NFC North finding its rhythm

It wasn't long ago that people around the league pointed to the NFC North as the doormat conference in the NFL. With all the division teams winning on Sunday and an influx of new quarterbacks, the North has to be gaining respect as one of the toughest conferences now.

Who would have believed it? Three weeks into the 2009 season, a case can be made that the NFC North is the strongest division in football.

Only seven teams remain undefeated after three weeks, including the Vikings, and the only reason the NFC West doesn't have an undefeated team is because the Vikings knocked them off that perch. As Minnesota prepares for what is expected to be one of the most-watched Monday Night Football games in history against the Packers, the power of the NFC North was on display Sunday.

Perhaps it is the influx of new quarterbacks – Brett Favre to the Vikings, Jay Cutler to the Bears and Matthew Stafford to Lions – that has lifted the fortunes of the NFC North. All three played key roles in their teams winning Sunday and are being viewed as something akin to franchise saviors.

The Bears have proved that they are no fluke. After losing the season opener to Green Bay, Chicago has rallied to win the last two – beating Pittsburgh and Seattle in consecutive weeks. The Packers stumbled at home to Cincinnati in Week 2, but, after the Bengals defeated Pittsburgh Sunday, you have to get the impression these aren't the same cushy Bengals that have been the doormat of the NFL for so long.

Even the lowly Lions, who led the Vikings at halftime of their game in Week 2, stepped up Sunday. They snapped a 19-game losing streak that dated back to December 2007 by beating the Redskins.

There are certain to be those who say the NFC East is the strongest division in the league and others that will contend that the top three teams in the NFC South – New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina – are elite teams that could all make the 2009 playoffs.

But, as it stands, the NFC North is the current king. The teams have a combined record of 8-4, with a record of 6-3 in the conference and even 4-2 on the road so far this season. It would appear as though winning the NFC North is going to be difficult because of the competition, but the team that does emerge as division champ will likely have as good a chance as anyone to get to the Super Bowl, because that team will be playoff tested long before the postseason begins.


  • The Vikings might be in line for a third straight honor from the league. In Week 1, Adrian Peterson was the FedEx Ground Player of the Week. In Week 2, Chad Greenway was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Given his late heroics against the 49ers, it might be hard to keep Favre from getting an honor of some kind from the league this week.

  • The touchdown by Greg Lewis to win Sunday's game was the first catch he has made as a Viking. Lewis, who was signed three days before the season opener and led to the release of Bobby Wade, had been inactive the first two games. There is some speculation that, if not for a hamstring injury to Darius Reynaud, Lewis may not have been on the field at the time of the final pass.

  • While the box score says that Favre threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to win the game, in actuality, it was closer to a 50-yard dart, considering Favre was well behind the line of scrimmage and he used all 10 yards of the end zone to complete the pass. Not to shabby for a guy who turns 40 in two weeks.

  • One of the records believed to be untouchable in the NFL was Jerry Rice's record of 76 100-yard receiving games. With his performance Sunday, former Viking Randy Moss has 61. He's still a long way off, but at least it's within his sights.

  • 49ers running back Frank Gore is scheduled to get an MRI on his ankle today. Gore carried just once against the Vikings before suffering what was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain.

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