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Lunchbreak: A Look at NFC North Picture After Vikings Bye

While the Vikings enjoyed a bye week to rest and recharge, their NFC North rivals all played on Sunday.

As a reminder, Minnesota sits at 5-3-1 entering Week 11, which is good enough for second in the division.

The Vikings will travel to Chicago to face the Bears (6-3), who sit atop the NFC North after notching a third consecutive win. The Bears defeated the Lions 34-22 on Sunday, dropping Detroit to 3-6 on the season.

ESPN's Jeff Dickerson **delved into the Bears current situation**. He highlighted quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who shined in Sunday's victory. The second-year passer recorded 355 passing yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Trubisky, who added a rushing score of his own, logged a quarterback rating of 95.7 in his first career win over a divisional opponent. Dickerson wrote:

Trubisky has endured periodic lapses in accuracy during the season, but he was dialed-in from the opening drive. Even when forced to throw off schedule, Trubisky's passes found the mark, including balls to wide receivers Allen Robinson (six catches for 133 yards and two TDs in his first game back from injury) and rookie Anthony Miller (five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown).


Now it's up to Trubisky to routinely perform at this level.

An NFC North title depends on it.

Dickerson compared the Bears and Vikings remaining schedules and said Chicago is in "prime position" to pull ahead in the division but that a lot will rest on Trubisky's outings from here on out.

Dickerson said the "division will likely come down to the Bears and Vikings."

The two teams will have their first matchup of the season this weekend on Sunday Night Football. They will meet again for the regular-season finale, when the Vikings host the Bears on Dec. 30.

Rounding out the division, the Packers are in third place at 4-4 after defeating the Dolphins 31-12 Sunday afternoon. Next up for Green Bay is this week's Thursday Night Football contest at Seattle. The Vikings will play the Seahawks on Monday Night Football on Dec. 10.

Harrison Smith voted NFL's top safety by Associated Press

In a recent panel of 10 football writers for the Associated Press, Vikings safety Harrison Smith was voted the NFL's top player at his position, which should bode well for his consideration as an All-Pro for the second consecutive season.

The AP's Dennis Waszak, Jr., **wrote about the recognition** and quoted Minneapolis-based _AP_ writer Dave Campbell, who said the following:

"The independent analysts at Pro Football Focus rated Smith's performance in 2017 the highest by any player at any position in the league. This year, the three-time Pro Bowl pick has three interceptions and three sacks in nine games. No player in the NFL hit both of those marks over the entire 2017 season.

"With Earl Thomas out for the year, it's easy to see Smith as the top safety in the league."

Waszak wrote:

The AP voters overwhelmingly agreed. Smith received 97 points in a 10-points-to-one-point system, garnering eight of 10 first-place votes. He finished second on one ballot and third on the other to easily outdistance the New York Giants Landon Collins, who had 69 points.

Waszak also included a quote from New York-based writer Barry Wilner, who said that Smith is "probably Minnesota's most valuable defensive player."

Smith finished second in last year's voting, with Thomas winning. The injured Seahawks star, who's out for the season with a broken left leg, had 59 points — and received one first-place vote, from Bay Area-based Josh Dubow — to finish third this year.


There were 28 players who received at least one vote, but Smith and Collins were the only safeties to appear on all 10 ballots.

Uptick on defense has made all the difference for Vikings

The Vikings have **seen a number of improvements on defense** over the past five weeks.

In that span, during which Minnesota has won four of its past five contests, John Shipley of the Pioneer Press said that the Vikings defensive performance **has made all the difference**. Shipley wrote:

But the Vikings offense has been more than adequate, averaging 24.6 points a game with the NFL's sixth-best passing game (374.3 yards a game) behind new quarterback Kirk Cousins. The difference the past five games has been most apparent on defense, and the biggest reason might be schematic adjustments.


In their first four games, the Vikings gave up nine plays of 35 yards or more; in the five games since, four — and the Lions never gained more than 18 yards (twice) on any play from scrimmage.

Shipley referenced Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who told media members recently that he and the coaching staff go "back through the season and look at plays that hurt us and kind of see if there's a pattern going on."

Shipley pointed out that the Rams in Week 4 posted plays of 31, 36, 47, 56 and 70 yards, but in the games since, the Vikings have given up just four plays of 35-plus yards – and none as long as 50.