Week one is in the books and the NFC North split their games last week and finished 2-2. With the Minnesota Vikings playing the Detroit Lions, one team was sure to lose (or tie) and that team was the Vikings. The Chicago Bears got the win against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Green Bay Packers fell just short in San Francisco against the 49ers.
Because Detroit’s win came against a divisional opponent, they are technically in first place with the Bears in second. But that’s beyond a side note after just one week. A lot will likely change over the course of the next 16 weeks.
Let’s jump into this week’s matchups, which features another inter-divisional matchup between the Vikings and Bears at Soldier Field. The Packers return home for their opener against the team from Washington DC and the Lions travel to Arizona to face the sunburned Arizona Cardinals.
Minnesota Vikings (0-1) at Chicago Bears (1-0)
The schedule makers were equally as kind to the Bears as they were harsh to the Vikings. Chicago gets their second straight home game to open the season while the Vikings not only face their second road game in a row, but a second straight divisional road game.
The argument could be made that Minnesota could benefit from having more home games later this season and getting some of these tougher games out of the way early. Chicago, on the other hand, will want to capitalize on this early home-field advantage and get a leg up in the division as well.
The Vikings, minus Adrian Peterson’s two-touchdown performance that featured a 78-yard run, looked lethargic against the Lions. Vikes quarterback Christian Ponder was particularly pedestrian, completing just 18 of 28 passes with a touchdown and three interceptions. That stat line is not going to get it done against most NFL defenses, let alone an improved Lions unit. Ponder will need to be much better against a Bears secondary that features two good cornerbacks in that of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
Chicago scored an impressive win over the Bengals, who some have favored to compete for the AFC crown this year. New Bears head coach Marc Trestman rolled out his west coast offense and was able to get good production from both quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte. An improved offensive line seems to be paying early dividends for Cutler & Co. Receiver Brandon Marshall had eight catches for just over 100 yards and continues to be Cutler’s go-to man. Marshall could have another 100-catch season at present pace.
This matchup takes the Vikings outdoors, where they have not fared as well as in their familiar indoor environment. We already touched on Ponder and against a stout defensive front, the Vikings will need to work Peterson early to control the clock and move the ball.
The Bears will look to test a Minnesota secondary that surrendered 352 yards to the Lions. I don’t expect the Bears to throw it 45 times, but given time to throw, Cutler will have his opportunities in the passing game. Only if Cutler suffers from “Jay being Jay” syndrome will the Bears struggle to move the ball through the air on Sunday. Throw in Forte for good measure and the Vikings will, once again, have their hands full in containing a marquis wide receiver and a solid running back.
Detroit Lions (1-0) at Arizona Cardinals (0-1)
Lions running back Reggie Bush had a strong and much-anticipated debut, gaining 90 yards on 21 carries against the Vikings. Twice, Bush appeared to cross the goal line only to have replay show that he was just short. Joique Bell cleaned up, in both instances, and the Lions were able to get the win.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford attempted 43 passes and has to be closing in on the record for most 40+ pass attempt games in NFL history. Receiver Calvin Johnson, fresh off of his new commercial with Diddy, won’t be complaining about that offensive game plan. Johnson had a modest four catches for 37 yards against the Vikings and will be looking to make an impact in this game. Johnson was a bit of a stranger to the end zone last season and he would surely like to get his first touchdown reception out of the way in 2013. Just remember to finish the catch all the way through, Calvin.
The Arizona Cardinals took an early lead in St. Louis against the Rams and appeared poised to start this season with a tough road victory. Then came the fourth quarter and they allowed the Rams a come from behind victory that ended with a last-second field goal in regulation. Arizona has reason to be optimistic, however, with new quarterback Carson Palmer tossing darts to stud receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald continues to be the focal point of the Cardinals offense and had two touchdown grabs last week. As Fitzgerald goes, so do the Cardinals and Detroit will need to account for #11 on every snap.
