The NFC North gets going right away this week with a divisional match up in the Thursday Night game. The Green Bay Packers host the Minnesota Vikings after both teams recorded victories this past Sunday. The division-leading Detroit Lions host the Buffalo Bills. Detroit is the only North team over .500 with a 3-1 record. The Chicago Bears get back on the road and face the Carolina Panthers. Both of those teams lost to fall to 2-2 on Sunday.
Let’s take a look at each match up and some of the implications and storylines.
Minnesota Vikings (2-2) at Green Bay Packers (2-2)
The Vikings got their first win at home against the Atlanta Falcons and evened their record to 2-2. This game ushered in the Teddy Bridgewater era as he made his first start for Minnesota. Bridgewater threw for over 300 yards on 30 attempts and had 27 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground.
Bridgewater did leave the game early with an ankle sprain. X-rays were negative and it’s unknown if Bridgewater will be able to play against the Packers on a short week. Christian Ponder finished the game for the Vikings and would seemingly be the starter if Bridgewater can’t suit up. Bridgewater did tell reporters that he expects to play on Thursday.
The Packers got back on track in Chicago and scored 24 unanswered points to earn the win and even their record at 2-2. It was a reversal of fortune in Chicago as the offense led the charge while the defense struggled at the outset. In the second half, the Packers forced two turnovers and turned those into 14 points to pull away from the Bears.
After three road games in four weeks, the Packers are probably glad to be headed home on a short week. With quarterback Aaron Rodgers having found the hot hand against the Bears with 300 yards and four touchdowns, they may want to petition to play tomorrow. The sooner the better for the Green Bay offense that relies on timing and rhythm to be effective. Rodgers was able to spread the ball around more and is hopefully getting more comfortable with some of his new receivers in that of tight end Richard Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams.
If the Vikings are without Bridgewater, their chances of getting a tough road win obviously diminish quite a bit. The Packers have only lost to Ponder one time in six games. Minnesota will also be without running back Adrian Peterson, who has torched the Packers since coming into the league in 2007. The way the Packers rush defense is playing, it may not matter who’s in the backfield for the Vikings. Matt Asiata has filled in for Peterson over the last three games.
The big question in this game is if Bridgewater plays and if he can still move around. Green Bay has struggled mightily against teams with mobile quarterbacks. The Vikings feature a rather potent passing attack with receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and some guy named Greg along with tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Packers secondary gets no rest and will have quite a task in containing that trio.
If Rodgers comes anywhere near the performance he had against the Bears, the Packers are likely above .500 for the first time this season. Minnesota rookie linebacker Anthony Barr has played well early on and is a guy to watch. Green Bay’s first-rounder safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has shown improvement each week and will certainly make his mark on this one as well.
Chicago Bears (2-2) at Carolina Panthers (2-2)
The Bears were undermanned and fell to the Packers but they head back out on the road, where they have played their best football so far. The Carolina Panthers were shell shocked by the Baltimore Ravens and former Panther receiver Steve Smith. Since the loss of linebacker Greg Hardy, the Panthers defense hasn’t been itself. Quarterback Cam Newton is just back from an ankle injury as well and the Panthers have sputtered to a 2-2 start.
Chicago should get some of their starters back for this game, especially on defense. Defensive end Jared Allen missed the game against the Packers as he was recovering from pneumonia. The Bears were also without linebacker Shea McClellin.
Health aside, Carolina just doesn’t have any receivers and the offense is struggling. Throw in the underwhelming defense and the Panthers need a win to build back some momentum. Fortunately for Carolina, the NFC South is up for grabs and no one has emerged as a clear-cut favorite.
Right now, I’d give the Bears a slight advantage if they’re at full strength and based on how they’re playing on the road.
Buffalo Bills (2-2) at Detroit Lions (3-1)
The Lions are off to another hot start and we have to wonder if it can actually lead to something special under new head coach Jim Caldwell. They’re in first place in the North and playing well so far. Their defensive front makes up for a lack of talent on the back end and quarterback Matthew Stafford appears to be reaching his peak. If Jeremy Ross is catching long touchdown passes, things are clicking for any offense.
The Bills have lost two in a row now and may have lost a few starters after last week’s game. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams and linebacker Nigel Bradham left the game against Houston.
Anything is possible, but the way Detroit is playing, this should be a layup for them. The Bills have not been a good road team in recent years and against a good, unfamiliar opponent, it’s a tough task. Not much else to say in this one other than hopefully Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel can keep the Bills’ offense in it and make it competitive. I also hope my saying this should be a layup for Detroit puts the jinx on and we can enjoy an upset on Sunday.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: