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 remain the class of the NFC at 5-0. We look back to last week, look ahead to this week and provide some fun stats.

Chicago Bears

LAST WEEK: The Bears put together a miserable performance against the Lions that highlighted everything that is wrong with the team. The offensive line allowed pressure on Jay Cutler nearly every time he dropped back. He performed admirably given the circumstances (28-of-38, 249 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) and Matt Forte also had a solid game (151 total yards). Yet the offensive line gave up three sacks and six quarterback hits, as well as incurring nine false start penalties, which never allowed the offense to get into a rhythm. Defensively, the Bears made Jahvid Best look like Barry Sanders. The Lions' starting back had rushed for just 190 yards on the season before the Monday night tilt, yet picked up 163 yards on the ground against Chicago. And the Bears' secondary had no answer for Calvin Johnson, who finished with 130 yards.

LOOKING FORWARD: This team has more question marks than the Riddler costume. There are issues at every position outside of running back, quarterback and kick returner, and that includes the coaches. Fortunately, the Bears get to come home and face a Minnesota team that has struggled, as well. Yet the Vikings boast the best back in the league in Adrian Peterson. If Jahvid Best can post 163 yards on the Bears' defense, what will Peterson do to them? And on offense, the line will face another premier pass rusher in Jared Allen, who will be just as disruptive as Lions defensive Cliff Avril, if not more so. The Bears have a short week to cure what ails them. If they can't right the ship against Minnesota, heads might roll.

FUN STAT: The Bears' defense is 29th in the league in yards allowed per game. The group is giving up 419 yards per contest, far above any yardage totals of the past 10 seasons. In fact, the worst Chicago defense since 2002 only gave up 354 yards a game (2007).

Detroit Lions

LAST WEEK: Detroit didn't exactly start Monday night's win off hot, but it wasn't behind by three scores at halftime, either. The team used explosive plays from Jahvid Best and Calvin Johnson, a generous helping of crowd noise (the Bears had nine false starts) and a relentless pass rush to upend Chicago and keep its undefeated mark intact. Matthew Stafford was effective in play action due to Detroit's ground success, and only had to throw the ball 26 times (he'd been averaging 40 attempts per contest). And if Best's career night (12 carries for 163 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown run) is an indication of things to come, it will make an already capable offense that much more dynamic. The game marked Detroit's first divisional win, snapping a six-game skid to Chicago while putting the defending NFC North champs three games behind in the division race.

LOOKING FORWARD: Detroit's weekly litmus test continues next Sunday. The team will host the San Francisco 49ers (4-1), another young, burgeoning team with playoff aspirations. San Francisco, under the direction of former Michigan standout and first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, is coming off last weekend's thrashing of Tampa Bay and has looked solid after a forgettable 2010 campaign. The 49ers are buoyed by Frank Gore, and the Lions have had struggles containing running backs. The team will have another sellout crowd on hand for what appears to be a helpful 12th man presence, but must start quickly and force the 49ers to play catchup via the air. If the Lions win, they'll equal their win total from last season.

FUN STAT: Best's 88-yard touchdown scamper surpassed his career high for rushing yards in one game alone (78). Johnson's 73-yard touchdown reception gave him nine on the year, the most by a receiver in NFL history through the first five games of a season. The last time a pair of Lions achieved such lengthy touchdown plays from different positions was in 1997 at Tampa Bay, when Barry Sanders had runs of 82 and 80 yards and Herman Moore had a 79-yard reception.

Green Bay Packers

LAST WEEK: The Packers aren't going to go undefeated. That said, if the Atlanta Falcons couldn't beat them on Sunday night, then who will hand the defending champions their first loss? The Packers lost Pro Bowl left tackle Chad Clifton early in the second quarter, and with right tackle Bryan Bulaga already out of action, the Packers' tackles were a second-year player who didn't see a single snap of action as a rookie (Marshall Newhouse) and a rookie who had played in one snap in the first four games (Derek Sherrod). That seemed like a recipe for disaster with the Packers trailing 14-0 and the Georgia Dome rocking and rolling. Instead, the green-as-grass tackles held up fine and Aaron Rodgers turned in another virtuoso performance. Meanwhile, a maligned defense that entered the game ranked 31st against the pass smothered a potent Falcons passing attack featuring Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. Add it together, the Packers scored 25 consecutive points to win 25-14. Not that it has any bearing on this season, but Green Bay has won the championship after all five of its previous 5-0 starts.

LOOKING FORWARD: In theory, the Packers will roll to 6-0 this week. They host the winless Rams, who were favored to win the Division II NFC West. The challenge, however, is that the Rams are coming off of their bye week so they've had plenty of time to study the Packers and right their ship. The Packers lost at home to the Dolphins after Miami's bye last season. Sam Bradford, so impressive as a rookie, has been horrific with 49.7 percent accuracy. Moreover, due to injuries in the secondary, the Rams might have to start 36-year-old Al Harris — the former Pro Bowl Packers cornerback.

FUN STAT: As a defensive coordinator, who do you want to stop? Greg Jennings? Jermichael Finley? It might not matter. Against Atlanta, Rodgers completed passes to 12 players. That's every skill-position player on the gameday roster besides rookie tight end Ryan Taylor. Against the Falcons, No. 4 receiver James Jones caught five passes for 140 yards and a touchdown.

Minnesota Vikings

LAST WEEK: The Vikings finally put a complete game together, or at least a full four quarters, in their 34-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals. But if you are looking for a game with all three phases playing at a high level, that has yet to happen because the passing offense is very much a work in progress — some would classify it as a work in regress. Despite teams rightfully focusing on Adrian Peterson, he scored three first-quarter touchdowns, thanks to three of those drives starting in Arizona territory. The defense played lights-out, pressuring quarterback Kevin Kolb throughout and forcing him into a fumble and three interceptions. The one element missing is accuracy from Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb, who completed only 10-of-21 passes and actually bounced a few easy passes well in front of his intended target. Until that changes, the Vikings won't be able to compete with the elite teams.

LOOKING FORWARD: If Minnesota is to get back to any semblance of respectability nationally, this is the three-game stretch it will have to conquer: The Vikings have two division games, including Sunday night's against the reeling Bears for ragged rights to the cellar of the NFC North. The Vikings got their first win to move to 1-4 and the Bears fell to 2-3 Monday night. The players know the hole they dug is deep, but they are focused on the "second quarter" of the season before their bye week. With the Bears, Packers and Panthers ahead, it won't be an easy road back to .500, but that's their pre-bye goal.

FUN STAT: Thanks to a first-down interception by Asher Allen, the Vikings had two quick back-to-back possessions in the first quarter and Peterson took advantage with touchdown runs 23 seconds apart. He became the first NFL player since Emmitt Smith in 1999 to score a pair of touchdowns that quickly, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.


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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