Another week is in the books and the divisional races are starting to take shape. In the NFC North, the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions all won their games while the Minnesota Vikings fell to the Carolina Panthers.
That puts the Lions and Bears atop the division with 4-2 records and with Detroit having a tiebreaker with a win over Chicago. Green Bay is in second place at 3-2 and is above the .500 mark for the first time this season. Minnesota dropped to 1-4 and are cellar-dwelling.
In looking ahead to this week’s schedule in the North, there are two more NFC/AFC matchups and two road games. The Lions will host the Cincinnati Bengals while the Packers will welcome the Cleveland Browns to Lambeau Field. The Bears travel to Washington to take on the Redskins and the Vikings will head to New York and square off with the reeling New York Giants.
With four games to look at, let’s jump in and see what is in store for each.
Chicago Bears (4-2) at Washington Redskins (1-4)
The Bears last played on Thursday night of last week and will have a few extra days to prepare for the Redskins. Washington, on the other hand, played in Sunday night’s game and on the road against the Dallas Cowboys so their week is slightly shortened.
Chicago comes off of a victory over the winless Giants and ended the Bears’ two-game losing skid. After this week’s game at Washington, the Bears have their bye week and then face a tough stretch with a road game in Green Bay against the Packers followed by home games against the Lions and Baltimore Ravens. Afterwards are road games at the St. Louis Rams and in Minnesota. While the Vikings are struggling this year, divisional matchups are never easy.
The Redskins are coming off of a road loss to division rival Dallas Cowboys. Washington had their chances to make a game of it but a fourth quarter fumble by quarterback Robert Griffin III was recovered by the Cowboys and Dallas never looked back from there. This has been a disappointing season for the Redskins, both in their record and in the playing abilities of Griffin. He just is not the same quarterback that he was last season as he continues to work his way back from offseason ACL surgery.
With an improved offensive line, Chicago should benefit from the added time quarterback Jay Cutler will have in the pocket this week. Cutler appears to be making the most of that added time. Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery has 29 catches and two touchdowns on the season as he continues to emerge as a legitimate complement to Brandon Marshall. In 2012, Bears tight ends had three total touchdown catches. Tight end Martellus Bennett has 30 catches and three touchdowns already.
The Redskins are just struggling everywhere. With Griffin still working on getting his legs back, the team is in “stall” mode. Their offensive line isn’t allowing the passing game to get going and the run game has been a shell of what it was just as season ago.
This is a game that the Bears should win, but it’s a road game and there’s a reason why they still play the games on the field.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) at Detroit Lions (4-2)
A battle of two first-place teams in Detroit and both coming off of victories last week. The Lions are unbeaten at home so far this season. The Bengals just won an overtime game on the road against the Buffalo Bills. Cincinnati seems to be doing well in games that come down to the wire this season.
If this one comes down to the wire, the Bengals best make sure that Lions rookie tight end Joseph Fauria is well covered. Fauria has just seven catches this season, but five have gone for scores. With an injury sidelining receiver Nate Burleson, the Lions offense is looking for another pass-catching threat to ease the coverage on Calvin Johnson. With Fauria (and a little help from running back Reggie Bush), they may have found just that.
This game features two of the best, if not the two best defensive lines in the game. The trench battle will tell the story in this one. Bush has had some success running between the tackles so far this season, but he faces a stiff test with Cincinnati’s interior front, led by stud tackle Geno Atkins. In turn, the Bengals will look to get their backs to the perimeter, especially Giovanni Bernard, and avoid Detroit defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh.
Detroit needs to keep pace with the Bears and the Packers in the North and have to find a way to win this battle at home. The Bengals have been a bit hot and cold this season, but overall are playing well and have a good chance of winning the AFC North. For those who enjoy watching the action on the lines, this is one to circle on the schedule this week.
Minnesota Vikings (1-4) at New York Giants (0-6)
This is one of those “rubber meets the road” games. Both teams are disappointing this season and for one of them, it’s about to get more disappointing on national television. This is this week’s Monday night matchup. This was a much different matchup when the schedules were made than it is now. At some point, the Giants have to win a game, right? I think this is the week that it happens.
