NFC North breakdown: Week 8

A look at the pros and cons of the teams in the NFC North, along with a preview of their Week 8 games.

Detroit Lions (5-2)

The Lions are currently one win better than they were at this point last year when they were 4-3. They would win their next two games before losing six of their final seven games to end the season 7-9. This year, however, their 5-2 record has them sitting tied with Green Bay, and if the season were to end today Detroit would win the division with the tiebreaker.

With their star wide receiver Calvin Johnson missing 2½ weeks so far with an ankle injury, the Lions have needed other players on their team. One of those players has been Golden Tate, whom they acquired during the offseason.

In the 2½ games that Johnson has been out, Tate has had a 154-yard game with one touchdown against the New Orleans Saints and 134 yards and one touchdown against the Buffalo Bills.

Another part of the Lions game that has come up huge for them this season has been their defense. They currently have the No. 1-ranked defense and are only allowing 290.3 yards per game, and 15 points per game. They have also had 21 sacks so far this season, which ties them for third in the league.

In Week 8 the Lions will travel down to the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons.

One thing that the Lions have going for them in this game is that the Falcons’ offensive line has given up 15 sacks so far this season, so look for the Lions defense to be getting after Matt Ryan on Sunday.

If Ryan does get time, however, the Falcons can have a very dangerous offensive attack. They have the fifth-most dangerous passing attack in the league, and a lot of those stats came from their two home wins, where Ryan threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns versus New Orleans in Week 1, and 286 yards and three touchdowns in Week 3 versus Tampa Bay.

Green Bay Packers (5-2)

It looks like Aaron Rodgers was right. After the Packers started out the season 1-2, he went out and told everyone in Packers nation to “R-E-L-A-X” and after that moment the Packers have been on a four-game winning streak.

A large part of that success has surprisingly come from the defense. Usually when you think of Green Bay, you think of Rodgers and a potent passing attack, not a stout defense. The defense, however, is ranked 19th in yards allowed per game (362.7) and they are tied for ninth in points allowed per game (21), and the thing that might surprise people the most is that they are No. 1 in the league with a plus-10 turnover margin.

And Rodgers is still Rodgers, throwing for 18 touchdowns, second in the league, and has a 117.3 rating, which is also second in the league.

Due to the great field position their defense keeps giving them, he has not had to do too much in terms of throwing the ball. The Packers are currently 20th in the league for passing yards per game, averaging 226.7 (Matt Flynn filled in during the end of the game against the Vikings).

In Week 8 the Packers will take on the New Orleans Saints. This could be a very dangerous game for the Packers because the Saints seem to be a different team at home than they are on the road.

They are 2-0 at home in New Orleans and 0-4 on the road. They also also have produced the second-most yards per game by an offense this season, averaging 437, and the 10th-most points per game, averaging 25.8.

The Saints, however, have been known to turn the ball over, which plays right into the strength of the Packers’ defense. In their last two games, New Orleans has turned the ball over five times, and three of those times came during their last home game against Tampa Bay.

If New Orleans can win the turnover battle – they currently have a minus-8 turnover margin – expect Green Bay to have a hard time expanding their winning streak to five games.

Chicago Bears (3-4)

The Chicago Bears have lost all three home games they have had this season and lost the final home game of last year, and the fans are seemingly fed up. During last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, you could hear the Chicago fans booing their own team.

The players also are seemingly fed up with the losing, as players were reportedly yelling at each other, specifically wide receiver Brandon Marshall yelling at quarterback Jay Cutler from inside the locker room.

Cutler has been one of the primary reasons for the Bears’ early rollercoaster of a season. He has thrown for 1,866 yards, 14 touchdowns and has a completion percentage of 67.3 percent. On the downside, though, Cutler has continued to turn the ball over to opposing defenses, throwing seven interceptions so far this season.

In Week 8 the Bears will travel to New England to face off against the Patriots.

New England’s has done well producing turnovers and getting the offense back onto the field. They have produced seven this season so far, and if they are able to take a lead, look for them to get a couple more this week, as Cutler has been known to try to force the ball into spots he should not.

Lucky for the Bears, though, the Patriots have struggled against the run this year. They are 24th in the league, compared to their No. 1-rated pass defense. This means the Bears likely will look to rely on their running game with Matt Forte.

While the Bears are currently riding a three-game losing streak, and the Patriots are riding a three-game winning streak. With the two teams seemingly heading in opposite directions, one of the streaks will end this week.

Minnesota Vikings (2-5)

The Vikings have not had the start to the season they were hoping. They have lost All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson to child abuse charges, along with injury taking out tight end Kyle Rudolph, quarterback Matt Cassel and multiple offensive linemen.

This has led them to have a dismal offense, ranking 29th in the league with 309.1 yards per game and ranking 30th in the league with 17.1 points per game.

Most of the low rankings are due to the fact that their passing game is struggling to produce. They have a rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, and if you take out his first start against Atlanta he has thrown 495 yards, five interceptions, and only one touchdown.

There is hope for improvement from the young quarterback, however, as the Vikings head down to play Tampa Bay in Week 8.

The Buccaneers have allowed a league-worst 294.5 passing yards a game, and a league-worst 34 points a game. Another thing that will help out the team is that Tampa Bay has only recorded nine sacks this season. This should be welcome news for the Vikings’ struggling offensive line that has given up 19 sacks in the last three games.

Another thing that will help out the young quarterback and struggling offense is the emergence of rookie running back Jerick McKinnon. Last week he ran for 103 yards against a Buffalo defense that hadn’t previously allowed a 100-yard rusher. He should be able to increase that production this week against a Buccaneers defense that is giving up an average of 128.3 rushing yards per game.

If the Vikings can turn their offense around and pair it with a defense that is currently ranked 13th in the league, look for Minnesota to be able to win a few more games in the coming month.

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