Northern Exposure

We turn to our NFC North experts to give you the scoop on what's happening around the Black and Blue Division. The Packers and Lions currently sit at 4-0, with the Bears 2-2 and the Vikings 0-4.

Chicago Bears

LAST GAME: The Bears ran their record to 2-2 this week after picking up a home win against the Panthers. Chicago scored every which way except through the air. CB D.J. Moore scored the first touchdown after intercepting a Cam Newton pass deep in Carolina territory. Matt Forte followed with a 17-yard jaunt in the second quarter that put the Bears ahead for good. Forte's 205 rushing yards was the highest single-game total of his career and tied him for second all-time in Bears history. Yet he was outdone by Devin Hester, who returned the 11th punt of his career for a touchdown, breaking the all-time NFL record for punt return scores. The defense gave up 543 yards on the day but they were on the field for most of the game. Overall they did a decent job corralling Newton, the league's most electrifying rookie.

LOOKING FORWARD: The Bears head to Detroit this week to take on the first-place Lions. Chicago's offensive line did a good job last week protecting Jay Cutler, giving up just one sack, but the group is still banged up and searching for continuity. They'll need to find it quick as Detroit boasts one of the strongest defensive lines in the game. If the Lions' front seven dominates, it will be a long afternoon for Cutler and company. On defense, Chicago's secondary is easily its weakest link and will now have to face arguably the best receiver in the game in Calvin Johnson. The Bears will likely bracket him for most of the day, but as he's shown all season, even double teams, and sometimes triple teams, cannot stop him. The key will be limiting Megatron's impact, which will be mighty difficult for an injured back end that just allowed Steve Smith to torch them for 181 receiving yards.

FUN STAT: Devin Hester needed just more than five seasons to break the punt return TD record. The previous record had been set by Eric Metcalf, who needed 13 seasons. Outside of Forte, no player on the Bears' roster is as dangerous as Hester right now. Chicago's special teams are as potent as they've ever been and are outplaying both the offense and defense up to this point.

Detroit Lions

LAST GAME: The Lions have firmly cemented themselves as the 'Cardiac Cats' after yet another awe-inspiring comeback, this time against "Amerca's Team." With little offensive output and on the verge of a complete collapse, Detroit found itself down 27-3 early in the third quarter before receiving major help from an unexpected contributor. Former Cowboy Bobby Carpenter, a former first-round pick of Dallas before being exiled from Jerryland in 2009, returned a Tony Romo interception for a touchdown. Cornerback Chris Houston repeated the feat on the very next possession, and the Lions were in business. Two fourth quarter Matthew Stafford touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson and a 51-yard field goal by Jason Hanson put the finishing touches on a stunning, come-from-behind win. Johnson's two TDs give him eight on the season, as he and Hanson rank atop the league (No. 1 and No. 2, respectively) in the league in points scored. After going 0-25 away from home, the Lions have now won five consecutive road tilts dating back to last season

LOOKING FORWARD: As Rob Ryan learned the hard way, Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions are for real. Although the web and media have inundated themselves with blaming Tony Romo, the truth is that his two costly interceptions were not traditional 'pick-six' material. Rather, Detroit's defenders made great plays on the ball, and in each instance knifed through Dallas' offense en route to the end zone. On Romo's third interception, Stephen Tulloch leaped high to nab a ball intended for Jason Witten. The concern? The Lions cannot continue to spot opposing teams such massive margins, while waiting until the second half to begin playing. The Lions will face a formidable opponent in Chicago next weekend, a team that has knocked Stafford out of the game in his last two instances against them. Detroit must make a statement that they're just as capable as thumping an opponent, as they did against Kansas City in week two, as they are in finding ways to win in the final moments.

FUN STAT: Detroit's second consecutive rally from 20+ points was the first time it's ever been accomplished in NFL history, and the largest comeback ever allowed by a Dallas team. Prior to Sunday's game, Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan claimed that Calvin Johnson would only be the Cowboys' third-best receiver. Johnson's response? His fourth consecutive two-touchdown game, becoming first receiver in league history to nab 2-plus touchdown receptions in four straight games. The Lions will aim for their first 5-0 start since 1956, when under the direction of Bobby Layne they started the season 6-0 before finishing 9-3 overall (Matthew Stafford hails from the same high school as Layne).

