Six weeks into the regular season and the makeup of the NFC North is starting to become a little clearer. Minnesota is off to a hot start. They currently have an early two-game advantage over Green Bay. Chicago and Detroit have to get rolling sooner rather than later, or they'll dig too big a hole to get out of the second half of the season.
Here's all the news and notes surrounding the Vikings, Packers, Bears and Lions heading into Week 7:
Last week: Minnesota 24, Miami 16
Next up: Bye
1. Vikings finding ways to win
It has to be nice to be 5-1 and feel like you're not even close to playing your best football yet. The Vikings are off to their best start since 2016 when they also went 5-1. They've got a two-game lead over Green Bay in the division.
All three phases have played pretty well in the fourth quarter to get to this point. There's usually a handful of plays that make the difference in the game and the Vikings are making them all in the fourth quarter. It's the second straight week the defense has forced a fumble late and the offense capitalized to put the game away.
2. Defense making strides
The Vikings' defense came away with an interception and fumble late Sunday to help them secure the win over Miami. The Vikings have forced 10 turnovers this season, which ranks in the top five in the league. Minnesota's defense sacked Miami's quarterbacks five times Sunday. Their 17 sacks on the season also rank in the top five in the league. The Vikings' defense was among the worst in the NFL a year ago so kudos to them for making some pretty major strides in a short amount of time.
3. Hot start
The Vikings are off to a hot start despite the re-set to the franchise this offseason with the hiring of new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O'Connell as a first-year head coach. It hasn't been perfect, but they are a pretty disciplined team with an improving defense and explosive skill-position weapons on offense.
Last week: New York Jets 27, Green Bay 10
Next up: at Washington (2-4)
1. Should folks in Green Bay be worried?
Let's face it, there's a different standard in Green Bay. That comes with winning as many games – and as many NFC North titles – as the Packers have over the last decade plus. The Packers were thoroughly outplayed from start to finish losing at Lambeau Field to the Jets Sunday. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his young receivers are still figuring things out, while the defense has allowed 24, 27 and 27 points, respectively, over the past three weeks to the Patriots, Giants and Jets.
There aren't a lot big plays happening on offense. Special teams continues to be an issue with the Jets blocking a punt and scoring on it. It's still early, but these Packers still look like a team trying to figure out their identity.
2. Turnovers a big issue
Green Bay turned the ball over 15 times in 2018, 13 times in 2019, 11 times in 2020 and 13 last season. They were only the second team in league history to record no more than 15 giveaways in four consecutive seasons, per ESPN statistics.
After losing a fumble on Sunday, the Packers have now turned the ball over eight times in six games. It took 12 games last year to reach eight turnovers.
On defense, Green Bay's forced just four turnovers, the second fewest in the league.
3. O-line problems
Changes might be in line upfront for Packers. The Jets hit Rodgers eight times with four sacks. The run game combined for just 60 yards on 19 carries, a 3.1-yard average. Rodgers' 88.1 passer rating was his third straight contest with a passer rating under 100.0. The Packers have to find some consistency upfront.
Last week: Washington 12, Chicago 7
Next up: at Patriots (3-3)
1. Justin Fields development
Chicago has one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL. They're averaging 170.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks second in the league. But the passing game has been a disaster from the start. Chicago is averaging just 122.8 passing yards per game, which is last.
Second-year quarterback Justin Fields is among the most pressured passers in the league, and his receiving corps is very much a work in progress. One has to worry about his development in a crucial second season not being put in a great opportunity to succeed. GM Ryan Poles will have to build up the offensive roster around him in a big way in 2023.
2. Need to start faster on defense
The Bears have allowed 83 points in the first half of games this year. It's been an entirely different story in the second half, where they've allowed 35 points and just two second-half touchdowns through six games. How does head coach Matt Eberflus get his guys to start faster?
3. Could WR Darnell Mooney get an extension?
The Bears are expected to have north of $100 million in salary cap space to work with for the 2023 season, and Mooney could see a little chunk of that. Mooney has been a bright spot on offense over the last couple of years. Reports out of Chicago are that both Mooney and the team have mutual interest in an extension. With the Bears expected to bolster the receiver position, Mooney could be a really solid No. 2 in this league.
Last week: Bye
Next up: at Dallas (4-2)
1. All about Dallas
The Lions have to start winning football games or they'll find themselves left out of the division and playoff chase by November. The team was afforded an early-season bye week to reset, get healthy and self-evaluate, knowing these next three weeks at Dallas and vs. Miami and Green Bay might just define their season. But first things first. The focus for the Lions coming out of the bye was to concentrate all resources and all hands on deck for Dallas.
"You've just got to find a way to win against Dallas," head coach Dan Campbell said. "All resources, everything goes into that one game."
2. Getting healthy
The bye week should allow for players like running back D’Andre Swift, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, defensive linemen Josh Paschal and John Cominsky, and cornerback Jerry Jacobs to get healthy and possibly back on the field Sunday in Dallas. Detroit's been struck pretty hard by the injury bug early this season. The bye came at a perfect time.
3. Defensive improvements
Detroit's defense played much better in New England (22 points allowed) before the bye, so the hope is that's a trend they can build on. Both Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said they were going to take a deep dive into the defense over the bye and try to come up with some answers to why that unit has been so inconsistent to start the year.
They're expected to get some players back from injury, which could help. If this team is going to get out of the hole they created for themselves by their slow start, the defense has to me markedly better these next 12 weeks.