Getting ahead of the NFC North race

The Vikings and Packers could be on course for a game between undefeated teams on Oct. 5, but the Bears have a much harder climb over the next three weeks with injuries and poor quarterback play already a factor.

Many have predicted that the battle for the NFC North is going to be a three-horse race between the Vikings, Bears and Packers. But just one week into the regular season and the short-term future on the horizon, there appears to be the possibility that the race may already be paring down to two teams.

While the schedules are much more balanced now that there are 32 teams, the Bears, who are still reeling from an awful performance by quarterback Jay Cutler and the season-ending injury to middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, could find themselves in a deep hole just three games into the season that may be extremely difficult to climb out of.

The Vikings opened the season with a win on the road at Cleveland. This week they head to Detroit, where the Lions of 2009 looked a lot like the Lions of 2008, allowing Drew Brees to throw for 350 yards and six touchdowns while also being gashed by journeyman running back Mike Bell. When the Vikings finally open the home portion of their schedule at the Metrodome in Week 3, it will be against the San Francisco 49ers – a team in which they are likely to be heavily favored and expected to come out of the gate at 3-0.

The same is true for Green Bay. Having beaten the Bears Sunday night, the Packers return to action this week at home against Cincinnati and then go on the road in Week 3 to play the woeful St. Louis Rams. The Packers will be prohibitive favorites in both games, setting up the very distinct possibility that when the Vikings and Packers meet in Week 4, both teams will be 3-0 and the winner will remain unbeaten atop the NFC North.

Meanwhile, the Bears are likely to be underdogs in their next two games. They have their home opener this Sunday against the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers before going on the road to Seattle in Week 3. The very real potential is there that the Bears could start 0-3, trailing both the Vikings and Packers by three games with a loss in hand to the Packers.

While it is too early to be blowing Taps on anyone in the division – even the Lions – the scenarios are falling into place that the Bears could find themselves three games behind two teams just three weeks into the season.

Upsets can happen that will foul up this scenario, but, as it stands, the Bears may find themselves in a hole from which there is going to be little means of escape, which could take them out of the running for the division title almost before it begins.


  • Reports out of Kansas City say that Bobby Wade is going to sign with the Chiefs as early as today. By waiting until after the first week of games, Wade's contract isn't guaranteed. With his tenure in the league, had he been signed before the first game, at least half of his salary for 2009 would have been guaranteed, which is why so many teams wait until after their first game to lock down veteran talent.

  • The Colts, who lost Anthony Gonzalez to a knee injury in their regular-season opener, were also said to be chasing Wade before he opted to sign with Kansas City.

  • Look for Adrian Peterson to be one of the Week 1 finalists for the Fed-Ex Ground and Air Players of the Week, a weekly competition in which fans vote in the top passing and rushing performances of the week. It would seem that Week 1 will be a slam dunk, with Peterson and Brees outdistancing the competition.

  • A ruling is expected today by Commissioner Roger Goodell in the StarCaps cases of Saints defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant. Unlike Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, whose attorneys argued their case citing state drugs-in-the-workplace statutes in Minnesota, no such provision was argued by the attorneys for Smith and Grant, making them subject to a four-game suspension as well. Goodell has to decide whether to impose the four-game suspension on them or whether to allow them to piggyback on the Williamses appeal so as not to create the appearance of a double standard with the league's drug policy. Goodell is expected to make the announcement today before the Saints begin their Week 2 preparation in earnest.

  • Former Viking Hank Baskett is being shopped around by the Eagles as they sign quarterback Jeff Garcia. It is expected that Baskett will be the player who has to be released to allow Garcia on the 53-man roster.

  • The Bears are said to be interested in signing veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks, who was released in the offseason by the Buccaneers. Brooks is familiar with the Bears defense, head coach Lovie Smith and assistant Rod Marinelli, who all have deep ties with the Tampa Bay organization.

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