The first month of the NFL season is in the books and the pecking order in the NFC North is starting to develop. Detroit currently sits atop the division with Green Bay a game behind and Minnesota and Chicago falling into place from there.
With the first quarter of the season complete, let's check in on all four teams and see what they're doing well, what they need to improve and which young players are becoming early contributors.
Wins: at Kansas City (21-20), vs. Atlanta (20-6), at Green Bay (34-20)
Loss: vs. Seattle (37-31)
Next opponent: vs. Carolina (0-4)
1st quarter MVP: Second-year defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson has been more than a handful for would-be blockers through four games. His 19 pressures and 11 hurries lead all defensive players through four games, per Pro Football Reference statistics, and his 3.5 sacks rank in the Top 10.
Key stat: Detroit's defense took considerable steps this offseason to be a more consistent group, and we're seeing the fruits of that labor to start the 2023 season. Through four games the Lions are ranked No. 4 in total defense, allowing just 280.5 yards per game. They also have the top rushing defense in the league. They are top three in the league in hurry percentage (12.4), quarterback knockdowns (14), pressures (49), and pressure percentage (27.7).
Area of improvement needed: This is a little nit-picky, but quarterback Jared Goff has thrown an interception in three straight games after going 383 straight passes without one to end last year and begin this season. The Seattle pick-six was a critical mistake, but he's mostly gotten away with last two vs. Atlanta and Green Bay. Still, it's something Goff knows he needs to clean up.
Early impact rookie: It's a coin toss between defensive back Brian Branch and tight end Sam LaPorta. Branch has 25 tackles, three tackles for loss, four passes defended and a key pick-six. LaPorta has 22 catches for 242 yards and a touchdown through his first four contests.
Twentyman: This team is playing really good complementary football in all three phases. Teams that do that usually find themselves with more wins than losses. Detroit's offense has been explosive and their defense pretty stingy, which has been a good combination early on. Head coach Dan Campbell said this team is right where they want to be after four games with a 3-1 record and sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Keep the train moving this week at home against the winless Panthers.
Wins: at Chicago (38-20), vs. New Orleans (18-17)
Losses: at Atlanta (25-24), vs. Detroit (34-20)
Next opponent: at Las Vegas (1-3)
1st quarter MVP: This one is close for me between wide receiver Romeo Doubs and linebacker Rashan Gary, but I'm going with Gary for the impact he makes on the edge and the resources opponents usually have to throw at him to slow him down. He leads the Packers in sacks (3.5) and quarterback hits (6).
Key stat: The Packers have one of the best red-zone offenses with a touchdown percentage of 69.2, which is the fourth highest in the NFL. In 13 trips to the red zone the Packers have scored a touchdown nine times. That's a good sign their young quarterback knows the offense and plays with poise.
Area of improvement needed: Quarterback Jordan Love is in his first season as the starter in Green Bay and the best friend of any young quarterback is a solid and consistent run game. Love hasn't been afforded that in his short tenure as starter just yet. Green Bay ranks 29th in rushing, averaging just 74.5 yards per game on the ground with a 3.3-yard average per rush.
Early impact rookie: Wide receiver Jayden Reed has been pressed into a bigger role early due to some injuries at receiver early in the year. Reed is second behind Doubs in targets and has 12 receptions for 203 yards with two touchdowns and nine first downs.
Twentyman: Even after Thursday's convincing Lions' win in Green Bay, I still believe the Packers are the biggest threat to Detroit's division title hopes. Love is going to continue to get better the more he plays, and that defense has talent at all three levels, despite the 34 points the Lions put up. Green Bay plays at Las Vegas on Monday Night Football next week and then has an early bye to try and get healthy and start to chase down Detroit.
Win: at Carolina (21-13)
Losses: vs. Tampa Bay (20-17), at Philadelphia (34-28), vs. Los Angeles Chargers (28-24)
Next opponent: vs. Kansas City (3-1)
1st quarter MVP: Wide receiver Justin Jefferson continues to make his case for the best receiver in the NFL. He's already more than halfway to 1,000 receiving yards on the year in just four games (543) and is also top five in the league in receptions (33) and receiving touchdowns (3).
Key stat: The Vikings are the heaviest blitzing defense in the NFL through the first four games and it's not close. They've blitzed 75 times in four games for a blitz percentage of nearly 48 percent. Unfortunately, all that blitzing hasn't led to a lot of pressure. The Vikings' pressure percentage of 15.8 ranks 26th.
Area of improvement needed: The most important statistic in football is turnover differential and the Vikings rank 31st in that department to start the season with a minus-eight. Minnesota has turned the ball over 11 times this season, seven via fumble, with just three takeaways from their defense.
Early impact rookie: Wide receiver Jordan Addison has taken over for Adam Thielen (now in Carolina) as Minnesota's No. 2 receiver behind Jefferson. Addison has caught 13 passes for 185 yards and a couple scores while averaging 14.2 yards per reception.
Twentyman: The Vikings got a big first win last week vs. Carolina but to stack two together they'll have to beat the defending Super Bowl champs as Kansas City travels to US Bank Stadium to take on the Vikings this week. If Minnesota doesn't fix some of their turnover and defensive issues, all the good vibes created from last week's win could disappear.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Tuesday, October 3, 2023.
Losses: vs. Green Bay (38-20), at Tampa Bay (27-17), at Kansas City (41-10), vs. Denver (31-28)
Next opponent: at Washington (2-2)
1st quarter MVP: Quarterback Justin Fields is coming off the best game of his career in the loss to Denver last week, but he has to show more consistency week to week. I give the nod here to veteran wide receiver D.J. Moore. Moore had 19 receptions on 24 targets for 301 yards and a couple scores. The Bears need to continue to manufacture ways to get the ball into Moore's hands. No one else on the team has reached 200 receiving yards.
Key stat: The Bears have always been pretty steady on defense over the years while they've tried to find their quarterback of the future and their identity on offense. So it's a little strange to see them at the bottom of the total defense (28th), passing defense (30th) and run defense (19th) rankings after the first month of the season. Opposing quarterbacks have a 115.9 passer rating playing the Bears this season with 10 touchdown passes vs. just two interceptions.
Area of improvement needed: Sacks aren't the end all be all defensive stat in football, but they can be impact plays and drive killers for an offense, which is why the good teams on defense usually rank pretty high in the sack and pressure department. That's been an area where Chicago has really struggled early on. They have just two sacks total in their first four games, the lowest total in the league, and their 13.7 pressure percentage ranks 30th.
Early impact rookie: Cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, a second-round pick by the Bears in this year's NFL Draft, has started all four games and is third on the team with 17 tackles. He has to clean up a couple of the touchdowns he's allowed early on in his coverage area but he's getting quality training on the job early on.
Twentyman: That was a tough loss last week blowing a 28-7 lead over Denver to eventually lose 31-28 to stay winless on the year. I think the encouraging thing to come out of that game was Fields establishing career highs with 335 passing yards, four touchdowns and a 132.7 passer rating in a game. Can he build off that vs. Washington this week? Defensively, the Bears need to find an identity. The bottom line is this team needs a win soon or they'll be in too big of a hole to climb out of.