NFC North: A Look at the State of the Packers, Lions, Bears and Vikings

Jonathan OwensCorrespondent IOctober 19, 2011

NFC North: A Look at the State of the Packers, Lions, Bears and Vikings

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    Week 7 of the NFL season is upon us, and it may be the most important week of the season for three of the four teams in the NFC North division. I know, every coach will tell you that every week is important and every player will tell you that every game is important. There are different levels of importance, though, and this week presents some interesting story lines.

    How do the Lions respond after their first loss of the season? How important is Jahvid Best to their offense? 

    The Bears face the Bucs in a game across the pond that could put the Bears in the driver's seat for a wild card in the NFC with a win.

    The Christian Ponder, or "Are we really going to pass on Andrew Luck cause we just drafted this guy?", era officially begins...against the Packers.

    The Packers don't really care about any of this, I'm sure. They're probably setting the over/under on A.J. Hawk "bird" sightings and how many times they'll be able to say "Welcome to the NFL, rook."

     Here's a closer look.

The Green Bay Packers: A. J. Hawk Says They're Number One

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    I think it goes without saying that the Packers are the best team in this division, as well as the NFL. Aaron Rodgers is locked in like few quarterbacks in the NFL have ever been. At this point, he should be the runaway MVP winner.

    But the defense really hasn't looked very good. At times they play well, but they've really looked poor most of the time and they seem to coast.

    They got ahead big against the Saints, but had to withstand a last-second drive to win that game. They scored 17 points in the first half against the Bears then went quiet for most of the second half. They played very poorly against the Panthers. Even the Rams game wasn't a very good game. Yes, they won 24-3, but they led 24-0 at halftime. Even against the Falcons, they trailed 14-0.

    Yes, they're undefeated, but I have yet to really see them play a complete game except for Denver. Everyone plays complete games against the Broncos.

    They give up loads of passing yards and have given up points in bunches at times. It's almost as if they do just enough to win. That's not really a bad thing, but sometimes when you are coasting it's hard to flip the switch and get serious again.

    It also concerns you because last year that defense was so good they could keep the Packers in games Rodgers was struggling, or the games he missed. Now, not so much.

    But I'd still be worried if I was a member of the '72 Dolphins.

The Detroit Lions: You Call That a Handshake?

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    Just to clarify, I've never believed that this was the Lions year, and I still don't. I love Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, but I really have doubts that much of their roster will be in the NFL in five years.

    No offense to Matt Stafford, but he's injury-prone and has been throughout college. Same for Jahvid Best. Generally when you're injury-prone in college, you're injury-prone in the NFL.

    That being said, the Lions' ability to come back against the Vikings and Cowboys impressed me. It's difficult to come back from three-touchdown deficits and they did it twice. Now I'm interested in seeing how they respond to their first loss of the season.

    For young teams, that first time you discover you aren't invincible is difficult to overcome. Add the loss of Jahvid Best for this week, and there's a lot of adversity to overcome in Detroit.

    What Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh's altercation hid is the fact that that defense that so many people are impressed with was again lit up by a running back. Sunday marked the fourth straight week a running back averaged over five yards a carry against them, making you wonder what the Lions record would look like if Felix Jones and Adrian Peterson had gotten 25 carries instead of 16 and 17, respectively. 

    They're just not a very good defense when being asked to do something other than generate a pass rush. On countless occasions last week, the 49ers gashed the Lions by running right at Suh, and that vaunted offense can't score from the sidelines. Eventually the rest of the NFL is going to realize the formula for beating Detroit is not getting beat deep and running the ball 35 times a game.

    Add to that Matt Stafford's inaccuracy at times. I know people rave about his accuracy, but I've watched way too many simple throws to the flats and five-yard outs sail over a receiver's head.

    He certainly shows great touch deep, but what happens when he starts getting hit more—which he will, because Ronnie Brown is no Jahvid Best—and can't wait for the deep throw to develop?

    This game against Atlanta is the most important game they'll play, especially if they lose and the Bears beat Tampa.

The Chicago Bears: Devin Hester Takes Ridiculous International

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    Is there any team that's been tougher to figure out than the Bears? The defense played outstandingly Week 1 against the Falcons, then took the next four weeks off before showing up in a big way against the Vikings. 

    The offensive line looked like garbage most of the year, but it surprised against the Vikings.

    Yes, it's the Vikings, but their defensive line is one of their few strengths and Jared Allen is having a career year. Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing coming into that game and had come off of two very fine games. Neither of those things mattered, though.

    What matters now for the Bears is Tampa Bay...in London. A win for the Bears and they are 4-3 going into their bye with a 3-1 record against the NFC South, which figures to be their main competition for the wild card.

    If the Saints win that division, it gives the Bears the tie-breaker against both the Falcons and Bucs. 10-6 seems a very realistic shot for the Bears as they get into the soft part of their schedule.

    A loss and they fall to 3-4 with Tampa sitting at 5-2 holding the tie-breaker over them and the chances of catching Detroit get slimmer and slimmer. At this point, every team in the NFC North not named the Packers is playing for the wild card, and that makes this game against the Bucs stand out even more.

    If the Giants hold on to the East, having the tie-breakers over the Bucs and Falcons puts the Bears in the driver's seat for one of the wild cards, with a Monday night showdown in Philly against the Eagles after the Bears' Week 8 bye (which should be a win; Lovie Smith's record after the bye is ridiculous). That lines them up to help themselves majorly with a win against the Lions in Week 10.

    But first thing's first: gotta beat the Bucs.

The Minnesota Vikings: Ponder Tyrann Mathieu Instead of Luck

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    So the Christian Ponder era begins, which most people expected after the Vikings started 0-4.

    These are, without a doubt, the most important 10 games of Ponder's career, as he will get a very small window to prove to Minnesota management and the fans that they shouldn't use a second consecutive first-round pick on a quarterback.

    Good Luck...pun intended.

    Yes, Ponder looked good Sunday night in getting away from pressure and avoiding sacks and he was pretty accurate on his throws. Please don't get carried away, though. He produced zero points in those drives and he was in during a blowout, which means the Bears were in the prevent.

    The Packers love to blitz—from everywhere—and they are very good at it. While their defense hasn't been very good against the pass, they are a very good run-stopping team, which doesn't bode very well for a rookie making his first career start.

    I'm sure Ponder isn't going to lead the Vikings into the playoffs this year, so the key for him is to play well enough that the Vikings are willing to get Justin Blackmon for him to throw to in the next draft instead of getting Andrew Luck to throw to Percy Harvin.

It's Still the Pack and Everyone Else, Though

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    Make no mistake, nothing that happens this weekend will change the fact that the Packers are the best team in the NFL, but for everyone else this weekend, it's the most important game they've played to date.

    A Lions loss and they go to the bye with a two-game losing streak and the meat of their schedule staring them in the face.

    A Bears loss and it's pretty much season over for them.

    The Vikings are going to lose, but how they lose will tell a lot about their very near future.

    Think about that while watching on Sunday.