Week 3 in the NFC North offers some opportunities for teams to make a statement as they near the end of the season’s first quarter. The matchups are headlined by a Monday Night contest in Seattle where the Seahawks (1-1)will host the Green Bay Packers (1-1). The Packers look to make a statement with a tough road win and re-solidify themselves as top contenders for their division and in the NFC. The Seahawks are at home again after a solid win against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.
The Chicago Bears (1-1) will play host to the St. Louis Rams (1-1) and new Head Coach Jeff Fisher. Both teams are dealing with injuries to and may be without their starting running backs. Each looks to get over .500 and build some momentum.
The Detroit Lions (1-1) head to Tennessee (0-2) to take on a struggling Titans team that is 0-2. The Titans are struggling on offense led by star running back Chris Johnson, who averages less than a yard per carry so far in 2012. They are searching for their first win of the season. The Lions are coming off a tough loss at San Francisco this past Sunday night. Lions All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson leads the team in catches but has yet to find the end zone.
The Minnesota Vikings (1-1) are at home and are visited by the San Francisco 49ers (2-0). The 49ers look to continue their roll over the NFC North, having already beaten the Packers in week 1 and the Lions last week. Their smash-mouth defense and efficient offense make them a very tough matchup for any opposing team. The Vikings return home and look to increase the work load of their star running back Adrian Peterson. A win over the staunch 49ers would create quite a stir in the NFC North and catapult the Vikings into the conversation as division contenders.
St. Louis at Chicago
The Chicago Bears return home to host the St. Louis Rams who are 1-1 and, with a win, can already match last year’s win total of 2 games. New Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher returns to Chicago where he spent his playing days as a member of the Chicago Bears. The teams square off for just the first time since 2009. The Bears currently rank 26th in the NFL with 194 passing yards per game. WR Brandon Marshall leads the team with 11 catches and a TD but their 2nd leading receiver is RB Matt Forte. This might explain some of the disappointing number in pass game thus far. Expectations were high when Marshall was acquired via trade to team up again with former Denver Bronco teammate and QB Jay Cutler. Cutler was sacked 7 times in week 2 versus the Packers and was unable to get in rhythm with his receivers.
The Rams have just 2 sacks this season and will have to find a way to get pressure on Cutler. He will be looking to improve on his 4 INT performance at Lambeau Field last Thursday night. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears defense has registered 8 sacks and 4 INT’s. CB Tim Jennings has 3 of those interceptions. Consistent pressure on Rams QB Sam Bradford will likely lead to some opportunities for the Bears to get a takeaway or two. For the Rams, newly acquired CB Cortland Finnegan has 2 of the team’s 4 interceptions and is their best DB. He likely matches up on Marshall and the Rams would be wise to take a page out of Green Bay’s playbook in how they approach coverage in that matchup. On offense, WR Danny Amendola is the Rams leading WR with 20 catches and a TD. The Rams also continue to benefit from good production from RB Steven Jackson. Jackson is questionable for this week’s game with a groin injury. Whether he can play will likely be a key to the Rams’ chances of getting out of the Windy City with a win. The Bears are also dealing with an injury to RB Matt Forte, who will miss this week’s game with ankle injury. Backup RB Michael Bush and newly acquired RB Khalil Bell will share the carries for the Bears this week.
Detroit at Tennessee
The Detroit Lions are coming off a stomping at San Francisco last Sunday night. Lions HC Jim Schwartz returns to Tennessee where he served as defensive coordinator and assistant coach from 2001 – 2008. The Lions look to get back on track behind their QB Matt Stafford and All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson. Johnson has been held out of the end zone so far this year but does lead the team in receptions. Stafford will need to protect the ball and has already thrown 4 interceptions. Helping the passing game is the debut of RB Mikel Leshoure, who missed the first 2 games due to a suspension for substance abuse and all of last season because of an Achilles injury in training camp. The Lions were near the red zone 6 times this past Sunday but came away with just 1 TD and 4 FG’s on 5 tries. They likely have more success against a Tennessee defense that is not lighting it up by any means this year.
