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NFC NORTH: First quarter review

The first quarter of the 2017 NFL season is in the books, and the four teams in the NFC North are beginning to separate themselves a bit.

So, what have we learned about Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago after four games?


Wins: Arizona, New York Giants, Minnesota

Loss: Atlanta

Next up: vs. Carolina (3-1)

Offense: Detroit ranks 10th in scoring (24.8 ppg), but just 24th in total offense and 19th in both passing and rushing. Two defensive scores and a special teams touchdown have inflated the scoring some. We're not used to seeing Detroit's offense ranked in the second half of the NFL.

What the Lions' offense has been good at is not turning the ball over. They have just one interception, thrown on Matthew Stafford's first pass of the year, and one lost fumble. That's been critical seeing how Detroit's defense has forced 11 takeaways. The Lions are playing complimentary football, and scoring enough points to win games.

The run game has been a bit inconsistent, but has looked better the last six quarters. Can that continue this week vs. Carolina?

Defense: What a difference a year makes. Last year, Detroit couldn't rush the quarterback with any consistency, cover behind it, or force takeaways (14 all last year). This year, it's been the complete opposite in all three areas.

The Lions are allowing just 17.5 points per game (ranked fourth) and just 86.2 yards on the ground (seventh). It's been an opportunistic and stingy group, a nice duo to feature.

Special teams: Matt Prater missed his first field goal of the season last week in Minnesota. It took a 59-yard attempt for him to finally miss. He's been great. He's already set the NFL record for most 55-plus-yard field goals made in a season (4), and we're just a quarter of the way through.

Jeff Locke has been good filling in for Sam Martin punting, and rookie Jamal Agnew leads the NFL in punt-return average (24.8).

Detroit is last when it comes to starting field position after a kickoff, however. They average just the 23.3-yard line. That's an area that needs improving.


Wins: Seattle, Cincinnati, Chicago

Loss: Atlanta

Next up: at Dallas (2-2)

Offense: This is a dangerous offense as long as No. 12 is under center. Aaron Rodgers is currently among eight quarterbacks with a passer rating above 100.0 on the season (100.3). He's also tied for the NFL lead (Tom Brady) with 10 touchdown passes.

Rodgers isn't getting much help on the ground, however. The Packers are averaging just 74.5 yards per game (28th) on the ground. Green Bay is still eighth in the NFL in scoring (25.5), despite being rather one dimensional through four games.

Defense: This has been a big area of improvement over last year for the Packers. They're one of only six teams in the league so far allowing on average less than 300.0 yards of total offense to opponents. Their biggest weakness a year ago was their inability to cover. They addressed the weakness in free agency and the draft, and currently rank fifth against the pass (188.5 ypg).

Special teams: Mason Crosby has been his steady self. He's perfect on the year kicking field goals and extra points. Punter Justin Vogel ranks in the top 10 in net punting average (43.5).

Green Bay's return game has been pretty strong as well. Trevor Davis is top six in punt return average (9.4 ypr).


Wins: New Orleans, Tampa Bay

Losses: Pittsburgh, Detroit

Next up: at Chicago (1-3)

Offense: The Vikings have missed quarterback Sam Bradford (knee). Case Keenum has done an admirable job filling in the last three weeks, but is just 1-2 over that stretch. In losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit, Keenum led the Vikings into the end zone just once in those eight quarters.

The Vikings have done a good job taking shots down the field in their passing game, but how effective will that part of the offense be moving forward without sensational rookie running back Dalvin Cook, who is done for the year after tearing an ACL in last week's loss to Detroit? Will defenses respect Latavius Murray the same way?

Defense: Still one of the best in the NFL. Their defensive line is certainly one of the league's most versatile. Everson Griffen is fourth in the NFL in sacks with five. The Vikings rank in the top 10 in both rushing defense (third; 71.2 ypg) and scoring defense (ninth; 19.0 ppg).

This is a unit that flies around the football, but has to do a better job of making the most of opportunities to turn the football over. They dropped at least two interceptions against Matthew Stafford last week, and couldn't recover a critical fumble deep in Lions territory. It turned out to be the difference in a close contest.

Special teams: The Vikings are very solid here. Amazingly, they've only allowed three punt returns in four games for a total of minus-one yard. Kicker Kai Forbath was perfect kicking field goals before a 39-yard miss last week. He's now 6-of-7.

The Vikings have the third most kickoff returns of 20-plus yards on the year, and are second in average starting field position (26.1-yard line).


Win: Pittsburgh

Losses: Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Green Bay

Next up: vs. Minnesota (2-2)

Offense: It was only a matter of time before the Mitchell Trubisky era began in Chicago. Second overall draft picks don't sit for long, especially when the offense is averaging 15.2 points per game and ranks 27th in passing (188.8 ypg).

One thing going for Trubisky as his career begins on Monday Night Football vs. a terrific Vikings defense is that his offensive line is above average and he has a good run game with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen behind him. We'll see if he can make a difference under center.

Defense: The Bears are no slouches here, despite their record. They rank eighth in yards allowed per game (306.2) and sixth in rushing yards allowed (85.5). Chicago has just three takeaways in four games and no interceptions, however. They are a minus-seven in turnover differential on the year.

Chicago is hoping Trubisky takes better care of the football than Mike Glennon did (five interceptions & five fumbles), but the defense also has to generate more opportunities by creating more turnovers.

Special teams: Connor Barth is just 2-of-4 kicking field goals, though he's made all seven of his extra points. The Bears rank in the middle of the pack in both kickoff, punting and their return game.

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