NFC NORTH

NFC North: What have we learned through three games?

Posted Sep 25, 2012

At first glance, the standings in the NFC North somehow seem backwards.

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said Monday that anything could happen in the NFL on any given Sunday.

You can probably fit Monday into that phrase after the controversial ending in last night's Packers-Seahawks Monday Night Football game, a game the Packers lost on a Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the game that the replacement officials got wrong.

“I think if you’re around it long enough, you know that this League is unpredictable,” Schwartz said Monday. “I mean, there’s a reason that people say ‘any given Sunday,’ you know, because that’s what this League is. It’s not a cliché.

“This is a battle every single week, every single time you step on the field. Doesn’t matter what anybody’s record is, you just need to go play.”

The current standings in the NFC North back up every word of Schwartz’s statements. At first glance, the standings somehow seem backwards.

The Packers and Lions, two teams expected to compete for the division title, are at the bottom with 1-2 records. The Vikings, who won just three games last year, are 2-1 and atop the division with the Bears (2-1).

It proves two things: One, don’t take anyone lightly in this league, and two, there’s still a lot of football to be played.

Through three games, here’s what we’re learning about the four teams in the NFC North:

VIKINGS

Record: 2-1

Victories over: Jaguars and 49ers

Loss to: Colts

What we’ve learned: Quarterback Christian Ponder seems to be the real deal.

Comment: Ponder started 10 games for the Vikings as a rookie last season and finished with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a 70.1 quarterback rating.

This year, the only way to describe Ponder’s encore performance so far is efficient. Ponder has yet to throw an interception in three games and has four touchdowns and a 104.9 rating.

Ponder is taking care of the football and letting the Vikings' run game dictate the pace of games and their top-10 defense is handling the rest. It’s the same philosophy that’s been successful for quarterback Alex Smith in San Francisco.

BEARS

Record: 2-1

Victories over: Colts and Rams

Loss to: Packers

What we’ve learned: The Bears defense isn’t as old and over-the-hill as some might have thought.

Comment: Some wondered before the season how much DE Julius Peppers, LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and CB Charles Tillman had left in the tank. It’s becoming clear after three games their gauges still read 'full'.

The Bears rank sixth or better in every major statistical category on defense early this season. Not only are the old guys playing well, but they're also getting contributions from young players like Major Wright and Tim Jennings.

I know what you’re thinking: two victories against the Colts and Rams isn't groundbreaking, but even in their loss to the Packers, the Bears defense only allowed one touchdown.

The Bears defense leads the NFL with 14 sacks through Week 3.

PACKERS

Record: 1-2

Victory over: Bears

Losses to: 49ers and Seahawks

What we’ve learned: The Packers’ weapons on offense can only go as far as their offensive line protects them.

Comment: It was a reoccurring theme for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers Monday night in Seattle: drop back to pass, try to avoid the Seahawks rush, eventually end up on his back. It was repeated eight times Monday night.

The Packers probably have the best collection of receivers in the NFL, but if Rodgers doesn’t have enough time to get the ball to them, it really doesn’t matter. They haven’t gotten much out of their run game, either, which hasn't slowed down defenses.

Rodgers has been sacked 16 times in three games, which leads the NFL.

LIONS

Record: 1-2

Victory over: Rams

Losses to: 49ers and Titans

What we’ve learned: The defense is still plagued by some of the same problems it had last year.

Comment: The most frustrating part about watching the last two games of the season a year ago was the defense's inability to stop big plays or get to the quarterback. Unfortunately that’s also been the problem the last two weeks for the Lions defense in losses to the 49ers and Titans.

The Lions are still missing safety Louis Delmas, and there’s been no indication of when he might return after undergoing knee surgery Aug. 7.

The defensive line had just one quarterback hit and no sacks last week against the Titans. Two weeks ago they couldn't stop explosive plays in the run, last week it was pass.

Bottom line is that the Lions need to figure out how to stop explosive plays on defense.

Around the NFC North

Packers fans protest outside Lambeau Field
Charles Davis – Press-Gazette

Wild finish delivers crushing loss in Seattle
Pete Dougherty – Press Gazette

Packers locker room erupts in anger
Rob Demovsky – Press Gazette

Packers locker room erupts in anger
Rob Demovsky – Press Gazette

Final play puts focus on lockout of referees
Tom Silverstein – Journal Sentinel

Packers have no choice but to move on
Mike Spofford – Packers.com

Bears' Cutler in better mood after victory
Fred Mitchell – Tribune

Bears' Jennings taking game to another level
Vaughn McClure – Tribune

Bears; aging defense finally getting help
Mark Potash – Sun-Times

Bears hopeful Forte will play against Cowboys
Larry Mayer – Chicagobears.com

Offensive line improved vs. Rams
ESPNChicago.com

Vikings' Simpson no longer alone
Dan Wiederer – Star Tribune

Players give Musgrave's game plan rave reviews
Chip Scoggins – Star Tribune

Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' win over the 49ers
Tom Pelissero – 1500ESPN.com