What we learned about the NFC North during the Packers’ bye week
Tony Atkins, Packers contributor
This week, the Packers are officially getting back to business as they return from their Week 3 bye. After their crushing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Packers had some extended time to think of a way to get back to their winning ways.
In the meantime, they also have had some time to check out their NFC North counterparts this past week as they head back into action.
The division standings aren’t looking quite the way many have predicted it to be in the early going. The Packers are 1-2 and they sit in third place, only ahead of the Detroit Lions. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings stand at the top of the division, at 3-0.
For the Packers and their fans alike, there was much to take from watching the rest of the division this in Week 3. Here are a few of my observations from this week’s NFC North action:
Detroit Lions: Real deal this time?
We’ve all been down this road before with the Lions. Since their resurgence in recent years, Detroit has been on the Jekyll and Hyde trajectory, in terms of productivity. We all know they’re talented, but sometimes talent isn’t enough, especially in the Lions’ case.
In 2011, the Lions showed the world what they were capable of when they went 10-6. Then in 2012, they showed very little, going 4-12.
Nowadays, the Lions seem to be back on the up and things couldn’t seem better for this group.
As our Jeff Falconio pointed out on 620 WTMJ’s Packers Rewind on Monday night, the issues that have plagued the Lions, such as pass protection and inefficient play from Stafford, don’t seem to be an issue in the early going.
Stafford has been very efficient this year, partly because of consistent offensive line play. He already has 1,262 yards passing with only Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan ahead of him.
What has been different about Stafford this year is his efficiency. He has only thrown three picks thus far this season. His quarterback rating is 96.2 through Week 4.
What has aided Stafford in the early going has certainly been the big play from running back Reggie Bush. Last week against Chicago, Bush rushed for 139 yards and two scores. Bush’s early contributions, coupled with improved pass and run blocking, seems to be allowing Stafford to relax in the pocket a little more than in year’s past.
Minnesota Vikings: AP is still AP and the Vikings aren't that bad
After a 2,000 yard season, Adrian Peterson certainly hasn’t let up this season. Last week against Pittsburgh, AP racked up 140 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Naturally, it is to be expected that Peterson is still very good.
What isn’t to be expected as much is the fact that the Vikings aren’t as bad as they seem to be at 1-3. Anyone watching them over the past couple of weeks would notice that they have been fighting hard in close games.
Week 1 was probably the Vikings’ worst outing when Detroit beat them 34-24. Next week against Chicago, they narrowly lost in a 31-30 game that ended in the last minute when Jay Cutler found Martellus Bennett in the endzone for only second half points in that game for Chicago.
The Cleveland Browns also found similar success during their trip to Minnesota. The final 51 seconds saw Browns’ wideout Jordan Cameron grab the game-winning touchdown to win 31-27.
Minnesota finally got their first win last week in another close one, a 34-27 game against the Steelers. While their record says 1-3, don’t look for the Vikings to just stand back and lose games. They have just been on the wrong end of close games in the early going.
Chicago Bears: Chinks in the armor
For the past few weeks, Bears fans across the world have been pounding their chests about their team’s play. They have been very good for the most part but if there is one thing Week 3 taught us was that there are chinks in Chicago’s armor.
The thing about Chicago, for the most part, is that they find ways to pull out wins late in close games no matter what goes wrong in the first 58 minutes. They roared back with 16 fourth quarter points late against Detroit but it was too little, too late as the Lions won 40-32. Had the game been any closer, things may have become more interesting.
Last Sunday saw the Bears produce some ugly stats. They went 1-13 on third downs and they gave the ball up four times on turnovers.
While the Bears are playing ugly football, it has worked out for them as they continue to find themselves with chances to win games late. They are leading the NFL in takeaways and currently are tied for first in the NFC North, albeit with many flaws to fix upon moving forward.
Tony Atkins contributes to the sports staff at TODAY'S TMJ4 and in many capacities at 620WTMJ. He also writes about the Packers at Acme Packing Company.