Detroit is going to throw it and throw it some more against the Cardinals, while mixing in a dose of Bush and Bell for good measure. With Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson sure to be blanketing Johnson, it could open up some opportunities for savvy veteran Nate Burleson. Detroit’s run game could also find some success if Arizona decides to play off in the secondary to respect the Stafford/Johnson connection.
The key for the Cardinals will be containing that stout defensive line of the Lions. Ndamukong Suh was just fined $100,000 for an illegal low block on Vikings center John Sullivan and appears in mid-season form in that arena. He should come in looking to take out some of that frustration on someone in a red and white jersey. The Cardinals have to hope that guy is not Palmer.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley appears to be more agile and throw his name into the hat as one of the league’s best tackles. Rookie defensive end Ezekiel Ansah was not a starter in week one, but it’s only a matter of time before he is lined up with the first team when games start. He will see significant time against the Cardinals.
The Team From Washington DC (0-1) vs. Green Bay Packers (0-1)
During the offseason, much was brought to light about how the team name “Redskins” is offensive to many, especially Native Americans. Team owner Dan Snyder said he has no plans to change the name and the traditionalist in me agreed. Still, the argument against the name has merit and since we all know which team I’m referring to, let’s stick with the DC’s for the purposes of this conversation.
All eyes were on the DC’s last night as they faced division-rival Philadelphia Eagles. Most eyes were on DC quarterback Robert Griffin III, who was cleared to play just a few weeks ago after recovering from offseason ACL surgery. Griffin had a very shaky start, throwing an interception on just his second pass attempt of the game. He finished with 49 passing attempts, two touchdowns and two interceptions and had just 24 yards on five carries. He was said to look hesitant early on.
The Eagles jumped out to a 33-7 lead early in the third quarter, led by quarterback Michael Vick executing new Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly’s offense (and who the Packers will also see later in the season). The DC’s struggled to contain the Eagles and forced Griffin and the offense to play catch up later on, hence Griffin’s 49 pass attempts. He almost brought the DC’s all the way back, but fell six points shy in the end.
Things do not get any easier for Washington this week as they travel to Lambeau to help the Packers open up their home slate in 2013. The Packers are coming off of a tough loss at the hands of the 49ers. Despite that game’s very physical nature, the Packers escaped virtually injury free. They will continue to be without cornerback Casey Hayward as he recovers from a hamstring injury. They could also be without safety Morgan Burnett, who missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury of his own. Burnett will need to practice this week to suit up on Sunday.
While the Packers did give up gobs of yardage to the 9ers in the passing game, they did seem to reverse their fortunes against the read option offense. They gave up just 22 yards on seven carries to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and most of those yards were on scrambles, not designed run plays. Green Bay also held 9ers running back Frank Gore to just 44 yards on 21 carries.
Despite Griffin’s shaky start in week one, the Packers need to come guns blazing and ready to keep him in the pocket on Sunday. The Green Bay defense was able to rack up two sacks on Kaepernick, although he was brought down behind the line of scrimmage on a few more occasions on what were likely scored as rushing attempts. The key against Griffin will be to keep pressure on him and force tough throws. He has the arm strength, but his accuracy can be shaken.
Green Bay was hampered at the safety position without Burnett against San Francisco. They gave up 13 catches to 9ers receiver Anquan Boldin and lost tight end Vernon Davis in coverage a few times. They will start Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings this week but according to defensive coordinator Dom Capers, don’t be surprised to see rookie Chris Banjo in some of the team’s sub packages. Banjo was a hard-hitting and pleasant surprise for the Packers during the preseason and found himself on the team’s roster as the fourth safety after final cutdowns.
Offensively, the Packers will look to take advantage of Washington’s average defensive line and try to establish Eddie Lacy in the run game. The Packers are in desperate need of some confidence in their run blocking. They could get a dose this week.
Earlier, I mentioned Washington’s near comeback last night after Philadelphia had established an early lead. This reminds me of the 2011 season and last year when the Packers had trouble holding onto early leads. That could prove fatal against Griffin.
Enjoy the games!
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: