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NFC NORTH: Where each team stands heading into Week 8

After seven weeks of football, there's a hierarchy starting to develop in the NFC North, with the Green Bay Packers sitting at the top.

There's still a lot of football to be played, but we're reaching the midway point of the season. There has been some good, some bad and a few surprises along the way so far in 2019.

For this week's NFC North column, let's take a closer look at the good, the bad, and a few of those surprises for the four teams in the division through seven weeks:


Record: 6-1

Last week: Green Bay 42, Oakland 24

Up next: at Kansas City (5-2)

The good: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur are starting to get on the same page offensively, and that's a scary thought for the rest of the division. After a bit of a slow start adjusting to the new offense, Rodgers has been playing well of late. He's coming off a six-touchdown game vs. Oakland last week, and has 13 touchdowns vs. just two interceptions with a 103.7 passer rating on the year.

The bad: With a 6-1 record, we have to start nitpicking a little bit when it comes to the bad in Green Bay, but special teams have been a weakness this year. Green Bay ranks last in kickoff coverage, allowing on average 31.4 yards per return, and they've allowed the fifth most punt return yards (129).

When it comes to their return game, the Packers are 29th in kickoff returns (17.2 average) and last returning punts with a negative-1.6 average.

One surprise: Just how good the Smith brothers have been. They're not really brothers, but that's the moniker Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith have coined in Green Bay. Preston has seven sacks on the year and Za'Darius has six. The two edge rushers have combined for 45 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 24 quarterback hits.


Record: 5-2

Last week: Minnesota 42, Detroit 30

Up next: vs. Washington (1-6)

The good: The Vikings run the ball and they play good defense. That travels anywhere in any conditions.

Minnesota is currently third in the NFL averaging 160.0 yards per game on the ground. Running back Dalvin Cook leads the NFL with 725 rushing yards and is fourth among all runners with at least 50 carries with a 5.5 average per rush.

The bad: The Vikings are good on defense but they can stand to be a little bit more efficient when it comes to their red zone defense. Opposing quarterbacks have a 103.4 passer rating and 10 touchdown passes in the red zone. The rating is the seventh worst in football, and the 10 touchdowns are the fourth most. Overall, Minnesota ranks 20th in red zone defense.

One surprise: Former All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes is having a difficult start to his season. He's been a weak spot in an otherwise stout defense. Opponents are completing 83.3 percent (30-of-36) of the passes thrown at Rhodes this year with three touchdowns and a 125.8 passer rating. The completion percentage and passer rating are career highs for Rhodes. He's only defended three passes all year.


Record: 3-3

Last week: New Orleans 36, Chicago 25

Up next: vs. Chargers (2-5)

The good: The Bears' defense ranks in the top 10 in the NFL and is fifth in points allowed with just a 17.5 average per contest. The Saints obviously had some success against them last week, but for the most part, Chicago's defense has put them in a position to win all of their other games.

The Bears still haven't allowed a touchdown outside of the red zone, which is pretty amazing after six games. They're the only team in the NFL this year to have done that so far.

The bad: The offense, and particularly quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, have let the Bears down a number of times early this season. Trubisky is currently the lowest graded qualified quarterback (36th) by Pro Football Focus. He has just five touchdown passes on the year and a quarterback rating of 82.8, which ranks 26th among qualified passers.

One surprise: Chicago is averaging just 70.0 yards per game on the ground. For years this has been a team built on defense and running the football, much like Minnesota. The Bears have lost their identity on offense, and really can't hang their hat on any aspect of that side of the ball.


Record: 2-3-1

Last week: Minnesota 42, Detroit 30

Up next: vs. New York Giants (2-5)

The good: Quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing some of the best football of his 11-year career so far in 2019. Stafford's 101.7 passer rating would be a career high, along with his 8.0 yards per attempt average. He has 26 completions of 21-plus yards and 13 touchdowns to only three interceptions.

The bad: The defense has been a major disappointment so far in 2019. Detroit ranks 31st in the NFL in total defense (428.7), 26th in points allowed (26.7), 30th against the pass (289.5) and 28th against the run (139.2).

One surprise: Detroit's defensive line play so far this season. A unit that was supposed to be Detroit's strength heading into the season has been anything but. They've struggled to stop the run, their pass rush grade from PFF is the fourth worst in football, their 10 sacks are the fifth fewest in the league and a number of individual players are far off their previous statistical averages.

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