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NFC North Picture Becomes More Muddled

Looking ahead to Week 10, ESPN reporters put together a piece covering each NFL team's top storylines. Let's take a look at the NFC North picture.

Ben Goessling said the biggest thing for Minnesota at Washington next Sunday will be looking for that comeback win after losing its third-straight game – and first at home – against the Lions, dropping to 5-3.

The Packers (4-4) have experienced a slide of their own, losing three of their past four games. Rob Demovsky wrote:

*They don't play at home again until Dec. 4, which means the upcoming three-game road swing [at Tennessee, Washington and Philadelphia] will be critical to their season – if they're going to stay in the playoff hunt. *

Detroit (5-4) is entering its bye week sitting in second place in the division. Lions reporter Michael Rothstein said the Lions are "one of the hottest teams in the league" at this point.

Their five victories have been come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter or overtime, which makes them a team prepared for any situation, but the Lions also play with little margin for error every week. That can only get more stressful as games start to have bigger implications.

The Bears improved to 2-6 when they defeated the Vikings on Halloween. Jeff Dickerson called the playoffs "likely out of the picture" for Chicago but said there are a number of winnable games remaining on the schedule. The Bears will face the Buccaneers coming out of their bye week.

SI's Chris Burke: Stafford shaking up division

The Vikings and Lions each have five wins, with Minnesota holding onto its first-place spot in the division with one fewer loss and its bye week behind it.

With the Vikings recent slide and the Packers losing to the Colts yesterday and dropping to 4-4, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Burke said Lions quarterback Matt Stafford has led a shakeup of the NFC North* *and thrown the division into "complete chaos."

[Stafford's] play when games are on the line is the driving factor. Same goes for the Lions' hopes of making the playoffs — or winning the division. Without Stafford slinging the ball around every Sunday, Detroit would be well out of the postseason picture as it heads into its bye.

Burke said there were silver linings in Minnesota's performance yesterday, but it wasn't enough to stop a Detroit rally.

*The division's sudden competitiveness continues to signal a drastic, unwelcome reversal of course for the Vikings, too. *

[…]

Minnesota showed changes on that side of the ball almost immediately, with [interim Offensive Coordinator] Pat Shurmur leaning on a short-passing game out of the gate — Bradford's high 8.8 yards-per-completion rate for the day was bolstered by a 32-yard swing pass to Ronnie Hillman and two connections with Adam Thielen on Minnesota's final drive.

Burke said he continues to be concerned about the Vikings run game and blocking, and he also was surprised to see that the defense "could not come through" at the end of the game.

With the division currently a close race between three teams, the next couple of games will be vitally important.

Hall of Fame OT Ron Yary offers advice to Vikings O-Line

Following the Vikings 22-16 overtime loss to the Lions yesterday, quarterback Sam Bradford gave credit to the offensive line for battling hard all game and better-protecting Bradford, who was sacked twice, in the pocket.

Tackle Jake Long also saw some improvements from the line, but he said the unit has a lot more work to do.

Minnesota's offensive line has been under plenty of scrutiny throughout the first half of the 2016 season, and Hall of Fame tackle Ron Yary offered some advice to the group via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press.

"The criticism has been relentless," Yary told Tomasson. "If they spoke about me like that, I'd be angry. I'd be mad at myself, I'd be mad at everybody. They need to take it personally. Go after guys [on defense]. Get angry about everything. Be relentless. The only way to shut them up is to go after them. Get mean."

Yary played for the Vikings from 1968-1981 and helped protect a number of Vikings quarterbacks, including fellow Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton.

While Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer reminds his team not to pay attention to outside opinions and media criticism, veteran center Joe Berger said it's hard to ignore all of it. He also acknowledged that certain feedback "is warranted."

"Obviously, we've got to protect better, we've got to run the ball better," Berger told Tomasson. "We know that. If anybody knows that, the five up front know that."

As far as Yary's advice, Berger takes it with a grain of salt and said it's all about managing the emotion.

 "If I play angry, I start having missed assignments," Berger told Tomasson. "So it's kind of like a controlled rage, I guess. … You take with any criticism what's important and you leave the rest aside."

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