NFC NORTH

NFC North: What we know so far

Posted Oct 8, 2012

After the this season's first five weeks, it’s the Vikings and Bears atop the division at 4-1 and the Packers (2-3) and Lions (1-3) trying to catch up.

Before the season began, most NFL pundits thought the NFC North was primed to be one of the toughest divisions in football. It certainly looked that way on paper with the Packers, Lions and Bears coming off a 2011 season in which they combined for a 33-15 record and got playoff appearances from the Packers and Lions.

Those same experts thought the Vikings would be improved from last year’s 3-13 mark, and would certainly be competitive from week to week. Possibly even shock a few teams along the way.

After the this season's first five weeks, it’s the Vikings and Bears atop the division at 4-1 and the Packers (2-3) and Lions (1-3) trying to catch up.  It just goes to show how unpredictable and unique each NFL season can be.

So, now that the Vikings and Bears are the head of the class in the NFC North, should the opinion of how strong the division is be adjusted? Are the Vikings for real?  Did we overvalue the Packers and Lions? Is the Bears defense really this good?

The upcoming opponents for the Vikings, Packers and Lions are a combined 9-5 this season and we’re likely to learn a lot more about each team after next week. The Bears and that sixth-ranked defense have this week off for their bye

Here’s what we know so far:

VIKINGS

Record: 4-1

Victories over: Jaguars, 49ers, Lions and Titans

Loss to: Colts

Next opponent: at Redskins (2-3)

What we know: The Vikings defense is one of the stingiest in the league against the run and that’s making it a lot easier for their young secondary to learn the ropes.

Over the last five weeks, the Vikings have allowed one opponent to rush for more than 100 yards – Jacksonville 133 in Week 1.  They rank No. 6 in the NFL against the run allowing 78.6 yards per game.

Over those five weeks, no individual runner has gained more than 77 yards against the Vikings defense: Maurice Jones-Drew (77), Frank Gore (63), Donald Brown (45), Mikel Leshoure (26) and Chris Johnson (24).

If the Vikings can continue to stuff the run with their front seven, they can continue to play team defense in their back end and win games by playing smart on offense, running the football and letting Percy Harvin loose.

BEARS

Record: 4-1

Victories over: Colts, Rams, Cowboys and Jaguars

Loss to: Packers

Next opponent: Bye

What we know: When it’s all said and done and all the stats are in, the two that matter the most are points scored and points allowed. The Bears rank fourth in the NFL in each category. They’re scoring at a clip of 29.8 points per game and allowing 14.2. No surprise they’re 4-1.

Here’s a little tidbit about that aging Bears defense: Cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs, who are both 31, each had an interception-return touchdown in the Bears’ 41-3 win at Jacksonville on Sunday. Tillman and Briggs, who each had an interception-return touchdown last week, are the first set of teammates in NFL history to each return an interception for a touchdown in consecutive games.

The Bears are 9 in turnovers through five games, which is third best in the league. Last year the Bears finished 2. What we know so far about the Bears defense is that if opponents don’t take care of the football then they’ll make them pay.

PACKERS

Record: 2-3

Victories over: Bears and Saints

Losses to: 49ers, Seahawks and Colts

Next opponent: at Texans (4-0 pending Monday's game against Jets)

What we know: Opponents should be far less fearful of the Packers offense without receiver Greg Jennings in the lineup. Jennings has played in just three games this season because of a groin injury and has 12 catches for 78 yards and one touchdown. Without Jennings in the lineup or at 100-percent, teams are able to focus more attention on Jordy Nelson on the other side and stopping the Packers’ rushing offense, which ranks 20th in the league.

Jennings and Nelson combined for 2,209 yards and 24 touchdowns last year and maybe even more important, averaged 18.6 and 14.2 yards per completion, respectively. Without Jennings, Nelson is averaging 12.6 yards per catch and just 57.8 yards per game.

LIONS

Record: 1-3

Victory over: Rams

Losses to: 49ers, Titans and Vikings

Next opponent: Eagles (3-2)

What we know: The Lions are finding more ways to lose games than they are finding ways to win them.

The Lions rank in the top 10 in the league in both offense (3rd) and defense (9th) and yet find themselves at the bottom of the NFC North with a 1-3 record. It just goes to show how costly special teams gaffes, dropped balls and penalties can be.

The Lions have allowed four return touchdowns over the last two games -- both losses. They lead the league in dropped passes (15).

In the Lions’ Week 1 victory over the Rams, they had three penalties for 27 yards. Over the last three weeks – all losses – they are averaging nearly eight penalties per game for 77 yards.

If the Lions could just find a way to get out of their own way they might be okay the rest of the way.

Around the NFC North

Wrap-up: Colts 30, Packers 27
Kevin Seifert - ESPN.com

No longer mighty, Packers bow to Colts
Bob McGinn - Journal Sentinel

Do Packers have mettle to rise from ashes?
Michael Hunt – Journal Sentinel

After strong first half, 'it was kind on downhill from there' for Packers on Sunday
Pete Dougherty – Press-Gazette

Packers' offense blows chance to blow away Colts
Rob Demovsky – Press Gazette

Injuries leave Benson, Raji questionable for next week
Rob Demovsky and Pete Dougherty – Press-Gazette

Vikings let Percy Harvin do his thing
Kevin Seifert – ESPN.com

New standards raise Vikings' credibility – winning streak doesn't hurt, either
Jim Souhan – Star Tribune

Smashing Titans backs Vikings' belief they've 'got a shot'
Tom Pelissero – 1500ESPN.com

Allen, Vikings simply take it week to week
Sid Hartman – Star Tribune

Biggs: 10 thoughts after Bears' big win
Brad Biggs – Tribune

'Old' Bears defense still has plenty of swagger
Dan Pompei – Tribune

Five things we learned: Bears-Jaguars
Jeff Dickerson – ESPNChicago.com

Charles in charge: Tillman interception brings Bears to life again
Rick Morrissey – Sun-Times