Three of the four NFC North teams are at home this week, including the Green Bay Packers, who pulled out a dazzling comeback win on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. The Packers welcome the Carolina Panthers this week. The Chicago Bears got back on track with a win over the Atlanta Falcons and will host the Dolphins. The Detroit Lions beat the Minnesota Vikings and will host the New Orleans Saints. The Vikings travel to Buffalo and will face the Bills.
Let’s take a look at these four games a a bit closer.
Miami Dolphins (2-3) at Chicago Bears (3-3)
The Bears continued their winning ways on the road, notching their third win away from Chicago this season. Unfortunately for them, they’re 0-2 at home so far. The Dolphins are still reeling from a let-down loss to the Packers after having just come off of their bye week.
Miami’s pass rush proved to be a lot for Green Bay’s offensive line to handle and I expect the Bears to have similar issues. The question is, how quickly will Chicago adjust protection when it becomes an issue? Green Bay waited until the fourth quarter to “max protect” for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has had his share of issues when facing pressure and if Miami can produce it with their front four alone, Cutler will have to be more careful with the ball in added coverage.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill started heating up in the second half against the Packers, who lost both of their starting cornerbacks. The Bears will have both of their starting corners, however, and they should keep Tannehill honest this week. Green Bay struggled to get to Tannehill, sacking him just one time all day. He also had nearly 50 yards rushing, 40 of which came on one play. Chicago’s defense, while far from being atop the league, surely wouldn’t allow the same shenanigans, would they? If Chicago can get pressure and force Miami to throw, they should get the same opportunities to take the ball away that Green Bay enjoyed.
Bears running back Matt Forte had two rushing touchdowns this week and continues to be a focal point of the offense. The Bears receivers continue to frustrate opposing secondaries and they should get some opportunities against Miami this week. The Dolphins secondary wasn’t able to contain the Packers receivers all day and with Chicago’s 38 pass attempts per game, some opportunities will be there for the taking.
The best thing Miami can do is come in angry after the loss to the Packers and look to smash someone’s face in. That always seems to work in the movies but in reality, they have to try and establish the run early and find consistent success all day. Keep the Bears offense on the sideline and win the time of possession. A low-scoring game lends itself to Miami possibly stealing a road win.
Minnesota Vikings (2-4) at Buffalo Bills (3-3)
Both of these teams suffered tough losses this past week. The Vikings saw the return of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater but the comeback was marred by three interceptions. Detroit’s pass rush was relentless and forced the errant throws. Buffalo has 19 sacks on the season and has been able to apply some pressure so Minnesota’s offensive line has their work cut out for them again.
Buffalo returned quarterback E.J. Manuel to the starting lineup and while he didn’t turn the ball over, his efforts weren’t enough to overcome two lost fumbles and the offensive output by the New England Patriots.
On defense, Buffalo gave up over 150 yards rushing. If only the Vikings still had that one guy at running back. Minnesota still needs to try and find a way to get some production on the ground against this Bills defense. Asking Bridgewater to throw more than 25 times doesn’t seem to be a good recipe for success for Minnesota, at least not yet.
Buffalo is 2-0 against the NFC North so far this season, having already taken down the Bears and Lions on the road.
New Orleans Saints (2-3) at Detroit Lions (4-2)
This game becomes an intriguing matchup if two of its biggest play makers can’t suit up this week. Lions receiver Calvin Johnson is still nursing a high ankle sprain and while he hasn’t officially been ruled out, all signs point to Johnson not playing against the Saints. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham has a shoulder sprain that could keep him out this week. Graham has also not officially been ruled out but there is some uncertainty about his availability.
The Saints are coming off of their bye week and hopefully they found some more defense during that time. New Orleans currently has the league’s 25th-ranked passing defense and 23rd-ranked overall defense. The Saints get a huge break on defense if Johnson can’t play but their high-powered offense won’t. The Lions are the NFL’s top-ranked defense overall and are ranked second in both rushing and passing defense. What is most impressive is Detroit’s pass defense, which was not anticipated to be among the league’s best. The pass rush likely has as much to do with it as the coverage itself and the Lions are creating more turnovers this year than in recent seasons past.
The Saints are winless on the road this year and that includes an indoor game against the Atlanta Falcons so the indoor atmosphere at Ford Field may not provide that much of a sanctuary for New Orleans. This game will become a good barometer for both teams. The Lions need to continue to prove that they can beat relatively good teams and the Saints need to get a road win and prove that their slow start is an aberration.
Carolina Panthers (3-2-1) at Green Bay Packers (4-2)
The Packers gave up a 40-yard run to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill last week. They face one of the best running quarterbacks in the league in Cam Newton so hopefully they’re aware: Cam will run. Cam showed he can throw as well, with 45 pass attempts in an overtime tie against the Cincinnati Bengals. Panthers rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin did his best Donovan McNabb impression and said he wasn’t aware that there were tie games in the NFL. While a tie isn’t a win, it isn’t a loss and any team visiting Cincinnati is fortunate to leave without another “L”.
Sore ankle or not, Newton will be a huge threat to take off in any seam that may open up in front of him. With a more mediocre passing game, the Panthers have tried to rely on their run game, only to continue suffering more injuries at the running back position. Deangelo Williams won’t play this week and is still a few weeks from returning from an ankle injury. Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart should both play, which is bad news for the Packers. Green Bay’s rushing defense still ranks dead last in the NFL with a gaudy 155 yards/game average. Both Tolbert and Stewart are bigger backs and can’t be arm tackled. It will take a focused effort by the Packers’ defense to avoid being gashed by yet another potent running attack. If any of you recall the Packers’ 2011 game against the San Diego Chargers, you’ll remember Tolbert. He seemed to carry the ball 100 times and gave the defense fits trying to bring him down.
On the injury front, the Panthers hope to see starting cornerback Josh Norman return from a concussion that kept him out against the Bengals. As of the time this went up, the Packers were awaiting updates on cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields as well as linebacker Jamari Lattimore. None are expected to miss an extended period of time although it’s likely that all three may miss this week’s game. Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson has been dealing with a hip injury, but should play this week.
Offensively, the Packers were riding high coming off the field in Miami after a dramatic last-second touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to tight end Andrew Quarless. Carolina’s defense, while not as highly ranked as they have been in the past, are still no slouches. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is arguably the game’s best defensive player next to Houston’s J.J. Watt and can do just about everything. We often hear Rodgers calling out the middle linebacker’s number and saying he “is the mike” before the snap. Never before have the Packers needed to be absolutely sure they know where a player is at all times like they do with Kuechly.
Carolina has struggled to stop the run this season, much like the Packers, and are giving up 140 yards per game. This is another good opportunity for Green Bay to get Eddie Lacy and James Starks some early chances to dictate the pace. Starks is averaging 4.3 yards per carry to Lacy’s 3.8. Green Bay’s offensive line continues to struggle in run blocking but they’ll need to try this week. Any success in the run game is likely to open things up downfield later on.
This is a tough home game that the Packers need to win. It would be their fourth in a row and establish not only some momentum, but also some respect in their ability to beat one of the better teams in the NFC. Carolina is 3-0 in conference games so far this season.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: