Minnesota, Green Bay and Chicago were in action Week 9 with Detroit on their bye week. Minnesota's win over Atlanta tightened things up a bit in the division as we head into the second half of the season. Here's a look at three storylines for each of the four teams in the NFC North:
Last week: Bye week
Next up: at Los Angeles Chargers (4-4)
Stats rankings: Total offense (2nd), passing offense (6th), rushing offense (6th), total defense (5th), passing defense (15th), rushing defense (2nd)
1. Division lead shrinks: Give the Vikings credit for winning their fourth straight contest without their best player, wide receiver Justin Jefferson, and last week without their starting quarterback. Minnesota has won four straight and now trails the Lions by only a game and a half with eight games remaining for the Vikings and nine for Detroit.
2. Getting healthy at the right time: The Week 9 bye was good timing for Detroit as they could get some players back in the lineup after the extra week of rest. Center Frank Ragnow, guard Jonah Jackson and running back David Montgomery all have a chance to return to action this week.
3. How we got here: Detroit is the only team in the NFL that currently ranks in the top five in the NFL in both total offense and total defense. The Lions face a Los Angeles Chargers team that went into their Monday night game vs. the New York Jets ranked eighth in the NFL in total offense (362.4) and 31st in total defense (390.9).
Last week: Minnesota 31, Atlanta 28
Next up: vs. New Orleans (5-4)
Stats rankings: Total offense (9th), passing offense (2nd), rushing offense (29th), total defense (13th), passing defense (18th), rushing defense (12th)
1. No Cousins, no problem: Veteran quarterback Josh Dobbs, who the Vikings traded for just this week, was pressed into duty after rookie starter Jaren Hall suffered a concussion Sunday. Dobbs didn't take a single rep with the offense in practice. He hadn't taken any snaps from center Garrett Bradbury, and had never thrown passes to anyone on the roster. "That's for next week," Dobbs told ESPN's Kevin Seifert after throwing two touchdowns and rushing for another in Minnesota's come-from-behind win in Atlanta.
2. Reinforcements coming: Jefferson is expected to return to practice this week after sitting out the last four games (all Vikings wins) with a hamstring injury. Dobbs is only expected to get more comfortable the more practice reps he has, and building some rapport with Jefferson will be crucial for the Vikings' offense down the stretch.
3. Turning things around: Give Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell some credit for the job he's done navigating through injuries and finding a way to help his team win four straight after starting the season 0-3.
"These are the days that kind of cement why you believe what you believe as a coach," McConnell told Vikings.com after Sunday's win. "I'll quite honestly remember this one for a really long time, mainly for those guys, the adversity, the response, all the things we spend a lot of time talking about it."
Last week: Green Bay 20, LA Rams 3
Next up: at Pittsburgh (5-3)
Stats rankings: Total offense (24th), passing offense (22nd), rushing offense (22nd), total defense (10th), passing defense (9th), rushing defense (23rd)
1. Defense did what it needed to do: Without starting QB Matthew Stafford (thumb injury), the Rams turned to backup Brett Rypien. Green Bay's defense did what it needed to do with that kind of an advantage. Rypien struggled getting the ball to his playmakers, with wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua combining for just five receptions and 80 yards. Green Bay had an interception and recovered a fumble. They also shut down the ground game, as the Rams had just 68 yards on 26 carries (2.6 average).
2. Jones looks to be back to his old self: Running back Aaron Jones appeared to be back to his normal number of snaps after missing three games (hamstring) and being limited in a couple other contests. Jones played 41 snaps and put up 99 yards and a touchdown on 24 touches. Having Jones available full-go for the first time since the opener helped keep some of the pressure off quarterback Jordan Love as the Packers gained 184 yards on the ground against the Rams.
3. Escaping long-term injury: The Packers lost two key players on both sides of the ball Sunday when defensive tackle Kenny Clark and wide receiver Christian Watson left the Packers' win over the Rams. Watson left with chest and back injuries and Clark injured his shoulder. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said after the game he didn't believe either injury was a long-term deal.
Last week: New Orleans 24, Chicago 17
Next up: vs. Carolina (1-7)
Stats rankings: Total offense (19th), passing offense (24th), rushing offense (4th), total defense (19th), passing defense (28th), rushing defense (4th)
1. Montez Sweat debut: After trading for edge rusher Montez Sweat this week and then signing him to a four-year, $98 million extension the Bears played their new weapon on defense 65 percent of the snaps on defense Sunday vs. New Orleans. He finished with two tackles and a pass defended.
2. Finding ways to lose: The Bears out-gained the Saints 368-301 in yards and outplayed them for much of Sunday's contest, but this game is a perfect example of why turnovers matter so much. Chicago lost the turnover battle 5-0, which was the No. 1 factor in a 24-17 defeat. Quarterback Tyson Bagent threw three interceptions and lost a fumble and wide receiver D.J. Moore also lost a fumble. New Orleans scored only 10 points off those turnovers but that was still the difference in the game.
3. Return of Justin Fields: Quarterback Justin Fields has not played since injuring his thumb against the Vikings in Week 6, which means he's getting closer to returning. The Bears are on a short week as they play the Panthers on Thursday. There's no guarantee Fields will be back for Week 10 but the Bears are hopeful.
"He's day-to-day. We'll find out more (on Monday), and we'll see where it is," head coach Matt Eberflus told the media after Sunday's loss to the Saints. "He's started throwing, which is a positive, and we'll see where it is in terms of his functionality."