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ESPN: Vikings Will Repeat as NFC North Champions

The Vikings sit at 5-3 at the season's halfway point, and are in first place in the NFC North.

Detroit is a half game behind at 5-4 while the Packers are 4-4. The Bears are 2-6.

Although Minnesota has lost three straight games, Vikings players and coaches have repeatedly said that the sky isn't falling and that there are plenty of positives to lean on going forward.

A panel of ESPN.com writers looked into their crystal ball to see which team they believed was going to win the division. Three of the five writers said the Vikings will repeat as NFC North champions.

Two of the writers, Matt Bowen and Kevin Seifert, said Minnesota's defense is a key reason for their faith in the Vikings.

Bowen wrote:

I'm staying with the Vikings. Even with the unquestioned issues on the offensive line and the lack of execution and rhythm at times from that side of the ball, Mike Zimmer's defense has the talent and scheme to win this division -- and the teams that can get to the quarterback and cause turnovers win at this time of the year.

Seifert said:

I haven't soured yet on the Vikings' chances. Injuries have limited their offense, but there are plenty of ways to win games other than scoring 25 points per game. The Vikings have the capacity, especially with their defense, to get that done. The Packers have yet to show that they're capable of winning the division, and the Lions' fourth-quarter comebacks are not a sustainable model.

The Vikings won the NFC North with an 11-5 record in 2015, Minnesota's first division title since 2009.

Minnesota's defense current ranks first in the NFL in points allowed per game (15.8) and third in yards allowed per game (298.9).

Barr values consistency at linebacker spot

Anthony Barr made his first Pro Bowl last season after recording 80 tackles with six tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hurries.

Although Barr's numbers aren't as splashy through eight games, the linebacker told Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune that he's not worried about his play.

Vensel wrote:

In 2015, Barr recorded 3 ½ sacks, picked off a pass and forced three fumbles. Those highlight-reel plays helped him make the Pro Bowl as an alternate. This season, his third, he has just one sack and has yet to create a takeaway, though he did pounce on a fumble in a Week 6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Barr admits there is a temptation to ditch his assignment when he senses he can maybe make a big play. But for the most part, he has resisted the urge.

"The moment I press and try to do too much is when I hurt my team. I'm not frustrated," Barr said. "I still have so much confidence in this defense and in myself. [Big plays] just haven't been there for whatever reason. But if you really watch the tape, you see more often than not I'm in the right place."

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