LIONS INSIDER

NFC NORTH: 5 storylines for each team

Posted Oct 12, 2017

Tim Twentyman takes a look at where all four teams in the NFC North stand after five weeks of football.

Five weeks are in the books, and a lot has happened in the NFC North early into the 2017 season. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers keep chugging along, Minnesota’s quarterback carousel could take another twist, the Mitchell Trubisky era has begun in Chicago, and Detroit’s still trying to find consistency on offense.

It’s been an interesting five weeks.

Let’s take a look at the five biggest storylines for each team through the first five games of the season.

GREEN BAY

Record: 4-1

Wins: Seattle, Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas

Loss: Atlanta

Next up: at Minnesota (3-2)

5 storylines:

1. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady continue to be the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Rodgers has a 104.1 passer rating on the season, with and NFL-leading 13 touchdown passes vs. three interceptions.

2. Could Aaron Jones be the next in a long line of Packers running backs who rise from the bottom of the depth chart to take over starting duties? We’ve seen it in the past with players like Ryan Grant and James Starks. Jones rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown in his first career start last week for the injured Ty Montgomery. At the very least, the Packers have found a nice one-two punch when Montgomery returns.

3. Green Bay is one of just six teams in the NFL holding opponents under 200 passing yards per game on average. Who would have thought that would be the case at the beginning of the season after ranking among the bottom in that category last season?

4. As long as they stay healthy, Green Bay might have the best set of receivers in the division in Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. The three pass catchers have combined for 45 catches, 733 yards and 11 touchdowns.

5. This week’s game in Minnesota will tell us a lot about the Packers. They appear to be the cream of the crop in the North, and a win Sunday would solidify that. Rodgers has 2,446 pass yards (271.8 per game), 20 touchdowns and two interceptions for a 112.3 passer rating in nine career games at Minnesota.

DETROIT

Record: 3-2

Wins: Arizona, New York Giants, Minnesota

Losses: Atlanta, Carolina

Next up: at New Orleans (2-2)

5 storylines:

1. Detroit’s offense has been its weakest link so far. That’s somewhat uncommon around these parts. Detroit ranks 29th in total offense (288.2), 23rd in passing (200.6) and 26th in rushing (87.6).

2. How will the loss of Haloti Ngata (bicep/IR) affect the middle of Detroit’s defensive line? The team signed veterans Datone Jones and Caraun Reid, but Ngata was having a great season up to this point.

3. Can a couple normally reliable players bounce back this week in New Orleans? Quarterback Matthew Stafford wasn’t sharp in last week’s loss to Carolina. Neither was cornerback Darius Slay.

4. If the Lions continue to stop the run like they have, they should be able to sustain the good defensive effort we’ve seen the first five weeks. Detroit ranks third in rushing defense (74.6) and 11th in scoring defense (19.4).

5. Detroit's shown flashes of being able to run the football this year, but it hasn’t been nearly consistent enough. That has to be somewhat disappointing for Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, given how much of an emphasis he put on improving the run this offseason.  

MINNESOTA

Record: 3-2

Wins: New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Chicago

Losses: Pittsburgh, Detroit

Next up: vs. Green Bay (4-1)

5 storylines:

1. First it was Sam Bradford at quarterback, then Case Keenum, then back to Bradford, and then back to Keenum again. Now comes word that Teddy Bridgewater could be activated next week. If Bridgewater is still the player we remember from 2015, the Vikings could be very dangerous moving forward with him at the helm.

2. Minnesota’s defense continues to be among the NFL’s best. They rank eighth in points allowed (18.6), seventh overall (309.2) and seventh against the run (80.0).

3. The loss of Dalvin Cook was a big blow to the offense. Cook was second in the NFL in rushing when he went down with an ACL injury. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon aren’t nearly as dynamic of runners.

4. Stefon Diggs (395) and Adam Thielen (392) rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in the NFL in receiving yards. That's a pretty good one-two punch through the air.

5. Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen is third in the NFL with six sacks, and is looking for a sack in a sixth-straight game to begin the season. He has four sacks and two forced fumbles in his last four meetings against the Packers.

CHICAGO

Record: 1-4

Win: Pittsburgh

Loss: Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Minnesota

Next up: at Baltimore (3-2)

5 storylines:

1. It took only four weeks for the Trubisky era to begin in Chicago. He’s going to take his lumps as a starting rookie quarterback in this league, but he certainly has talent, and Chicago will be better off in the long run letting him play now.

2. Unfortunately for Trubisky, the Bears are void of any real threats at the receiver position. Injury has decimated the position. Chicago’s leading pass catcher is a running back, Tarik Cohen, with 25 receptions. Kendall Wright leads Bears receivers with just 200 receiving yards through five games.

3. The Bears are sixth in total defense. That side of the ball has played well through the first five games. The way Chicago plays defense, and can run the football, if the Bears get any kind of consistent play at quarterback from Trubisky moving forward, they could be a tough matchup in the NFC the rest of the year.

4. How will the loss of linebacker Willie Young, Chicago’s top pass rusher since 2014, affect the defense? Second-year linebacker Leonard Floyd will have to step up. Floyd had six tackles, two sacks and a safety last week. The Bears need more of that moving forward.

5. The Bears are only averaging 15.6 points per game, which ranks 30th in the NFL. They have to find a way to score more points. They're hoping Trubisky is the answer.