Separation or Statement Sunday?

The four teams in the NFC North all meet today. Depending on the outcome, the division could quickly turn into a two-team race that leaves two teams behind or bunch up the division about as much as it possibly can.

In each season, there is what the overhyped, 24-hour football channel surfers call Separation Sunday. It's the week in the season where teams find out who is for real and who isn't. For teams like the Patriots, Colts and Cowboys, Week 4 is about asserting their dominance and improving to 4-0. For teams like the Eagles, Dolphins, Chargers, Bengals and Rams, it's time to step up or fall completely off the radar screen.

But perhaps no two games could define the 2007 season more than the two in-division matchups today between the Vikings and Packers and the Bears and Lions. We could truly witness a Separation Sunday if the two games fall the right way. But those same talking heads may have to re-name the week Statement Sunday if it falls the other way.

There's no questioning the importance of today's game to the Vikings. Green Bay is 3-0. The Vikings are 1-2. The Vikes are at home and can't afford to drop to 1-3 – three full games behind the Packers with a brutal schedule following the bye and with two losses already within the division. For the Packers, to improve to 4-0 with wins over 2006 playoff teams in the Eagles and Chargers and back it up with a road win at the Metrodome, Brett Favre and Packers will be the talk of the NFL over the next week.

In Detroit, the Lions could put a stake in the heart of the Bears. Chicago has changed quarterbacks, which some would say is a sign of panic seeing as Lovie Smith said after Sunday's blowout loss to the Cowboys that Rex Grossman was still his QB. The Bears have been the standard-bearer of the division the last couple of years and to drop them to 1-3 would be epic for the Lions, who would improve to 3-1 and having some forget how badly their defense was riddled by the Eagles last week. With the Bears defense hobbled by injury, Mike Martz could be the sadistic mad scientist some claim he is.

There are a couple of dramatic ways these two games can play out. The Lions riddle the depleted Bears defense and win and Brett Favre sets the NFL touchdown record and adds one or two more to boot and the Packers win. In that scenario, Green Bay is 4-0, the Lions are 3-1 and the Vikings and Bears are both deep in the rear view mirror at 1-3.

The other scenario has the Vikings hold their home field edge, see Favre set the league interception record and win, while the Bears get a spark from new quarterback Brian Griese and go into Detroit and continue the defensive dissection that Eagles started last week. Under that premise, the Packers are 3-1 and the other three teams are all 2-2 with one win over a divisional opponent each.

Things could blow apart like they have early in the AFC East or they could bunch up the division so tight that everyone will be thinking division title by day's end. Which will it be: Separation Sunday or Statement Sunday? The talking heads will tell us later this afternoon.

* The Vikings will honor Chuck Foreman with his induction in the Vikings Ring of Honor during Sunday's game. Foreman was one of the first running backs in the league that was used extensively as both a rusher and receiver and is without question one of the best big-play offensive talents the Vikings ever had. The ceremony will take place at halftime and many former Vikings are expected to attend.
* The Packers have outscored their opponents 82-50. In the first three quarters of their games, they've been outscored 47-44, but in the fourth quarter they hold a 38-3 advantage.
* The Packers haven't started 4-0 in a season since 1998. They were 4-0 before losing to Randy Moss and the Vikings on a Monday night game by a score of 37-24.
* This season has been a huge turnaround for the Packers, who have been notoriously slow starters the last few years. After four games they were 1-3 in 2006, 0-4 in 2005 and 1-3 in 2004.
* Opponents have averaged nearly 12 yards per reception against the Packer defense.
* The Vikings have yet to allow a point in the first quarter of any game this year.
* The Vikings are averaging almost 28 yards per kick return this season – almost eight yards more than their opponents.
* Packers running back Vernand Morency is expected to make his debut – his first action since injuring his patellar tendon July 28.

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