We take a look around the NFC North to see what the Vikings closest competition has going on…
Last Week: 45-41 loss at Washington
To say Sunday’s 45-41 loss to the Redskins was devastating to the Bears would be an understatement. Not only did they lose for the third time in four weeks after a 3-0 start, but they lost both QB Jay Cutler and LB Lance Briggs to injuries that could keep both our for a month or more.
Cutler suffered a groin injury that, according to reports, will keep him out at least four weeks, and from there it will be a week-to-week situation. Briggs suffered a small fracture in his shoulder during the second half of Sunday’s game that will sideline him a minimum of six weeks, according to the team.
These injuries, coupled with previous losses on the defensive line and at linebacker, figure to make it very tough on the Bears the rest of the way, though all NFC North teams are dealing with injuries to some degree at this point, most notably Green Bay, who was of course the preseason favorite to win the division.
Josh McCown stepped in for Cutler and actually played very well, completing 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards and a score. His seven-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett with under four minutes to go put the Bears in front 41-38, but the banged-up Bears defense could not stop Robert Griffen III and Co. from driving down the field for the winning score.
Most of the positives for the Bears on Sunday came on the offensive side of the ball. Matt Forte had over 90 yards on the ground and three scores, and for seemingly the first time all season, both of the team’s top wide receivers – Brandon Marshall (six catches, 75 yards) and Alshon Jeffrey (four catches, 105 yards) – had good days.
Devin Hester’s 81-yard punt return score in the 2nd quarter tied him with Deion Sanders for the most return touchdowns of all-time with 19.
This Week: BYE
No team in the League needed its bye this week more than the Bears, who get a week off to try and heal up a bit before two critical division games against the Packers on Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field followed by a home date against the Lions.
Last Week: 27-24 loss vs. Cincinnati
Special teams haven’t been all that special for the Lions over the last several years, and on Sunday you could argue it cost them a victory as the Bengals kicked a last-second field goal to top the Lions 27-24.
Detroit was hoping that rookie P Sam Martin could send a punt deep to pin the Bengals in their own end in the final minutes and likely head into overtime. Instead, he shanked it out of bounds at the Bengals 49-yard-line, with the punt traveling just 28 yards. The Bengals took over with just :26 left in regulation but got into field goal position and Mike Nugent connected from 54 yards out for the game-winner.
The Lions also had a 34-yard field goal attempt blocked during the 2nd quarter, which the Bengals turned into a touchdown, making it a 10-point swing.
As the score would suggest, this was a very evenly played contest. Not surprisingly, superstar wideouts A.J. Green (six catches, 155 yards and one touchdown) and Calvin Johnson (nine catches, 155 yards and two touchdowns) both had monster games. Both quarterbacks were also very efficient on this day, with both Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford throwing for over 350 yards and three scores each, with no interceptions.
Neither side was able to get much going on the ground, with both teams averaging just over three yards per carry. But when you can get so much done through the air, the importance of the running games isn’t all that much.
Both of the Lions starting tackles, Riley Reiff (hamstring) and Corey Hilliard (knee), left the game at times with injures though Reiff was able to return.
This Week: Lions vs. Cowboys (Sunday at Noon)
Thing don’t get any easier for the Lions this week as they welcome the Cowboys to Ford Field. The Cowboys sit atop the NFC East and are coming off an impressive 17-3 win in Philadelphia last Sunday. Both teams should be able to put up points so this one could come down who has the ball last.
Last Week: 31-13 win vs. Cleveland
When you’re down two of your top three receives and lost your tight end mid-game, some teams may struggle to put up points. But when you have Aaron Rodgers leading the way, you do what the Packers did on Sunday and beat a team handily at home. Rodgers was brilliant in leading Green Bay to a 31-13 win over Cleveland.
With Randall Cobb out until December and James Jones inactive for this game due to a knee injury, Rodgers spread the ball around to eight different receivers, mostly notably Jarrett Boykin, a second-year wideout out of Virginia Tech who was undrafted in 2012. He had six career catches going into Sunday’s game but was the Packers top target on this day, hauling in eight grabs for 103 yards and a score.
Rodgers also completed touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley. Unfortunately, Finley suffered a neck injury later in the game and spent Sunday night in the ICU. All reports stemming from the incident have been positive in term’s of Finley’s health, but one would assume he would likely miss at least a game or two.
On the ground, Eddie Lacy had another strong showing, his third in a row, as he ran 22 times for 82 yards and a score. Despite Rodgers’ high-end talent, Green Bay will likely keep leaning on Lacy and the running attack until their receiving core gets back closer to full strength.
The Brandon Weeden-led Browns don’t present much of a challenge for opposing defenses at this point the Packers did what they had to do, sacking him three times, forcing one interception and allowing Weeden to complete just 17 of 42 pass attempts.
Green Bay, winners of three straight games, now sits a half-game up on both Chicago and Detroit in the NFC North at 4-2.
This Week: Packers at Vikings (Sunday Night Football)
The Packers play their first of two-straight prime time divisional games this Sunday as they travel to Mall of America Field to take on the Vikings on Sunday Night Football. Green Bay’s injuries to its receiving core could neutralize the on-paper advantage they would seem to have over the Vikings struggling secondary. Regardless, most games between these two teams in Minneapolis tend to be hard-fought and come down to the wire.