NFC North Week 1 Review: In a Word...Dominant
Week 1 of the 2011 NFL season is in the books for the NFC North. It was a week of both surprises and things we expected. Only the Vikings lost their opener as the Bears, Packers and Lions showed the rest of the NFL that the NFC North will be the most competitive division this season. The NFC North outscored their opponents 166-90 while going 3-0 against the NFC South, who some had predicted was the best division.
Wow, what a way to start the season! It was an aerial assault at Lambeau. This is what defines a great game: two juggernauts slugging it out for over 60 million viewers.
The Packers looked every bit the team that should successfully defend their Super Bowl title. Green Bay's 42 points, over 312 yards passing and over 100 yards rushing was complimented by a defense that had two sacks, a forced fumble and held the Saints to 81 yards rushing (including a goal-line stop for the last play of the game). In fact, the Saints were kept in check for the first half as the Packers controlled the game and scored at will.
What concerned me about the Packers was that they had their foot on the throat of the Saints and then let up. Mental lapses (like a game-extending pass interference penalty) not only let the Saints back into this game but almost gave it back to them. Do that against the Bears, Lions or Falcons, and there could be problems.
This was not how many outside of Chicago thought this game would go. Atlanta was supposed to march into Soldier Field and dismantle a Bears team that "lucked" their way into the playoffs last year. Instead, they ran into a buzz saw on offense and defense.
The Bears dominated the Falcons in almost every aspect of this game. Cutler looked like he has left the NFC Championship behind him, and Urlacher moved like a spry rookie. Roy Williams actually caught the footballs thrown to him, and Forte needs to get paid, ASAP.
When all was said and done, it was a 30-12 dismantling of the Falcons. The only concerns for the Bears were the five sacks they gave up and their failure to take advantage in the red zone. They cannot have those issues when playing the Saints and the Packers, both of whom are lying in wait the next two weeks.
I will admit, the first time the cameras focused on a limping Matthew Stafford, I thought (along with the rest of the country), "Oh no, not again." Worries were put to rest as he was only dealing with some cramping.
The 27-20 final over the Buccaneers was not as close as the score indicated. Stafford looked like the QB the Lions thought he would be when they drafted him No. 1 overall in 2009. Connecting with Calvin Johnson for two of his three touchdowns could be a sign of things to come for long-suffering Lions fans. Stafford also threw for over 300 yards while completing 72 percent of his passes.
The defense contributed with two sacks, two forced fumbles and one INT. They held Tampa to 259 yards in the air and only 44 yards on the ground. In this battle of upstarts, the Lions looked like they are on the fast track to the playoffs.
They looked really good in all aspects of the game except for special teams. They did not get a lot of yardage out of punt and kickoff returns, leaving the Lions in some poor field position that they were fortunate to get out of.
The Vikings' special teams and defense are going to be a handful for teams in the NFC North. Even though they lost to the Chargers 24-17, Minnesota led this game until 10 minutes were left in the fourth quarter.
Percy Harvin ran back the opening kickoff to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead. Adrian Peterson ran roughshod over the Chargers defense when he had the ball (which happened only 16 times). The Vikings defense harassed Philip Rivers for three quarters, making his life very difficult by pressuring him into two INTs and not letting him get into a rhythm until the fourth quarter.
The Chargers' running game was non-existent against the Vikings. If not for mistakes by McNabb and the play-calling (6.1 yards a carry and Adrian only gets the ball 16 times?) that let the Chargers back into the game, the Vikings may have won.
The problem here is the QB play—only 39 yards passing from Donovan McNabb. We may see Christian Ponder sooner than later. If they cannot get the passing game going in a pass-happy NFC North, they will be looking up from the bottom of the division.
After Week 1, it looks to be an exciting season as all four teams showed the NFL that they have potent weapons and strong defenses that will give any team a world of problems. The NFC North went 3-1 this week. I am interested to see how they do next week.
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