We’re almost a third of the way through the 17-game NFL season, and now would be a good time for our first check in on how things are going around the NFC North, especially with the Vikings coming up against their first divisional opponent.
We’ll list the teams in the order of where the standings say they are, starting with the Detroit Lions.
1. Detroit Lions (4-1) - Division record: 1-0 (Win @ Green Bay)
I said it before the season: This is a scary football team. My pre-season pick to take the North looks well on track taking the crown four games in.
The renaissance in Detroit, powered by primarily HC Dan Campbell and Jared Goff, who is looking more like the promising QB we saw so many years ago in LA. Goff’s stat line reads as such: 9 TDs (3 last Sunday), 1265 passing yards, a 69.8 completion percentage (nice?), 3 interceptions on 159 attempts, and a respectable passer rating of 104.4.
His primary targets have been the dangerous Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond. Brown is definitely the more formidable of the two, posting 2 TDs, 16 first downs, 331 yards, and a 74.3 catch %. If a world existed without Justin Jefferson in the NFC North, St. Brown would likely be considered the best receiver in the Division.
Detroit also has an electric run game in David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs. Montgomery is clearly getting the majority of snaps but Gibbs complements that as a more-than competent big play back. Montgomery has all 6 of 9 rushing TDs for the Lions (Goff the other 3) and 371 yards on 88 carries. Gibbs has 179 on 39 attempts.
Where things really get scary with the Lions though is the Defense, anchored by Aidan Hutchinson who has 3.5 sacks and 7 QB hits and an interception. It’s not really how much with Hutchinson however, it's how he does it. He has been a force since about mid-way through last season, and the mere threat of him getting loose in the backfield has a definite effect on the psyche of opposing QBs. Simply, he’s done of the more intimidating pass-rushers in the entire NFL.
Next 3: @ Tampa, @ Baltimore, vs Las Vegas
2. Green Bay Packers (2-3) - Division Record: 1-1 (Win @ Chicago, Loss vs Detroit)
The jury is still out on Jordan Love and the Green Bay Packers. The loss at home against Detroit was ugly, a hot-and-cold Falcons team beat them by 1, and they just lost last night to a not impressive Las Vegas Raiders team.
The wins in Chicago and at home against the Saints were also different flavors: a massive fourth-quarter comeback had the cheeseheads saying that Love was Favre/Rodgers reincarnate and they soundly beat a Chicago team well on it’s way to becoming the league’s laughing stock at that point.
I have a feeling this team, like so many Packers teams before them, lives and dies on the play of their QB, more so than most other teams in the NFL (certainly more than the Vikings). Love’s play is having an outsized impact on the Packers’ success or lack thereof.
Love’s stats are very up and down: A perfect reflection of the Packers so far this year. He has 8 TDs (good), 1083 yards (not that good), 6 interceptions on 162 passes (not good) and an average passer rating of 88 (meh).
AJ Dillon is also having a ‘whatever’ kind of year too, with only 195 rushing yards on 64 carries. He leads the PPack in attempts by almost 30. Rushing the ball is not really a strength of the Packers this year.
How about the receivers? Romeo Doubs has 3 TDs and 13 first downs on 33 targets, 20 catches and 224 yards. Jalen Reed has 2 TDs and 9 first downs and 203 yards. Again, there is a reason they are 2-2 and decidedly average.
Christian Watson looked dangerous in a limited appearance in Vegas with 3 catches on 91 yards as he comes back from injury, only having played one other game this year.
Their defense will not save them this year. Prior to their game in Vegas the Pack was 20th in points against and 21st in yards allowed. So far, this unit is looking very human compared with Packers’ defenses of days gone by.
Next 3: BYE, @ Denver, vs Minnesota
3 (tie). Minnesota Vikings (1-4) - Division Record (0-0)
Ah, our Minnesota Vikings. After riding the highest of highs last season to a 13-4 record, it was all downhill after a home playoff loss to the New York Giants. I’m not going to regurgitate the stats for our team... Other articles on this site do that quite well.
What I am going to talk briefly about is the feeling of this team. ‘Regression to the mean’ was expected this year, but the Vikings, as they always do with everything (besides post-season success), are taking that to a whole other level this year.
I have no idea what it is with the football gods. The deal we made with them last year to win all those close games, well, payment is now due, and the Vikings are paying at the expense of our pain.
This team has all the stats. QB play is statistically good, Receiving is great (edit: this was written before Justin Jefferson was put on the IR), hell even our defense is putting up some respectable sack numbers. But more so than any other team, numbers are just numbers with this group... Good thing we have an ex-Wall Street-analyst GM to steer the roster.
In their eternal quest to find every soul-crushing way to lose close games the Vikings are excelling. Fumbles/turnovers, we got them in spades. Brutal clock management, covered. Even refereeing decisions have contributed to a loss. The only thing left is the classic missed field goal, which we all know plenty about.
Next week is the Soldier Field grudge match with a team, before last week, that was the complete laughing stock of the NFL. And I’ll be damned if we don’t make a close game out of it.
Next 3: @ Chicago, vs San Fransisco, @ Green Bay
3 (tie). Chicago Bears (1-4) - Division Record (0-1, Loss vs Green Bay)
Had I written this article last week, I would have summed the Chicago Bears up as a team that had been given a shovel by every single opponent they had faced and been told to keep digging.
Then, Justin Fields completely ripped Washington a new one after a very hot than very cold performance against the Broncos that ended in a tragic loss to the worst team in the AFC.
Fields went for 4 TDs, 282 yds, 0 picks, and a 125.3 passer rating in Washington to give a pulse to the Windy City. It is worth noting that he also had 4TDs, 335 yds, went 28-35, and had a rating of 132.7 passer rating against the Broncos.
While everything else in Chicago is still yet to come to Fields’ level, their QB has regained his footing and is starting to look more and more like the dangerous passing threat he was advertised as before his time as a Bear.
The Bears are weighed down primarily by a defensive unit that makes the Vikings’ look great in comparison and one Chase Claypool, who has looked like one of the worst wideouts in the league since his mid-season trade to Chicago last season.
I hope he is playing on Sunday... Every time he has been on the field for the Bears this year, they have lost. If the Bears play like they did in Washington though, I see it as pretty tough sledding for a Vikings team that seems to be finding every way possible to lose a game.
Next 3: vs Minnesota, vs Las Vegas, @ San Diego.
Correction: Kalif Raymond was misidentified as a Rookie. He is not.