekend at Ford Field.
Next Game: 9/29 at Detroit (2-1)
Green Bay Packers
My repeated insistence that the Green Bay Packers are the team to beat in the NFC North has taken a bit of a shot, considering how they’re now 1-2 with two losses to teams with a combined 3-3 record. With the Mike McCarthy/Aaron Rodgers combo leading the team, they shouldn’t slip too far, but right now, they look extremely beatable.
Perhaps the most unusual thing about this Packers team is that they’re -2 in turnover margin, marking how very mistake-prone they’ve been early on this year. The defense has its issues, but it always has. If they can clean up the mistakes, they’ll be well on the way to another 10-win season. But for the first time in a while, we have to wonder “if.” They have lots of questions to address going into a long bye week, followed by an important divisional showdown against the Lions, who by that point will be either leading the NFC North or in second.
Next Game: 10/6 at Detroit (2-1)
The Vikings have shown, if nothing else, that they can hang around with anybody. Problem is, that’s about all they’ve proven. Despite being in one-possession games in the fourth quarter of all three of their games (and leading in their last two), they haven’t been able to close out against the Lions, Bears, or even the previously winless Brows.
People will blame Christian Ponder, and that’s fair — he’s completing less than 60 percent of his passes and has only two passing touchdowns this year against five interceptions and two lost fumbles. But the Vikings defense, which is giving up an average of 32 points a game, has to be a bigger story. No offense can be asked to outpace that. For reference, the Packers are giving up 29.3 points per game, and they’re 1-2. And the Vikings don’t have the Packers’ offense. Even Adrian Peterson can’t change that.
Next Game: 9/22 vs. Pittsburgh (0-3)