Green Bay Packers

LAST GAME: The Packers obliterated the Denver Broncos 49-23 to join the Lions as the only undefeated teams in the NFL. Coach Mike McCarthy isn't fooling around in these games. After a 50-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson and a pick-six by Charles Woodson, he called for an onside kick, which Nelson recovered. A few minutes later, the Packers were in the end zone again and leading 21-3. When the Broncos pulled within 21-17, McCarthy went no-huddle and Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings for a touchdown just before halftime. Rodgers threw for a career-high 408 yards and matched his career high with four touchdowns. He piloted touchdown drives of 79, 80, 80 and 86 yards. As a defensive coordinator, who do you want to stop? A week after Rodgers threw three touchdown passes to Jermichael Finley at Chicago, the Broncos focused their game plan on taking away the star tight end. Fine. Rodgers hit receivers Nelson, Jennings, James Jones and Donald Driver for scores. Rodgers leads the NFL with a passer rating of 124.6 and a completion percentage of 73.0.

LOOKING FORWARD: The Packers return to Atlanta this week for their third game at the Georgia Dome in about 10 1/2 months. Green Bay lost the regular-season game but crushed the Falcons 48-21 in the divisional round. Heading into that game, Rodgers and Matt Ryan were seen as the NFC's top young qurterbacks, and because of that, maybe Green Bay-Atlanta would become the new version of New England-Indianapolis. Instead, Ryan has had a tough start as the Falcons have alternated losses with wins as they've opened 2-2. He's got seven turnovers in four games compared to 13 all of last season. Part of that is because he's been sacked 13 times in four games vs. 23 in 16 last year. In a win at Seattle on Sunday, though, Ryan threw for 291 yards with one touchdown, no turnovers and two sacks.

FUN STAT: Rodgers became the first quarterback in NFL history to have 400 yards, four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in the same game. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 12 to 2 leads the NFL. On the other side of the ball, Woodson became the 37th player in NFL history with 50 interceptions and now has 11 pick-sixes — one off Rod Woodson's league record.

Minnesota Vikings

LAST GAME: The Vikings didn't blow a double-digit halftime lead for the first time all season. They didn't have a halftime lead. Despite leading the Kansas City Chiefs for much of the first half, one of five Ryan Succop field goals as time expired in the second quarter gave the Kansas City Chiefs a 9-7 halftime lead. The Vikings regained the lead on their first possession of the second half, but, like so many weeks before, abbreviated offensive drives and extended drives by the opponents did in the Vikings in the second half. Kansas City scored on three consecutive possessions in the middle of the second half to create another frustrating loss for Minnesota, this one a 22-17 decision for the previously winless Chiefs. The statistics were familiar, too. Donovan McNabb may have had his best performance of the season (18 of 30 passing for 202 yards, two touchdowns and an interception), but he was still outplayed by Matt Cassel, who was more accurate and found more explosive plays in the passing game, going for 260 yards in his first time above the 200-yard mark this season. Meanwhile, the Chiefs limited star running Adrian Peterson back to a 3-yard average on 12 carries in the second half.

LOOKING FORWARD: Next up for the Vikings is the Arizona Cardinals, who, like the Chiefs now, are 1-3, but at this point there are no easy matchups for Minnesota. Players and coaches maintain they have the talent to compete and still believe they can turn the season around, despite the highly improbable odds of making the playoffs. Right now, there is no looking that far ahead, as they are just hoping to start with one win. Despite accuracy issues with quarterback Donovan McNabb, head coach Leslie Frazier indicated he is sticking with McNabb as his starter, but Frazier did say personnel changes will be considered. The problem is that there are no obvious upgrades waiting in the shadows of the roster, so most of the improvement will have come via self-correcting mistakes like penalties, miss tackles and inaccurate passes.

FUN STAT: The Vikings are bucking the long-held NFL axiom that you have to run the ball effectively and shut down the run. But with the third-ranked rushing offense and fifth-ranked rushing defense, the Vikings are 0-4 and could tie a franchise record from 1962 if they fall to 0-5.


Jeremy Stoltz is publisher of Bear Report, Nate Caminata is publisher of Roar Report, Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and Tim Yotter is publisher of Vikings Update.

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