After three weeks the tables have turned in the NFC North and the two teams at the bottom from last season are sitting a top the standings with a tenuous one game lead. Let's take a look at five things to watch this week in the black and blue division.
Can the Packers recover from the beat down in Puget Sound?
Everyone in America has seen the play that ended the game in Seattle on Monday night, but the egregious call at the end of the game took a lot of attention away from the pummeling that QB Aaron Rodgers took at the hands of the Seattle defense in the first half. Rodgers was bruised and battered as he was sacked early and often in the first half and the Packers didn't pay any attention to the running game until after halftime in the game.
In the second half, the Packers mixed in Cedric Benson just enough to keep the Seahawks defense honest, and managed to finally put some points on the board. After the disappointing finish all of the talk was about the officials and not about the inability of the team to move the ball on offense in the first half (88 total yards on five drives, all resulting in punts).
This puts the team and the coaching staff in a difficult situation as they prepare to face the New Orleans Saints at home on Sunday afternoon. The Packers will have to focus on the task at hand and come out firing on offense against a Saints team that has given up 102 games in their first three games, but their defense will also have to be prepared against Brees and the New Orleans rushing attack that has put up 83 points in the first three games of the season.
Are the Lions better off with Stafford or Hill this week?
The Detroit Lions lead the NFL with 1,035 passing yards through three games, but they also have only one victory and that was in week one against a St. Louis Rams team that took the Lions down to the wire.
Matthew Stafford has thrown four interceptions and only three touchdowns so far this season, and after he went down to injury against the Titans last week, Shaun Hill led the Lions on a solid drive to bring the Lions to within seven, and a miraculous hail Mary pass to tie the game. Granted, it was late in the game, and the Titans were largely in prevent defense, but it's evident that Stafford isn't completely healthy.
This week, the Lions face the Vikings fresh off an uplifting victory against the San Francisco 49ers and they will certainly be confident. Stafford is certainly the long-term quarterback for the Lions, but this week might be the perfect time for the Lions to roll with the hot, and less hurt, hand and start Hill in this game. With Mikel LeShoure finally giving the Lions a rushing threat, a change at QB might give the Lions the edge that they need to knock off a divisional opponent and avoid a fall to 1-3.
The Lions have one huge advantage against the Vikings this week with Calvin Johnson and 71 of his 164 yards and his one touchdown came from Hill. The Lions will need to attack the Vikings secondary with Johnson as he'll be more than a match up for CB Chris Cook and hope that they can take the lead early and not allow the Vikings to dictate the tempo of the game.
Are the Vikings ahead of the Curve this Year?
With all of the emphasis on bolstering the defensive backfield to negate the passing attack in the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings have continued to add to their offensive line and add offensive talent that is a good fit for the short passing and rushing game. The Vikings had a bit of a coming out party last week as they defeated the San Francisco 49ers with a mix of high percentage passes and a solid running attack against one of the top teams in the league.
Many of the pundits scoffed when the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick, but it's starting to look like the absolute right choice, and no one is doubting taking Matt Kalil this year. Even though Ponder has been sacked six times this year, he's only given up 2.83 yards per sack and the Minnesota offensive line is absolutely the best in the division.
As Ponder continues to mature and now that he gets another offensive weapon back in his arsenal with the return of WR Jerome Simpson this week, the Vikings appear to be a legitimate threat in the NFC North this season. The approach might seem “old school” to the rest of the league, but they showed last week that it certainly can be effective against a top defense, and as Adrian Peterson continues to get more comfortable with his reconstructed knee, the Vikings could make some real noise in the division this year.
Can the Chicago offense find itself?
The Chicago Bears' defense dismantled the St. Louis Rams last week, but the offense under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice has more than under-performed. The Bears added the offensive weapons of Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery, but the lack of protection from the offensive line (11 sacks) and Cutler's inaccuracy (6 interceptions) have raised plenty of questions.
The Bears don't have it easy this week as they travel to the House that Jerry Built to face the Cowboys on Monday night in prime time and the Cowboys will be looking to build on their 2-1 start against the Bears before jumping into a brutal stretch of their schedule.
With Matt Forte a slight possibility for the game on Monday night, that gives the Bears a glimmer of hope that Cutler can get another passing weapon back in the game, but Cutler has got to establish some timing with Marshall and Jeffery against a more than solid secondary in Dallas.
Will the result of the Monday Night Football game have an impact on the playoffs?
The NFL and the regular officials have finally kissed and made up, but is it too little too late for the Green Bay Packers. Yes, they should have played better and not put themselves in the position for the game to be decided on the final play of the game, but this is the NFL and that happens.
If the Packers find themselves coming up a game short for a wild card spot, division title, or even home field advantage that will be an absolute travesty to the integrity of the game that we all love. I hope that it ends up not being a factor, and I hope that you look for an upcoming article that will address a potential long term solution for the NFL coming up soon on FootballNation.com.