Meet the NFC North’s new boss. Same as the old boss.
It took all of three weeks for the Green Bay Packers to go from a weak-looking 1-2 to division leaders at 4-2. They’ve won three straight over teams that were, at the time, .500 or better, and they’re doing it without a high-flying passing attack.
The Lions and Bears each botched chances to seize control of the division, so the Packers leapfrogged them both. Now the Lions look inconsistent, the Bears have answered a losing stretch with a relatively long-term injury to Jay Cutler, the Vikings are irrelevant, and the Packers have seized control of things.
In other words, everything is the same as it ever was.
Green Bay — 4-2 (1-0 NFCN)
Detroit — 4-3 (2-1 NFCN)
Chicago — 4-3 (1-1 NFCN)
Minnesota — 1-5 (0-2 NFCN)
The Packers lead the division, but only by a half-game (plus a tiebreaker over the Lions). There is a lot of time, and there are plenty of games left to be played.
The NFC North is effectively locked a three-way tie for first right now, but the Packers are the only team really trending up at the moment. And that’s even with their injuries. Maybe because of them. It seems like every time they lose a starter to injury, they find someone better to replace him. That insane depth is what good drafting gets for you.
Anyway, lest I continue the Packers respect-rant any longer, here’s how the division looks, team-by-team.
This loss stings especially badly for the Lions. It was a winnable game against a very strong team, and the Lions let it slip away on account of poor defense and bad execution in all phases. More importantly, it was a chance for the team to jump out in front in the divisional standings, and they couldn’t capitalize.
Now they’re playing catch-up to the Packers. As usual.
The good news is that their tilt against the Bengals may have been their toughest non-divisional game left this season. They have remaining games against the Cowboys (4-3), Steelers (2-4), Bucs (0-6), Eagles (3-4) , Ravens (3-4), and Giants (1-6).
The other good news is that Calvin Johnson is back to knocking people’s socks off.
Next Game: 10/27 vs. Dallas (4-3)
They’re 1-3 in their last four, with their only victory coming in a dogfight against the winless Giants. And that was before they lost Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs to injury.
Cutler is expected out for four weeks, and Briggs for six. If there’s good news, it’s that they get the bye week to prepare with their new starters. Of course, the bad news is that they’ll be preparing for huge divisional matchups against the Packers and Lions without Cutler. It may be difficult for them to tread water.
The interesting wrinkle here is that backup QB Josh McCown performed reasonably well against Washington, even coming close to pulling out the win. But Washington’s defense is one of the worst in the league, and Chicago’s still managed to give up more points. There are plenty of issues with this team, even beyond the current injuries.
Next Game: 11/04 (Monday) at Green Bay (4-2)
Green Bay Packers
The Packers played without Randall Cobb, James Starks, James Jones and Clay Matthews. And they dominated a 3-3 team.
They played just fine, because their most important skill position player was still on the field. I’m not talking about Jordy Nelson, I’m talking about Eddie Lacy, who has given the Packers a running game to be respected and feared for the first time since… actually, when was the last time?
The fact that this team is winning games with defense and a strong rushing attack, and they still have Aaron Rodgers in the fold is… frightening. Like the Lions, their schedule is tissue-soft the rest of the season. They’re in very good shape right now.
Next Game: 10/27 at Minnesota (1-5)
The Vikings have gone from bad to worse, as they remain winless on American soil. Their one win (in six attempts) came against a then-winless Pittsburgh team in London. Now they’ve dropped a game to the inept Giants in the first game of the Josh Freeman Experiment.
Vikings fans should give Freeman a little slack here. Yes, he was completely ineffective against the 24th-ranked pass defense in the NFL, but he’s just getting himself out of a really bad situation in Tampa, and has had less than 14 days to learn the Vikings’ offense. Most new players can’t fully learn their offensive responsibilities after months of offseason work. Minnesota is asking a guy to run the offense after two weeks.
Freeman will play better than he did in New York — probably — but for now, that’s far from the only issue. Adrian Peterson carried the Vikings to a playoff spot in 2012, but can’t seem to get anything going now. Special teams have been awful, and the defense is one of the worst in the league. Greg Jennings looks like an atrocious signing, Cordarelle Patterson has been a non-factor in the offense (though he’s solid on special teams), and… sorry, I’m piling on, aren’t I?
The Vikings certainly have talent in spots, but right now, they’re bad, and they almost look to be getting worse. It’s hard to see how the team can improve in the short term. They need to address some things in the offseason and hope some of their young players grow into their roles.
Next Game: 10/27 Monday vs. Green Bay (4-2)