NFC North: Who's Hot, Who's Not
The NFC North is all smiles this year as it features the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, the defending Division champion Chicago Bears, one of the best young teams in the league in the Detroit Lions and a talented, yet underachieving Minnesota Vikings team.
What makes this division so good are the individual players and units. The NFC North boasts some of the best position players, but also features some pretty weak units as a whole.
Through the first 10 weeks of the 2011 NFL season, who's hot and who's not in the NFC North?
Hot: Matt Forte
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Matt Forte had a slow start to the year, but it was argued that the blame wasn't to be placed on him. Instead, the Bears coaching staff was highly criticized for not putting the ball into their best player's hands more often.
Following Chicago's loss to Green Bay in Week 3, the Bears started getting the ball into Forte's hands any way they could. Forte has run the ball 20-plus times in four of Chicago's past six games, which has seen them sport a 5-1 record in that span.
Though we ideally would like to see Forte get into the end zone a bit more, Bears fans will not complain with three games of 100-plus yards rushing and a 205-yard outburst in the past six games.
Hot: Aaron Rodgers
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Not only is Aaron Rodgers playing the best football in the NFC North, but he is undoubtedly the best player in the NFL to this point.
Rodgers ranks sixth in completions, first in completion percentage, fourth in passing yards, first in yards per completion, first in touchdown passes, has the fewest interceptions thrown, most passes of 40-plus yards and is first in QB rating.
What's most impressive to me is that his QB rating is 28.7 points higher than his closest competitor (Drew Brees).
In the Packers' last five games, Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 16 touchdowns and just one interception. He simply does not turn the ball over.
He won a Super Bowl last season and the Packers are continuing their stellar play as they are the lone undefeated team in the NFL and have shown no signs of a loss coming any time soon.
Hot: Calvin Johnson
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Calvin "Megatron" Johnson is another player that is not only the best among his position in the NFC North, but in the entire NFL.
Megatron has always been the most gifted receiver in the league. Despite having a great 2010 season, Johnson is enjoying a breakout year in 2011 that has propelled him into the same breath as Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Megatron ranks fourth in the NFL in receptions, fourth in receiving yards and first in touchdown receptions.
In Detroit's nine games this season, Megatron has eclipsed 100 yards receiving five times and has just one game under five receptions, which was a blowout win over Kansas City.
Hot: Packers Receivers
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Mike McCarthy shows no hesitation in spreading the field and the Green Bay Packers have the most balanced receiving corps in the league, which features Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Donald Driver, among others.
Both Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings are T-3rd in the NFL in touchdown receptions (7) and each are big play threats, as they rank in the top 10 in the NFL in that category as well.
Jermichael Finley is also popularly known as one of the most talented tight ends in the league. In just his second NFL season, he hauled in 55 receptions and five touchdown receptions. In 2010, he went down with a knee injury after just five games. Now in 2011, Finley is on pace for 60 catches and 10 touchdown catches.
Aaron Rodgers has a trio of big-play weapons on offense that have paid dividends this season.
Hot: Adrian Peterson
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From day one of his NFL career, Adrian Peterson was an elite running back in this league. Just a few years later, Peterson is now the best running back this league has to offer.
For a player of Peterson's caliber, you would expect 20-plus carries more than five times in nine games, and with that he has made the most of his opportunities.
Peterson ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (846) and first in rushing touchdowns (10).
Hot: Jared Allen
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Jared Allen is a tremendous competitor with a non-stop motor. He has established himself as one of the better defensive ends of the last decade as he has recorded 10.0 or more sacks in six of his eight seasons in the NFL.
After an incredibly slow start to the 2010 season, Allen has been on fire as he has recorded a sack in sixteen of his last seventeen games.
This season, Allen ranks atop in the NFL in sacks (13.5) and has forced three fumbles.
Not: Vikings Pass Defense
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What a disaster the Vikings secondary has been.
They lost veteran Antoine Winfield for the remainder of the season and it's looking like their most talented defensive back, Chris Cook, will likely never suit up for the Vikings again.
Chris Cook's backup, Asher Allen, has been continually picked on by offenses throughout his career and Cedric Griffin has not been the same player after two serious knee injuries in recent seasons.
As it ranks right now, Minnesota is 30th in the league in pass defense and are one of three teams in the league to allow all quarterbacks to eclipse 100.0 in passer rating.
Not: Packers Pass Defense
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The Packers secondary relies on turnovers. Every defensive back prides themselves on intercepting passes or forcing fumbles to change the direction of a game.
Going for the big play can sometimes burn a team, though. The Packers this season lead the NFL in interceptions (17), but are also 31st in the NFL in pass yards allowed per game (284.3).
Criticism on a defense is minimal when you have an offense as good as the Packers, who are capable of putting up points faster than any team in the NFL.
Not: Lions Defense
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The Lions defense has turned into a very arrogant bunch, which was evident in their win over Denver. They had harsh words for Tim Tebow that many around the NFL questioned considering the Lions and their defense were also largely unproven.
Based on their actions, I have plenty reason to bunch them into this category. For such a vaunted defensive line, the front four has been anything but intimidating for opposing running backs. They are 27th in the NFL in rush defense and were torched by Michael Turner and Frank Gore in back-to-back weeks.
If the run defense does not improve against elite running backs, do we really expect the Lions to beat some of the better teams in the NFC?
Not: Chris Cook
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Chris Cook deserves his own slide.
After being drafted 34th in the 2010 NFL Draft, Cook was expected to be the anchor to the Vikings future in the secondary, but has had a disaster of a career thus far.
A shortened rookie season saw him continually get burned by opposing receivers and as late as two weeks ago, Cook was charged with felony domestic assault.
Not only has he jeopardized his season, but he also put a big hole in an already thin and struggling Vikings secondary.