NFC NORTH: 3 trends for each team

The NFC North is the only division in the NFL in which all four teams are over .500 after the first three weeks of the season. It's been a good start to the season for Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota.

After three weeks of football, we're starting to see a few trends developing for each of the four teams in the division. This week's NFC North column takes a look at three growing trends for each team so far this season:


Record: 3-0

Last week: Green Bay 27, Denver 16

Next up: vs. Philadelphia (1-2)

Three trends:

1. Green Bay's defense can be very good

The Packers lead the NFL in turnover differential at plus-six, are second in the NFL in points allowed (11.7) and fifth in passing defense, allowing under 200 yards through the air per game (197.3). Chicago, Minnesota and Denver – Green Bay's first three opponents – don't necessarily let the ball fly, but Green Bay's defense can only play who's on the schedule, and so far they've been good.

2. Have the Packers found a legit No. 2 wide receiver to pair with Davante Adams?

Adams leads the Packers in catches (15) and yards (198), but second-year wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is right behind him with 13 receptions for 170 yards and a touchdown. Adams is averaging 13.2 yards per reception and Valdes-Scantling is averaging 13.1.

3. Smith & Smith are tough on the edges

Green Bay went out and spent big in free agency on edge rushers Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith in the offseason, and the early return on those investments has been good. Preston Smith is currently third in the NFL with 4.5 sacks. Za'Darius Smith has 3.0 sacks. The Smiths have combined for 24 tackles, six tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hits through Green Bay's first three contests.


Record: 2-0-1

Last week: Detroit 27, Philadelphia 24

Next up: vs. Kansas City (3-0)

Three trends:

1. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is distributing the ball

The Lions are the first team in NFL history to have four different 100-yard, one-touchdown receiving performances (tight end T.J. Hockenson, wide receiver Danny Amendola, wide receiver Kenny Golladay and wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr.) through the first three weeks of football. While that's certainly a compliment to those players catching the football, it also means Stafford is going through his reads and not forcing it to one or two playmakers.

2. Special teams have struggled

Minus a 100-yard Jamal Agnew kickoff return touchdown last week, Detroit's special teams have overall been a disappointment through the first three weeks. Detroit's had a field goal blocked, a punt blocked, a muffed punt and have committed five accepted penalties on special teams.

3. Safety Tracy Walker is stepping up

The second-year safety leads the team with 24 tackles after three weeks. He's also defended three passes and has an interception. Walker was good covering Eagles tight end Zach Ertz last week, and might be tasked with trying to slow down Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce this week.


Record: 2-1

Last week: Minnesota 34, Oakland 14

Next up: at Chicago (2-1)

Three trends:

1. Running back Dalvin Cook is leading the league in rushing

Cook's 375 rushing yards through three weeks is tops in the NFL. Carolina's Christian McCaffrey is second with 318 rushing yards. What makes Cook's total sustainable through the season is that he's currently averaging 19.0 rushes per game, which is the fourth most in the NFL behind only Marlon Mack (20.3), McCaffrey (19.7) and Nick Chubb (19.3).

2. The Vikings' defense keeps on keeping on

Through three weeks, Minnesota's defense ranks sixth in points allowed (15.7) and no worse than 13th in every other major statistical category on defense. The Vikings have 11 different players with at least 10 tackles.

3. Quarterback Kirk Cousins needs to be better

The Vikings have the league's leading rusher and No. 2 rushing offense, which in theory should open up a ton of opportunities in the passing game as defenses gear up to stop Cook. That's not really been the case so far in Minnesota. Cousins' 86.9 passer rating through three weeks ranks 22nd among qualified passers. His three touchdown passes are tied for 23rd most. His interception in the end zone Week 2 vs. Green Bay cost them a chance to win that game.


Record: 2-1

Last week: Chicago 31, Washington 15

Next up: vs. Minnesota (2-1)

Three trends:

1. Linebacker Khalil Mack can win his second Defensive Player of the Year award

Mack was dominant Monday night in Washington, recording three tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. Mack's forced three fumbles in three games, which is tied for the NFL lead. He also has three sacks. With the talent around him on that side of the ball in Chicago, it's not crazy to think Mack can win his second Defensive Player of the Year award (2016).

2. The Bears might have found a kicker

Kicking has gone from a weakness last year to a strength early on this season with the previously unknown Eddy Pineiro. Pineiro has made all five of his extra-point tries and five of six field-goal attempts, including both attempts outside of 50 yards.

3. Chicago's offense needs to start pulling its weight

While the Bears' defense has been dominant, the offense is a work in progress. The Bears held Green Bay to 10 points in the opener and Chicago lost, 10-3. The Bears rank 26th in points scored (16.7), 29th in total offense (275.0), 29th in passing (178.7) and 21st in rushing (96.3). Chicago has to be better on offense to take advantage of the performance they're getting from their defense.

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