We head into week 5 and thus begins the 2nd quarter of the 2012 season. A season that has already brought plenty of interesting story lines in the NFC North. There’s the 3-1 Minnesota Vikings who have decisive wins against San Francisco and Detroit Lions on the road to at least raise the question of whether or not they can contend.
The Chicago Bears continue to roll with a big win on Monday Night at Dallas and not-so-surprising are the antics of Bears QB Jay Cutler on the sideline.
The Lions, who were thought by many to be strong contenders in the division have underwhelemd so far and limp into their bye week on a 3 game losing streak.
The reigning divsion champion Green Bay Packers seemingly turned things around last week with a tough win at home against the still-winless New Orleans Saints and evened their record at 2-2.
With the Lions off this week, let’s look at the upcoming games for the Vikings, Packers and Bears
Tennessee Titans (1-3) at Minnesota Vikings (3-1)
The Vikings return home to face the Tennessee Titans after handing Head Coach Leslie Frazier his first divisional win since taking over the team late in the 2010 season. Hard to fathom: 1st divisional win in almost 2 years! But that’s how much the Vikings had fallen off since their NFC Championship game appearance after the 2009 season.
The Vikes continue their early roll and this past week, followed up an impressive win vs. the previously undefeated San Francisco 49ers in week 3 with an upset win on the road at Detroit. With that win, we must now at least entertain the question as to how good they really are.
One big reason for the Vikes’ success has been RB Adrian Peterson, who against the Lions had his 1st 100-yard game since October of 2011. Peterson has seen an increased work load each week since returning from offseason ACL surgery and doesn’t appear to be hampered by the injury at all. In fact, he has only 2 less carries so far this season than he did through 4 games last year and is only about 50 yards behind last year’s total during that same span.
The Vikes now share 1st place in the division with the Bears, who are also 3-1. In looking ahead at their next several games, there are some very winnable matchups against the Titans, Redskins, Cardinals, Buccaneers, Seahawks and Lions. They have a good chance to emerge from the halfway point of the season above .500.
Minnesota is seeing a resurgence on defense and much improved play by their secondary and LB’s.
The Vikes have 2 very young safeties in 2nd-year man Mistral Raymond and rookie 1st round draft pick Harrison Smith. Each has played well and to be getting good production from such young guys at these key spots is a huge plus for the Vikings.
CB Antoine Winfield is the team’s 2nd leading tackler with 30 and has revived himself as a dominant corner after seeing his stats drop the past 2 seasons. Much of that can be attributed to injury but Winfield appears healthy now and ready to contribute each week.
LB’s Chad Greenway and E. J. Henderson have re-emerged as dominant defenders and are 2 of the team’s top 3 in tackles. The Vikings currently rank 8th in total defense and are giving up just over 300 yards a game after finishing 2011 ranked 21st and giving up nearly 360 yards/game.
The Tennessee Titans are ranked 31st in overall defense and surely will have their hands full with the Vikings this Sunday. Tennessee is coming off a thorough pounding by the undefeated Houston Texans this past weekend. The lone bright spot for the Titans was the performance of RB Chris Johnson, who had 141 yards on 25 carries and eclipsed the 100 yard mark for the 1st time.
With Titans QB Jake Locker out on Sunday with a separated left shoulder, Matt Hasselbeck will start. Hasselbeck threw 2 INT’s vs. Houston last week and both were returned for TD’s. Christian Ponder leads the Vikes and has thrown 4 TD passes to 0 INT’s on the year.
With 2 very modest passing teams who have star running backs squaring off, this one likely comes down to who can run the ball and win the battle in the trenches. Tennessee is giving up 136.5 yards/game on the ground. The Vikes are allowing just 85.3 rushing yards/game.
Last week, the Vikes also had scores from their kickoff and punt teams and clearly have an advantage in the area of special teams. Returner Percy Harvin has been a consistent threat and showcased his skills on the game’s opening kick, taking it 105 yards for a score.
The overall edge has to go to the Vikes, who are playing with a lot of confidence and are at home. The Titans rank near the bottom of the league in total team offense and defense. Unless they can force some turnovers and turn them into points, it figures to be another long day for Tennessee.
Green Bay Packers (2-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-2)
Emotions will running high in Indianapolis with announcement this week that Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano will take leave to try and recover from a treatable form of leukemia. Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians will take over as Interim HC. Arians has battled cancer himself, having been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007. This game marks the 3rd in 4 games that the Colts have faced an NFC North opponent, having handed the Vikings their only loss of the season in week 2.
The Colts are coming off a bye and get star DE Dwight Freeney back. The Pack will need to have a game plan to keep Freeney away from Rodgers, which is much easier said than done.
The Packers will be without starting WR Greg Jennings as he suffered a setback with a groin injury this past weekend. Jennings had 1 catch for a TD early in last week’s game and sat out the remainder of the game. Jennings had previously missed the week 2 game vs. the Bears with the same injury.
In Jennings’ place this week will likely be James Jones who had 2 TD catches this past weekend and had one of his better games in a Packer uniform. In addition to the 2 scores, Jones also had a critical 4th quarter catch for a 1st down to ice the game vs. the Saints. The catch was remarkable in that the Saints defender was on top of and interfering with Jones as he somehow made the catch falling backwards to the ground.
The Colts lost their last game to Jacksonville after having taken the lead with :56 left after an Adam Vinatieri field goal. The Colts defense then promptly gave up an 80 yard TD pass and were sent into their bye with a shocking loss.
Surprisingly, the Colts have a statistical edge on offense but don’t read too much into it. Despite the sky-high potential of Colts QB and 2012 1st overall draft pick Andrew Luck, the Pack still have Aaron Rodgers, one of the best in the business. Indoors, Rodgers has been a nightmare for opposing defenses and Indianapolis has struggled on defense this year. Last week, the Packer offense showed some signs of life and scored in the 1st quarter for the first time this season.
The Colts are getting most of their offensive production via the pass and are averaging just 85 yards/game on the ground. They had some success throwing in their win over the Vikings in week 2. If the Pack are able to build an early lead, they would be wise to stick to their base 3-4 defense and get after Luck. They need to rattle him and disrupt his timing. He can be fooled and the Packer DB’s are as good as any at baiting opposing QB’s into bad throws.
Colts WR Reggie Wayne continues to be the top target of Colts passers and will receive much of the attention of the Packer secondary on Sunday. The Packers did a good job of blanketing standout Bear WR Brandon Marshall in week 2 and limited him to just 2 catches. If they are able to keep Wayne to 5 catches or less, they have an outstanding chance of keeping the Colts out of the end zone.
The Colts are giving up an average of 131 yards/game on the ground so Cedric Benson could become a big factor if the Pack are able to establish some early success in the run game. This gives the Packers the option to pound it out, wear down the Colts defense and open up play action in the passing game.
The Colts have forced just 2 turnovers this year and have only 1 interception. Barring a WR letting one fly off his hands or shoulder pads, I don’t expect to see Rodgers giving the Colts too many chances to pad that stat. Cedric Benson fortunately hasn’t lost a fumble yet this season and needs to continue that trend. The Pack will be flirting with disaster if they give a team like the Colts too many extra chances with the ball.
The Packers have 4 interceptions on the year and overall are much improved in the defensive secondary despite surrendering over 400 yards to Drew Brees and the Saints offense last week. The pass rush has found some success and OLB Clay Matthews continues to be a matchup problem for opposing offensive lines. If the Pack can get some pressure on Luck, you can bet they will come out of this game with at least a pair of turnovers. That usually bodes well for the guys in green & gold.
The Pack hold a clear overall advantage in this one despite being on the road against an unfamiliar opponent. Historically, this matchup has produced some high scoring games and I foresee at last one team, the Pack, putting up a fair amount on Sunday and coming away with the win.
Chicago Bears (3-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3)
The Bears are coming off a big Monday Night win on the road at Dallas and now share the lead in the NFC North with the Vikes. The Jaguars are coming off a loss at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. In week 3, the Jags finally won their first game of season with a late TD vs. Colts. This one is seemingly a mismatch with the much-improved Bears team taking on a hapless Jaguars team that hasn’t been very solid on either side of the ball.
Jacksonville is giving up nearly 150 yards/game on the ground which likely means a heavy dose of Matt Forte and Michael Bush. The Jags will need to find a way to get some pressure on Bears QB Jay Cutler to have any chance of competing in this game.
To make matters worse for Jacksonville will be their need to find a way to cover Bears WR Brandon Marshall. Marshall broke out this past week and had 7 catches for 138 yards against Dallas. He should have another solid outing against a very pedestrian Jaguars pass defense.
The edge at QB goes to the Bears despite what the stats may say. Jay Cutler has 5 TD’s to 6 INT’s on the season while Gabbert has 5 TD to 1 INT. If given any amount of time, Cutler is one of the more efficient QB’s in the league. He should have that luxury this week and expect him to have a second solid outing in a row.
Jags WR Laurent Robinson will miss this game after suffering his 3rd concussion of the young season. It’s noteworthy that Robinson leads the Jaguars with just 9 receptions on the year and 0 TD’s.
Jacksonville Pro Bowl RB Maurice Jones-Drew has 352 total yards and 1 TD, averaging 5 yards/carry. The Bears aren’t giving up much in the way of rushing yardage this year (67 yards/game on average) and MJD will be a focal point of the Bear defensive attack.
There isn’t much else to say about this one other than the Bears absolutely need to win this game and dominate. Anything can happen in the NFL and some may look at this as a “trap game” for Chicago but even if Jacksonville brings their “A” game, I see no way the Bears don’t take care of business and come away with their 4th win.
Detroit Lions are on a bye
The Lions will try to get healthy and move on from having lost 3 in a row after an opening day win to drop their record to 1-3 on the year. Next up for the Lions is a road game against the Eagles in Philadelphia next Sunday——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: