Northern Exposure

Half of the NFC North gets a bye week, but there are still plenty of plotlines to follow. While the Bears and Packers look to heal injured players, the Lions need to rekindle their winning ways and the Vikings are hoping to build on Christian Ponder's first encouraging start.

Chicago Bears

LAST WEEK: The Bears beat jet lag and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in the NFL's annual London matchup. RB Matt Forte continued his dominance, rushing for 145 yards on 25 carries, including a 39-yard touchdown. WR Roy Williams had his best game as a Bear, catching four passes for 59 yards and a TD, all team highs. QB Jay Cutler was shaky, completing just 17 of 29 passes and throwing two interceptions. Luckily, Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman was even worse, throwing four picks and ending the contest with a 51.4 passer rating. He wasn't helped by his offense's anemic rushing attack, which was forced to play third-string RB Kregg Lumpkin due to injuries to Earnest Graham and LaGarrette Blount. Chicago's defense held the Bucs to 30 yards on the ground -- the second week in a row they've allowed 53 rushing yards or less to an opponent. The win brings the Bears' record to 4-3, just one game behind the Detroit Lions for second place in the NFC North.

LOOKING FORWARD: The Bears are on bye this week, which should give them time to heal some nagging injuries. T Gabe Carimi, out since Week 2 with a dislocated knee cap, will return after the bye, as will WR Earl Bennett. S Chris Harris will have time to give his hamstring a rest, as it's obviously still bothering him. And DE Julius Peppers should be able to fully heal from a knee injury he suffered two weeks ago. Chicago will square off against the Eagles in Philadelphia in Week 9.

FUN STAT: Through seven weeks, Forte leads the league in yards from scrimmage with 1,091. The last two players to go over the 1,000 all-purpose mark in a season's first seven weeks were Tiki Barber and Priest Holmes in 2004. Marshall Faulk's 1,192 all-purpose yards, recorded in 2000 playing under Mike Martz in St. Louis, is the largest seven-week total since the 1970 merger.

Detroit Lions

LAST WEEK: After replacing a historic road losing streak by winning consecutive road games, the Detroit Lions have now dropped two consecutive at what just three weeks ago was considered the best home-field advantage in the league. The team came up short in Sunday's 23-16 loss to Atlanta, again victimized by their own follies. The Lions fumbled a kickoff that led to an Atlanta touchdown, committed numerous penalties that either extended Falcons drives or killed their own, and only converted one of their 12 third-down opportunities. And yet still played well enough to win. However, the team's slow start offensively has now morphed into an overall lack of rhythm; defensively, the team's inconsistency from drive-to-drive complicates matters further.

LOOKING WEEK: The Lions face a quarterback next week that can't throw across a street, but Tim Tebow and his teammates have one advantage over the adversary: belief. While Detroit is cloaked in self-doubt as it attempts to pick up the pieces after a lightning-hot start to the season, the Broncos' tide appears to be changing as they adopt their quarterback's mentality. To thicken the plot? After Atlanta's claims that the Detroit defensive front – led by Ndamukong Suh – taunted Matt Ryan as the QB lay injured on the turf, this weekend's contest reeks of "Good guy" (Tebow) vs. "Bad guy" (Suh). Regardless, the Lions have never been in more of a 'must-win' situation than they are on Sunday. Not only would a road win help balance the team's two home losses, they simply need to right the ship and enter the bye week with some sort of momentum.

FUN STAT: If the Lions defeat Denver on Sunday, they'll match the team's 6-2 start from 2007. The team's sixth win in 2007? A 44-7 drubbing of the Jay Cutler-led Broncos. The Lions promptly lost their next six games. … Calvin Johnson continues his dizzying pace, becoming the sixth player in league history with 10 touchdown receptions through the first seven games of the season (first since Randy Moss did it for New England in '07)

Green Bay Packers

LAST WEEK: The Packers became just the fourth Super Bowl champion to start a season 7-0 — joining the 1990 49ers, 1998 Broncos and 2007 Colts — by holding off the Vikings 33-27 on Sunday in Minnesota. In what's becoming an all-time great season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 24 of 30 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns against a Vikings secondary decimated by injury (Antoine Winfield) and legal troubles (Chris Cook). With a passer rating of 146.5, Rodgers extended his NFL record with a seventh consecutive season-opening game with a rating of 110. He led the Packers to a touchdown on the opening drive by completing 6 of 6 passes, with each completion going to a different player. The Packers trailed at halftime, but Rodgers threw two touchdown passes in the first four-and-half minutes of the third quarter. Adrian Peterson and rookie Christian Ponder gave the Vikings a chance, but James Starks rushed six times for 55 yards as the Packers ran out the clock against the league's fourth-ranked run defense.

LOOKING FORWARD: Now the Packers can exhale. They've reached the bye at 7-0. While healthy in comparison to last season, when Green Bay won the Super Bowl despite 15 players on injured reserve, the Packers could use the break. Star receiver Greg Jennings exited the Metrodome with ice wrapped around his right hand. Safety Morgan Burnett is playing with a broken hand. Ace cornerback Tramon Williams has been at less than full strength because of a shoulder injured in the opener. Almost all of their outside linebackers are laboring through this and that. When they come back, talk will undoubtedly turn to an undefeated season. They'll be tested out of the gate by AFC powerhouse San Diego.

FUN STAT: Of Rodgers' six incompletions against the Vikings, two were throwaways, two were drops and one was a clock-killing spike. That means Rodgers threw one poor ball on his other 25 attempts. For the season, he's completed 71.5 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 125.7. Both marks would establish league records. He's thrown 20 touchdowns against three interceptions. Two of the interceptions were off his receivers' hands.

Minnesota Vikings

LAST WEEK: Moral victories? The Vikings didn't want to hear too much about hanging with the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in a 33-27 loss, but with the absence of more than one real victory, even a moral victory had some relevance for a 1-5 team facing a 6-0 team before Sunday's game. What had the Vikings feeling a sense of hope for the future following their loss was that their quarterback of the future may have come into focus with rookie Christian Ponder's first start. The stats are a bit deceiving – he connected on only 13 of 32 passes – but the offense opened up for the first time this season and the result was seven plays longer than 20 yards, including a game-opening 72-yard pass to Michael Jenkins. Ponder left plenty of room for improvement in accuracy and timing, but he showed pocket presence and made a lot of correct and quick decisions. Bolstered by a 175-yard performance from Adrian Peterson, there are at least signs of life on offense.

LOOKING FORWARD: The Vikings showed they can at least compete with the best at home, but their defense will have a different challenge when they travel to play the Carolina Panthers Sunday. Rookie QB Cam Newton has nearly as many passing yards as the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, but Newton possesses a more physical ability to run and averages eight rushes a game. The negative difference is that while Rodgers has 20 TDs and three interceptions, Newton has eight touchdowns and nine interceptions, so it will be incumbent on Minnesota's defensive line to keep Newton pressured but in the pocket.

FUN STAT: Jared Allen continues to tear through NFL quarterbacks, including a two-sack performance against the quick-releasing Rodgers. Allen now has 11.5 sacks, 3.5 more than DeMarcus Ware in second place, putting him on pace for an NFL-record 26 this season. Allen registered a sack in his ninth straight game, breaking a franchise record previously shared by Purple People Eaters Carl Eller and Jim Marshall.

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 Viking Update.

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