By Tom Pollin
NFC North Black and Blues Brother (@tjpollin)
On Sunday the Detroit Lions visit the Philadelphia Eagles in an early afternoon game, the Minnesota Vikings visit the Washington Redskins in a late afternoon game and the Green Bay Packers visit the Houston Texans on Sunday night.
This weekend is also the Chicago Bears’ turn to sit back and reflect, with some satisfaction, on the first five games to their season. The Bears’ defense can watch games this weekend while keeping a stranglehold on their No. 1 Defensive Hog Index ranking.
The NFC North hits the road this weekend and here are five things to know for in week 5.
1. Easy isn’t in the Packers’ vocabulary this year.
Even though their defense was one of the NFL’s worst last season the Packers still won 15 games by an average margin of 12.6 points per game. This year they’ve scored an average of 22.4 points per game on offense and allowed an average of 22.2 points per game on defense.
This weekend they play on Sunday Night Football against the Houston Texans, who do everything so well that they’re not just a favorite to make the playoffs, they’re a favorite to be playing in Super Bowl XLVII on February 3 in New Orleans.
Based on the Quality Stats numbers the Packers are going to find points and yardage tough to come by on Sunday Night. In the two areas where the Texans are weak the Packers aren’t in a position to exploit.
The Packers go into the game ranked No. 10 in Rushing Yards per attempt against the Texans who are No. 15 on defense, but the Packers are now without running back Cedric Benson who they put on IR last week. Benson had supplied the running game so far this season that the Packers had been missing all of 2011.
The Texans are No. 19 on offense in Rushing Yards per attempt, surprising with Arian Foster as their lead runner but the Packers are No. 20 on defense against the run.
In everything else the Texans are no lower rank than No. 7. The Packers lost a winnable game last week to slip back under the .500 mark with a 2-3 record. They beat the New Orleans Saints by a point the last time they needed a win to turn their season around. By facing the Texans, the Packers will likely find the hole too deep and harder to dig out of this time.
2. The Vikings and Redskins will match strengths against strengths.
The Redskins have faced three winning teams so far this season and have lost to all three. The Vikings are the fourth they will face. A major variable as to how the game will be played depends on if Robert Griffin III will be able to play after suffering a concussion last weekend or will they be forced to play Kirk Cousins at quarterback against the Vikings.
Griffin is No. 2 in Real Passing Yards per Attempt, No. 4 in Real Quarterback Rating and No. 8 in Offensive Passer Rating so far in his rookie season. While Cousins threw a touchdown pass in relief of Griffin against the Falcons last week he also threw two interceptions in his nine attempts.
On defense the Vikings have specialized in shutting down quarterbacks so far in 2012. They’re No. 4 in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt, No. 9 in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating and No. 11 in Defensive Passer Rating.
The Redskins are also No. 3 in Rushing Yards per Attempt behind the running talent of Griffin and rookie running back Alfred Morris. To counter that strength, the Vikings are No. 2 on defense against the run.
If it isn’t RGIII playing quarterback on Sunday though, the Vikings may get a chance to fatten up their defensive stats.
One storyline that will dominate game previews and Sunday on the field is the return of Adrian Peterson to the place of his season ending knee injury last season. So far Peterson has made an improbable comeback from his knee surgery to average 4.4-yards per carry so far in 2012.
The Redskins held Michael Turner to 67-yards rushing last Sunday and haven’t surrendered a 100-yard rushing game to a running back this season. Peterson gets his chance this Sunday.
3. The Lions at Philadelphia will match weakness against weakness.
The Vikings and Redskins are matching strengths against each other, the Lions and Eagles match weaknesses.
The Eagles are ranked No. 32 in the NFL in Scoreability, a stat that measures how efficiently a team turns yardage into points, and facing the Lions defense that is No. 32 in Bendability, how well a team prevents yards turning into points.
Michael Vick has struggled at quarterback this season, he's No. 24 in Offensive Passer Rating and No. 27 in Real Quarterback Rating. The Lions are No. 26 in Defensive Passer Rating and No. 27 in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating.
The key for the Lions on defense will be to keep Mike Vick's handle on the football as loose as possible. On offense they need to hope that Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have reintroduced themselves to the other. No matter whatever else happens the Lions will go nowhere until they get back to their 2011 form.
4. Spreadapedia NFC North Numbers of the Week
Spreadapedia is a database that contains every point-spread plus numerous details for every NFL game since 1978 and is available for use by Cold, Hard Football Facts Insiders. There are over 100 filters for researching teams and trends in any way you find interesting (or profitable). Here are some numbers too look at for the NFC North for Week Six.
Packers at Houston
Gary Kubiak is 1-3 straight up and ATS in a week following a Monday Night Football Appearance.
Mike McCarthy is 7-4 straight up and ATS when his team has lost a road game where they’ve given up 30 or more points. He’s 2-0 the week after if the Packers scored 27 points in those games.
Mike McCarthy is 3-5 straight up and ATS when facing a team that played the previous Monday and 0-2 if that team is in the AFC.
Vikings at Washington
Mike Shanahan is 68-47 straight up but 60-52-3 ATS when his previous game is a loss. His record is 27-28 SU and 26-28-1 ATS when his opponent’s last game was a win and if he’s going into a game against an NFC opponent his record is 13-13 both SU and ATS.
Lions at Philadelphia
Andy Reid is 6-6-1 straight up and 7-6 ATS when playing an opponent coming off a bye week. He’s 1-1-1 straight up and 1-2 ATS in the same situation coming off a loss.
What is here just scratches the surface of what’s possible. See more games trends that can be found through Spreadapedia here (63 Week 6 Trends That Hit 60% Plus ATS).
5. NFC North Power Rankings Through Week Five.
Chicago Bears - The Bears enjoyed their second consecutive dominating victory last Sunday against the Jaguars, although it took their offense a half to get started. Their defense started at the kickoff of Week One and is still going strong. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman became the first teammates in NFL history to return interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive games last week.
Minnesota Vikings - They enjoyed a game against a bad Tennessee Titans team last week. They get a chance to go a half-game up on the Bears for first place in the division if they can beat the Redskins on Sunday.
Green Bay Packers - Last week they did what is usually very hard to do, lose a game after being ahead by 18 points at halftime. They've put themselves in a position of needing a win and having to beat one of the best teams in football to do it.
Detroit Lions - They were No. 4 going into their bye week and there is no reason to consider moving them up until they beat someone.
Follow me on Twitter @tjpollin, also “Like” my Facebook page, Football From Adderly to Zimmerman (A to Z) to comment on articles, discuss football and read more about the NFL.