Three weeks in to the NFL season, and there were supposed to be a couple truisms about the NFC North:
1) Green Bay was King, but they could be had by Detroit and/or Chicago
2) The Minnesota Vikings were supposed to be terrible.
Well, well, well. Maybe the demise of the 2012 Vikings were greatly exaggerated. I realize that it's only three weeks into the season, but so far, the narrative regarding all three teams has, at least for the time being, been turned on it's ear. Let's look a little further, shall we?
Pre-Season Expectations: Jeff Saturday would stabilize the line, Aaron Rodgers would put up MVP numbers again, and Clay Matthews would lead a vastly improved defense to the Super Bowl.
How It's Played Out So Far: Not so well. I wouldn't say they were dominated by San Francisco, but they were outplayed in just about every category. They bounced back against the Bears and played very well, and then, well, we all know what happened on Monday Night. Yes, for the record, the Packers got hosed--that was a clear interception, and they should be 2-1, but they are 1-2, and suddenly they look like they could be in trouble. Their upcoming games are a desperate 0-3 Saints team, a game they should win in Indianapolis, then a tough road game against Houston. What in August looked like a 13-2 team now suddenly looks like a team that could be 2-4 in three weeks. And what will the psyche of the Packers be after that Monday Night screwjob? It could have a lingering effect, like a hangover.
The defense has played well in two games, and awful in one. The offensive line has has as much fight as a baby kitten, and Aaron Rodgers has taken a beating. The Packers still have the most talent on paper, but if they don't straighten things out, it's going to be a season long struggle.
Pre-Season Expectations: Jay Cutler finally 'got it', new offensive coordinator Mike Tice has vastly improved the offensive line, and as a result the whole offense, and new wide receiver Brandon Marshall would finally make the Bears offense go. On defense, they're older but still solid, and can handle just about anything thrown at them.
How It's Played Out So Far: Jay Cutler looks like he's ready to put a mob contract out on his offensive line, and the Bears offense is still the Bears offense--inconsistent, unable to make plays, and generally frustrating to watch. The line is a mess, Cutler is a mess, and after an impressive week 1 roll out, they've struggled in their last two games. They got beat up in Green Bay, and struggled at home against St. Louis. Two of their next three opponents are Dallas and Detroit, and the Bears could also be looking at .500 or worse in just a few weeks.
Pre-Season Expectations: Young team on the rise. With Matthew Stafford, Megatron, and an aggressive defensive front seven, the Lions were expected to make a deep playoff run, and with a break her and there, they could beat out Green Bay for the division title.
How It's Played Out So Far: Barely beat a bad St. Louis team at home, lost to San Francisco, and did a LOLWUT in overtime in Tennessee. Matthew Stafford got hurt again, and he might be limited on Sunday against the Vikings, or he might be out. Either way, Jim Schwartz isn't talking. They have no running game, their defensive secondary is on the verge of becoming a tire fire, and their next four games are the Vikes, Eagles, Bears, and the suddenly good Seahawks. Will they lose all four? No, I doubt it. But could they? Yeah, they could. And suddenly, pre-season playoff team is 1-6 or 2-5 and in a possible death spiral.
Pre-Season Expectations: None. Christian Ponder wasn't the answer, Adrian Peterson won't be the same, there is no legitimate receiving threat, and the defense is old with a terrible secondary.
How It's Played Out So Far: Christian Ponder is one of the five best QB's in the NFL from a statistical standpoint three weeks into the season. He's also lead the Vikings on two fourth quarter comebacks that either gave the team the win or a tie with less than two minutes. The defense has been a little shaky, but they stepped up in a big way against San Francisco. And speaking of the pre-season Super Bowl favorite, raise your hand if you beat them like a drum.
//Vikings raise their hands, Packers and Bears look down and kick the ground, Detroit picks their nose
And looking at the schedule, the Vikings have a tough but winnable game at Detroit, and winnable games against Tennessee and Washington. It's possible...possible...that the Vikings could be 5-1 or 4-2, with every other team in the division looking up at them from at least two games down.
And it's also possible they could be in last place.
I know there is a long way to go, I know that I'm presenting a best case scenario for the good guys, and I'm still not convinced that the Vikings are a playoff team. But I am convinced, just like I was at the beginning of training camp, that the Vikings would be much better than people thought they would be. And they are going to be in the middle of this division fight all the way until the end.