The Green Bay Packers kept control of the NFC North through another week of action, and they appear to be solidifying their status as the team to beat.
But they’re not in nearly as much control as they probably expected when the Lions were down six points to the Cowboys with a minute left.
So went the NFL’s eighth week, in which the Lions head into their bye week on the highest of notes, the Bears come out of theirs with a new quarterback, the Packers exert new forms of dominance, and the Vikings play their third different quarterback in three weeks.
First, we’ll have a look at the standings.
NFC North Standings
Green Bay — 5-2 (2-0 NFCN)
Detroit — 5-3 (2-1 NFCN)
Chicago — 4-3 (1-1 NFCN)
Minnesota — 1-6 (0-3 NFCN)
Though the road to get there was full of twists and turns, the standings don’t look terribly different than they did last week. Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago are all within a half-game of one another, with the idle Bears slipping back because of the Lions and Packers wins.
Chicago and Green Bay will play next week, and they have an opportunity to create chaos. Should the Bears pull out the win, the NFC North will show a three-way tie for first at 5-3 (2-1 NFCN), with a rock-paper-scissors arrangement of head-to-head wins. That doesn’t mean anything in Week 9, of course, but it’s fun to think about.
In other news, I’m willing to bet NFL executives are a little bit unhappy with their decision to put Minnesota on three primetime games in four weeks.
To be fair, when it comes to running backs, there’s Adrian Peterson and then everyone else. Unfortunately, that also describes the Vikings themselves.
It’s hard to say whether the Lions deserved to win the game because of their superior offensive performance and stout defense, or if they stole the game because of their -4 turnover differential. Probably some of column A and a whole bunch of column B. Either way, they’re 5-3 with a really good feeling heading into the bye.
That bye week couldn’t have come at a better time, as they have bumps, bruises and breaks all along the roster. Just against Dallas, the Lions lost Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah, Ryan Broyles and Bill Bentley to injuries of varying degrees. Broyles’ injury appears to be the only one that might be long-term, but the others could certainly use a week off to rest up.
Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are playing some of the best football of their careers, and if they can get Nate Burleson back after the bye, it will give an already potent offense a huge boost. They’re in very good playoff position, with the second half of their schedule showing a combined record of 20-38. Aside from the Bears and Packers, they don’t have a team left on the schedule with a winning record.
Next Game: 11/10 at Chicago (4-3)
If the Bears absolutely HAD to have a time to lose Jay Cutler for a few weeks, they couldn’t have asked for a better time than the bye week.
Unless, of course, that bye week is followed by make-or-break divisional games against Green Bay and Detroit. Backup QB Josh McCown played admirably in relief against Washington, but that was against an atrocious defense, and they still lost.
They’re lucky they have two weeks to prep McCown for the tests ahead, but missing both Cutler and Lance Briggs for what could be the most important stretch of the season could prove fatal to their playoff chances. They’ve already slipped to third in the NFC North, and they’re going to have a tough time climbing from there.
Next Game: 11/04 (Monday) at Green Bay (5-2)
Green Bay Packers
If there was one thing teams could normally count on against the Packers, it’s that they didn’t have to worry too much about the running game. They just had to focus on stopping Aaron Rodgers.
Eddie Lacy would like you to know that is no longer the case.
Lacy isn’t explosive, nor is he a “lead the league in rushing” kind of guy, but the Packers feed him the ball and he does work. He has been grinding defenses down up the middle, and consistently pushing for six or seven yards on first downs. That said, Vikings proved he can also be caught in the backfield, which might have more to do with the Packers’ offensive line than anything.
Regardless, the Packers are still a passing team, and Rodgers is still its leader. It’s just nice for them to know they can put some extra work on Lacy while they wait for Randall Cobb and James Jones to get back into the fold.
Next Game: 11/04 vs. Chicago (4-3)
If that wasn’t the final verdict on the “is Christian Ponder the answer?” question, somebody needs to be fired. Maybe they do anyway. Sure, Ponder has some moments, but playing quarterback in the NFL isn’t about making pretty good plays sometimes. It’s about making the right play every time.
Ponder is woefully inconsistent, and well into his third season he still has sequences where he looks like a rookie. He didn’t really start playing well until garbage time, in which he successfully made the game look closer than it was.
Josh Freeman may not be the right answer either, but now that he’s in the fold, the Vikings owe it to themselves to find out. They’re probably looking at drafting a new quarterback in April anyway, but Freeman’s development (or lack thereof) will tell them whether they need to draft a rookie starter, or a second-round developmental type.
And this time, if they draft the developmental guy, don’t take him with the 12th overall pick.
Next Game: 10/27 at Dallas (4-3)