The Titans are 2nd to last with an average of 248 yards a game on offense and have the fewest 1st down conversions at 25. QB Jake Locker has been dinged up but will play this week and in search of his team’s first win this year. Locker was named the starter over veteran Matt Hasselbeck in training camp and is the Titans QB of the future. The Titans will likely be without defensive captain Collin McCarthy who injured his ankle in last week’s loss to the San Diego Chargers. This heavily favors the Lions despite their being on the road.
San Francisco at Minnesota
The San Francisco 49ers head into Minnesota to take on the Vikings and are 2-0 with impressive victories over the Packers in Green Bay and last week against the Detroit Lions. The 49ers appear to be the cream of the crop in the NFL with a balanced attack and an extremely good and physical defense. They are lead by standout LB’s Patrick Willis and NoVorro Bowman. On offense, the 49ers are averaging 167 rushing yards a game. With that type of production and coupled with the superior defensive effort, they will be tough to beat. The 49er defense has just 5 sacks and 2 INT’s so they are getting it done with grit versus flash. They have a very efficient defense whose opponents are just 12/28 in converting on 3rd down. Viking QB Christian Ponder faces a stiff challenge in that of the 9ers defense after facing the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts in weeks 1 and 2.
9ers QB Alex Smith has picked up where he left off in managing the offense well. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh has clearly had the magic touch with Smith after there were rumors that Smith may be headed out of San Francisco. 49er wide receiver Randy Moss returns to the Metrodome as an opposing player for just the first time since he left the team in 2005. Fan reaction will be something to watch there. The Vikings look to add to RB Adrian Peterson’s work load as they ease him back from offseason ACL surgery. He has 144 total rushing yards and 2 TD’s this season. With a young QB in Ponder, they will hope and need to see continued production from Peterson and the run game. Percy Harvin leads Vikings WR’s with 18 catches this season. Ponder has been somewhat steady with a 75.8% completion and 2 TD’s to 0 INT’s. Interesting stat: the Vikings have 0 INT’s and so do their opponents after 2 games. Minnesota’s defense is lead by standout DE Jared Allen and LB’s E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway. They will have the tough task of stifling 49er RB Frank Gore who is off to a good start this year with 231 yards on 33 attempts and 2 TD’s.
Green Bay at Seattle
The Packers are coming off a mini bye after a Thursday night game last week and not playing until Monday night at Seattle. With a chance to get healthy, the Pack are seeing some of their injured guys return to practice. WR Greg Jennings was limited in Friday’s practice and at this point is still considered questionable for Monday night’s game. Saturday will mark the team’s last practice with updated statuses to come out after. Also limited this week were RG Josh Sitton (knee) and WR Randall Cobb (hamstring). The story for the Packers so far this year has been the much-improved play of the Packers’ defense and the struggles of the offense. This is a stark contrast to last season when the Packers seemed to put up points at will in keeping up with a defense that surrendered more yards than any team in NFL history. QB Aaron Rodgers continues to find his old form and improve on his 89.9 passer rating and 68.4 completion percentage. The Packer defense continued its ball-hawking ways with 4 interceptions of Bears QB Jay Cutler in week 2. They will likely need to snag one or two in Seattle to come out with a win. OLB Clay Matthews has re-emerged in 2012 and has 6 sacks in 2 games after posting just 6 all of last season. The Pack have struggled against the run a bit this season and will see a tough runner in Marshawn Lynch. Swarm and tackle must be the theme if the Packers hope to contain Lynch. The Seahawks average 150 yards on the ground and if they can manage that kind of production on Monday night, it would go a long way towards getting the win.
Seahawk QB Russell Wilson comes off a strong performance in week 2 and continues to show why he won the starting QB role in training camp. Wilson plays smart and beyond his rookie stature. His mobility makes him a threat on the ground as well as in the passing game. The Pack will have to be strategic in how they pressure Wilson in the pocket. They can’t lose contain or it may be a long night for the guys in Green and Gold. Seattle’s defense is underrated and plays very physical, especially at the safety position. Cam Chancellor and Earl Thomas form a good tandem that will be looking to lay the smack on any WR coming across the middle. This could be problematic for a Packers WR corps who have struggled to hang onto the ball at times. The key to this one is likely who wins the turnover battle.
Enjoy the games!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: