It wasn't a pretty start for the NFC North in week 1 with a loss from last year's Division winner, three picks from Matt Stafford and the Lions an overtime win for the Vikings against the lowly Jaguars and a rough start, but eventual victory for the Bears. Let's take a look at what to expect in week 2 from the black and blue division.
The Bears and Packers face off on Thursday to determine the early favorite to win the NFC North.
Thursday night is the first inter-division collision for the NFC North as the Chicago Bears travel to Green Bay to face the Packers. Green Bay looked less than stellar last week against the 49ers and they will be more than inspired to knock off the Bears on Thursday night. The Bears looked a little shaky on offense to start their week one game against the Indianapolis Colts, but they finished strong and QB Jay Cutler is showing that the Bears new additions in the passing game suit him just fine.
With the Lions struggling mightily in week one and the Vikings considered a non-factor by most, this first match up between the Bears and Packers could be end up being the key to winning the division. If the Packers lose and start the season 0-2, they become a statistical dog to make the playoffs, let alone win the division. Don't forget that the Packers will be at 0-2 with two home loses if the don't succeed on Thursday night.
Look for an epic battle at Lambeau with the Bears looking to establish a balanced attack rushing as well as passing early knowing that they can lean on the passing game late in the game if they fall behind while the Packers will throw early and often and test an aging, injured but still solid Bears defense. The Packers made a lot of hay last season by jumping routes and forcing turnovers, and if they expect to win this week they have to hope to have at least a +1 in the turnover column at the end of the game this week.
The Detroit Lions battle the San Francisco 49ers in prime time.
The Lions were lucky to escape with a victory last Sunday against the lowly St. Louis Rams at home in their season opener. QB Matt Stafford threw three picks, but he still managed to throw for 355 yards but it took him 48 attempts to get there. Don't expect Stafford to have that margin for error this week. Add in a minor foot injury to Megatron and the Lions are up against the wall this week in San Francisco.
The Lions did get a solid game from running back Kevin Smith last week, but he won't have the same running lanes this week against the stout 49ers defense. Even if the Lions can eliminate the turnovers from last week, their secondary will have their hands full with the new look passing offense in San Francisco. Alex Smith completed 20 of 26 passes last week, but he spread the ball around to 6 different receivers and seem to have finally developed a rapport with Michael Crabtree.
If you only compare the box scores from last week, the 49ers have this game won before it starts, but the game is played on the field and the Lions will certainly come to play. The Lions have the defensive talent to get to Alex Smith, but they may wish that they had rolled the dice on a corner like say Janoris Jenkins in the draft to bolster their secondary.
The Minnesota Vikings travel to Indy in an attempt to spoil Andrew Luck's coming out party.
The Minnesota Vikings travel to Indianapolis on Sunday for a noon kickoff against the Indianapolis Colts and number one draft pick QB Andrew Luck. The Vikings eeked out an overtime victory against an actually improved Jaguars team last week, and hope to move to 0-2 against Luck and the Colts in week 2. The Vikings offensive line looked much improved from last season, and they have to hope that an injured Dwight Freeney won't be a factor on Sunday. Meanwhile, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is looking to record his first statistically valid sack (that sack in week one was legit and shouldn't have been flagged) of the season against the first overall draft pick.
The Vikings offense looked fairly anemic in the first half in week one, but once they remembered that they have Percy Harvin on their team they were able to drive down the field and eventually prevail against Jacksonville with rookie kicker Blair Walsh making the difference with FG's of 20, 47, and 55 before converting a 38 yarder in overtime for the win.
The other offensive story was certainly the return of RB Adrian Peterson with 2 touchdowns and 84 yards of 17 carries. Look for the Vikings to up the workload for AP this week as they grind away at the Colts defense and attempt to control the clock early in the game. The Vikings secondary is still the usual suspect and the Vikings don't want to give Andrew Luck the chance to gain confidence airing it out early in the game.
The Possible Standings After Week 2
After taking a look at the three games for the NFC North this week, it is certainly possible that the Minnesota Vikings could emerge from week 2 at 2-0 and if the Packers manage to knock off the Bears at Soldier Field and the Lions fold to the 49ers the lowly Vikings will be alone in first place in the division.
On the other hand, if the Bears defeat the Packers the best regular season team from last season will start 2012 at 0-2. I'm not saying that we should read to much into week 2 match-ups, but the reality is that this week could have a huge impact on the rest of the season. Starting the season with victories and avoiding injuries are the two most important factors in teams leaping up from missing the playoffs to making the big dance the following year.
Will finding balance be the difference this year?
Last year it was all about the passing attack in the NFL, but nowhere was that more relevant than in the NFC North. The Packers and Lions both had amazing passing attacks and both made the playoffs, but neither made it very far. This year both the Lions and the Packers struggled in week one with little (the Lions) to nothing (the Packers) in the rushing attack.
The Vikings certainly have the best rushing attack in the division with Peterson, but the Bears look fine with the addition of Michael Bush as a bruiser to complement Matt Forte. It is certainly worth watching if the lack of a running game in Green Bay and the questionable attack in Detroit will lead to issues in for those two teams this season.
As teams continue to focus on adding depth and talent to their secondaries it is entirely possible that a competent to above average rushing attack could be a difference maker in this division this year. Only time will tell.
The (Early) Injury Report
With the early game featuring two NFC North teams, I thought that I would include an update on the injury report for the Bears and Packers.
For the Packers LB Terrell Manning is out with a concussion, WR Greg Jennings is doubtful as is RB James Starks and CB Davon House while DE CJ Wilson and CB Davon House are questionable.
For the Bears CB Charles Tilman and TE Kyle Adams are Questionable and LB Brian Urlacher is probable and expected to play.
For additional updates throughout the week on the NFC North, follow me on Facebook here and Twitter here.
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