An emotionally-charged Vikings came into Sunday’s game well-rested after their bye week and following a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately for Minnesota, that wasn’t nearly enough to take down the Carolina Panthers, and the Vikings fell to 1-4 and remain in last place in the North.
The Giants had a Thursday night contest in Chicago against the Bears so if they have one thing going for them, they will be well-rested. Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw an interception on each of New York’s first two possessions, one of which was returned for a Bears touchdown. It seemed like another long night was in store for the Giants, however the Bears kept them in it all night long with some ineffectiveness of their own. But as is often the case, bad teams find ways to lose games. And the Giants are bad so far this season.
The Vikings offense has been very ineffective so far this season and as such, the team acquired recently-released quarterback Josh Freeman. Incumbent Christian Ponder has missed these last two games with a rib injury and has been told that he will have to fight to regain his starting job. Matt Cassel had filled in for Ponder and is likely to get the start against New York. The Vikings are saying that they plan to work Freeman onto the field this week as well. With the team’s season having started off poorly, the Vikings may already be looking beyond 2013 and a quarterback change is coming shortly.
This could either be a high scoring game with little defense, especially with Minnesota banged up in their secondary, or it may be a slop-fest decided by turnovers. Or both.
UPDATE: Josh Freeman will start at quarterback for the Vikings this week.
Cleveland Browns (3-3) at Green Bay Packers (3-2)
The Lions snapped the Browns’ three-game winning streak this past weekend and brought them back down to earth a bit. Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer had stepped in for Brandon Weeden and seemed to have sparked the team until he was lost to a season-ending knee injury. Weeden came in and played well in last week’s win against the Buffalo Bills, but was unable to lead the Browns to a fourth straight win against Detroit.
Now the Browns must hit the road and come to a tough venue and against an unfamiliar foe in that of the Packers. Green Bay is coming off of a tough road win against the Baltimore Ravens. Over the past two decades, the Packers have been tough to beat at home and especially behind their quarterback in Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers have a newfound running game that will have to help carry them through this season after losing one of their big offensive play-makers in that of receiver Randall Cobb. With the effectiveness that the ground game has provided, Rodgers isn’t having to do as much as he might have had to in the past. During his weekly radio show with ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde, Rodgers cited another season in which his stats were considered to be less than stellar and during which the Packers were still successful. That, of course, was in 2010.
The Packers added a few players from their practice squad this week while sending a few to injured reserve. It looks like another chance for the team’s youth to step in and contribute, or “next man up” as has been used in the past.
Look for Green Bay to establish the run and pound their way towards the end zone this week. Anything that can ease the pressure on a passing game that really only features three experienced receivers and tight end Jermichael Finley would be a bonus.
The Browns come in having played decent on the defensive side of the ball. They have 19 sacks and five interceptions as a team and are allowing just under 100 rushing yards per game. The Packers also have a highly-ranked defense that has been very stout against the run.
With the Browns having traded away last year’s first-round running back Trent Richardson, they will trot out Willis McGahee to handle the ground duties this week. McGahee is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and has only one rushing touchdown this season. The Packers will continue to feed Eddie Lacy and let his legs do the rest. Lacy had his first official 100-yard day as a pro after finishing with 99 yards the week prior against the Lions. Any success in the run game will set up the one or two long pass plays the Packers need to find the end zone.
While much has been made of Josh Gordon and his value to the Browns, Jordan Cameron leads Cleveland with 38 catches and five touchdowns on the season. Cleveland is averaging around 250 passing yards per game and will look to test the back end of the Green Bay secondary knowing that the Packers pass rush is now without its two starting outside linebackers. Green Bay’s blitz will be called on again to neutralize.
It’s hard to pick against the home team in this game and let’s not forget, the Packers will be in their throwback jerseys that they have worn the past three seasons. Rodgers has stated, on a few occasions, that those uniform pants are the most comfortable that he has ever played in. The big difference, due to a league rule that requires teams to wear the same helmet each week, is that the Packers will be wearing blank yellow lids instead of the brown ones that have accompanied the old school look in recent years.
Enjoy the games!
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: