The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears met this week in an NFC North power struggle, and the Lions emerged as the division leader at the quarter mark of the season.
Naturally, that means an awful lot less than leading the division after another 12 games would, but the Lions turned in a dominant performance against the Bears, leaving little doubt as to their legitimacy as (at the very least) a contender for the NFC North crown and more.
Meanwhile, more than 3,700 miles away, the Pittsburgh Steelers were busy giving London a show and eliminating the last remaining winless team in the division. The Minnesota Vikings, after close calls in their first three games, finally closed out the Steelers at Wembley Stadium, bringing them within a half-game of the idle Packers. There’s a lot more football to be played this year, but the early leader is clear.
Detroit — 3-1 (2-0 NFCN)
Chicago — 3-1 (1-1 NFCN)
Green Bay — 1-2 (0-0 NFCN)
Minnesota — 1-3 (0-2 NFCN)
Technically, the Lions and Bears share the same record, but the Lions now hold an edge in divisional record and head-t0-head play, which makes them the current leader in the old Black and Blue Division.
The Packers remain at 1-2 on account of them being on a bye week. This is the first time the Packers are spending consecutive weeks under .500 at any point in the season since 2008, Aaron Rodgers’ first season as the Packers’ starting QB, when they finished 6-10.
While the Packers obviously couldn’t do anything about their 1-2 record during their off week, the Vikings’ victory puts the Packers a half-game closer to the division’s cellar than its peak. The Lions and Packers will square off next week, and the result of that game will undoubtedly bring another seismic change to the power structure of the division.
The Lions showed up big and passed what was ultimately the first big test of their 2013 season with a 40-32 victory over the Bears. It was a more dominant victory than the final score suggests, but there should be some concern with the Lions’ inability to close it out with a 24-point lead. That game should never have come down to an onside kick. It’s kind of like passing a test even though you decided not to answer the last 10 questions.
Still, the Lions will take the win, and the early advantage in the division. They can make a real statement next week, and start putting some real distance between themselves and the rest of the division, by beating the Packers next week at Lambeau Field for the first time since 1991.
Next Game: 10/6 at. Green Bay (1-2)
The Bears, loathe as I am to admit it, deserve a lot of credit for a late comeback rally when the game should have (and was, in fact) well over. They turned an embarrassing blowout into an eight-point game that ended in an onside kick, largely on the strength of an emergent Alshon Jeffery.
The Bears lost this game because many of the Bears’ old questions cropped up against the Lions. The offensive line couldn’t contain the Lions’ defensive front, Bad Jay Cutler turned the ball over four times, and the defense, when unable to force turnovers, was largely gashed (though bad field position certainly didn’t do them any favors).
To make matters worse, the Bears get their second consecutive tough matchup against the (currently) undefeated New Orleans Saints next week.
Next Game: 10/6 at New Orleans (3-0, vs. Miami on MNF)
Green Bay Packers
Being that they’re in a bye week, there’s not much to report on the Packers this week. By the time they play, they will have had two weeks to prepare for the NFC North-leading Lions in a game at Lambeau Field, where the Lions haven’t won in over two decades.
A win against the Lions could bring them within a half-game of the division lead after a rough start. A loss puts them in a 2.5-game hole, and gives up a potential tiebreaker. That’s as big as the stakes get in Week 5.
Next Game: 10/6 at Detroit (3-1)
Last week, I said you could never count out a team with Adrian Peterson. And finally, the Vikings broke through against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London. The Vikings still haven’t won a game on American soil, and the Steelers are winless, but the Vikings will take this win.
Worth noting is that the Vikings won their first game of the season in what was also the first game of the season in which Christian Ponder wasn’t starting. I’m no big proponent of Matt Cassel, but the Vikings just scored 34 points with him starting. I’m not sure this signals the start of the Matt Cassel era, but the Christian Ponder era just might be in its final weeks.
The Vikings will get Week 5 off to rest up from their international trip, and ponder their QB question (pun only partially intended).
Next Game: 10/13 vs. Carolina (1-2)