NFC NORTH: Where each team stands 4 weeks into the season

The season is a quarter of the way through, and everyone in the NFC North is looking up at the 4-0 Green Bay Packers.

This week's NFC North column takes a look at where things stand in the division through the first four game games.

Consider it a quarterly report.

GREEN BAY

Record: 4-0

Last week: Green Bay 30, Atlanta 16

Next opponent: Bye

Most valuable player so far: Veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers is off to one of the best starts of his career. He's completing over 70 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 128.4 passer rating. If he keeps on this pace, the completion percentage, touchdowns and passer rating will be career highs. He's really settled into Matt LaFleur's system in year two, and the amazing part about the start is he's done it mostly without star wide receiver Davante Adams, who's played in just two games so far.

Key statistic: Talk about balance on offense. The Packers are fourth in average passing yards per game (294.8) and fourth in rushing per game (150.8). That's hard to attack on defense when an offense can effectively beat you in both areas. 

Big area of improvement needed: Opponents have some success hitting big plays down the field in the passing game against the Packers' defense. On passes that travel at least 21-plus yards, opponents have hit on 5-of-9 attempts for 127 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Opponent passer rating on those throws is a league-high 140.0.

Impact rookie contribution: Undrafted rookie linebacker Krys Barnes out of UCLA has been a good early storyline on defense for the Packers. He was initially signed to the practice squad out of training camp and promoted to active roster Sept. 12. In four games and three starts, Barnes is second on the Packers with 25 tackles and also has two tackles for loss.

Twentyman: Green Bay is playing lights out on offense behind Rodgers, and they employ a defense that can get after the quarterback (12 sacks) and disrupt things upfront. Rodgers looks like an MVP candidate, and early indications are that the NFC North title will have to go through Green Bay.

CHICAGO

Record: 3-1

Last week: Indianapolis 19, Chicago 11

Next opponent: vs. Tampa Bay (3-1) Thursday night

Most valuable player so far: Veteran outside linebacker Khalil Mack continues to play at a dominant level. People might look at the sack totals (1.5) and disagree, but he's Pro Football Focus' second highest graded defender in the NFL. His 22 total pressures in four games is third most behind only Myles Garrett and Aaron Donald.

Key statistic: The Bears' red-zone defense has been one of the top units in the NFL this season. Opponents are scoring a touchdown less than 40 percent of the time when entering the red zone, and opposing passers have just a 65.0 passer rating against them inside the 20. The league average is 102.0.

Biggest area of improvement needed: The Bears have already made a quarterback change from Mitchell Trubisky to Nick Foles, but Chicago lost its first game of the year with Foles starting last week. The biggest issue in Chicago has been scoring efficiency. The Bears rank 27th in the NFL, scoring on just 32.6 percent of their offensive drives.

Impact rookie contribution: Rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson has made an impact early on. He's started all four contests and allowed 12 receptions on the 26 targets he's seen in his coverage area (46.2 percent). He's broken up six passes, and quarterbacks have a 70.2 passer rating throwing his way, per PFF statistics.

Twentyman: Chicago's been a hot and cold team to start. They could just as easily be 1-3 as they are 3-1, but credit Matt Nagy and co. for finding ways to win games. That's what it's all about. Offensively, this team has to improve and find the right buttons to push behind Foles to challenge the Packers for the division title.

DETROIT

Record: 1-3

Last week: New Orleans 35, Detroit 29

Next opponent: Bye

Most valuable player so far: Second-year tight T.J. Hockenson leads the Lions in receptions (15), yards (180) and is tied with Kenny Golladay for the team lead with two touchdown catches. He's been solid and consistent to start the 2020 season.

Key statistic: The Lions have blown double-digit leads in all three of their losses this season. Somehow the Lions have to find a killer instinct to be able to put teams away early or hang on to leads late.

Biggest area of improvement needed: Detroit's allowing 170.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks 30th behind only Dallas (172.5) and Houston (181.8). It's hard to play good defense in this league when teams can control tempo and run as effectively as they've been able to on Detroit to start the season.

Impact rookie contribution: Third-round pick Jonah Jackson has started every game for Detroit at either right or left guard. His pass-blocking grade ranks in the top 30 at the position. He's played pretty well for a rookie getting thrown into a starting role upfront right away.

Twentyman: Lions head coach Matt Patricia talks all the time about not riding the waves of up and down play, and trying to be more consistent in all phases. Detroit's played well in spurts on both side of the ball, but it hasn't been nearly consistent enough, which is reflected in their 1-3 record.

The Lions need to do some good self-evaluation over the bye on both sides of the football to find ways to be more consistent. Special teams has been the real bright spot for this team through the first quarter. The offense and defense need to pick it up.

MINNESOTA

Record: 1-3

Last week: Minnesota 31, Houston 23

Next opponent: at Seattle (4-0) Sunday night

Most valuable player so far: Running back Dalvin Cook leads the league in rushing yards (424) and rushing touchdowns (6) through the first four weeks. He's second with 12 10-plus-yard runs, and his 5.65 yards per attempt average is second behind only Green Bay's Aaron Jones (5.75) among backs with at least 65 rushes on the year.

Key statistic: Only four teams have a worse turnover differential than the Vikings' minus-four. Minnesota has thrown six interceptions and fumbled away the ball once. They have only generated three turnovers themselves on defense. Turnovers are one of the single most important statistics in football, and being on the negative side is usually reflected in a team's overall record, as is the case with the Vikings.

Biggest area of improvement needed: Minnesota's overall passer rating of 85.5 ranks 25th in the NFL. Kirk Cousins has never had a passer rating below 93.9 in any of his three seasons in Minnesota. Cousins already has as many interceptions through four games (6) as he did all of last season in 15 games (6).  

Impact rookie contribution: Wide receiver Justin Jefferson has made an immediate impact filling in for Stefon Diggs (traded to Buffalo this offseason) opposite Adam Thielen in the Vikings' passing game. Jefferson has caught 16 passes for 348 yards and scored a touchdown. He's proven to be a valuable deep threat (21.8 average per reception). He's having a solid start to his NFL career.

Twentyman: The Vikings lost some pieces on defense this offseason, and that unit isn't as stout as we've seen in the past. The 121 points Minnesota's allowed on defense is the fifth most in the NFL so far. Couple that with some down quarterback play, and the record is what it is, even with the league's best rusher on the roster.

For the Vikings to turn things around, they have to get more consistent performance from their defense and their quarterback. They get the red-hot Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson on a national stage this week.

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