By Tom Pollin
Black and Blue Facts Finder (@tjpollin)
No prime time football for the teams of the NFC North in Week Nine, all four get to play a conventional Sunday afternoon schedule with three teams playing in the early. In Tennessee, the first place Bears go for their sixth straight win on the road against the 3-5 Titans.
In the other two early afternoon games on Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals, on a four game losing streak after starting 4-0, head north to Lambeau Field to face the Packers who are on a three game winning streak.
The Detroit Lions follow their fourth quarter comeback effort against the Seattle Seahawks, their third of the season, by travelling to Jacksonville to play the 1-6 Jaguars. Jacksonville has been close to victory the past couple of weeks, they lost in overtime to the Raiders in Week Seven and gave the Packers all they could handle before losing at Lambeau Field last Sunday.
In the late afternoon game on Sunday the Vikings head west to face the Seahawks and their twelfth man in Seattle. The Vikings are back in a position of having to prove they belong again after taking a beating at home last Thursday night at home against the Buccaneers.
Here are five things to know about the NFC North as the teams head into Week Nine action.
1. The Chicago Bears are heading into a trouble spot.
Statistically the Bears don’t overwhelm the Titans but still hold the edge in many Quality Stats categories. They are No. 2 in Scoreability behind the Houston Texans. The Bears are very efficient in turning yards into points, mostly due to the six defensive touchdowns they’ve scored in their first seven games.
The Bears are number one in Bendability. Bears opponents have had to work hard for their points this season, largely a result of the turnovers they force. They’ve needed an average of 22.12-yards gained for each point scored, or 154.84-yards per every seven points.
The one area where the Titans match the Bears evenly is with their No. 2 rated Offensive Hogs lining up against the Bears’ No. 2 Defensive Hog unit. As part of their Defensive Hog Unit rating the Bears are No. 1 in causing Negative Pass Plays. Their tied for No. 3 in sacks through seven games this season with 23.
The way the Bears have performed on defense so this season along with the Titans being No. 21 in points per game on offense would lead to the belief that the Bears are in good shape to pick up their sixth straight victory. There are some interesting numbers pulled from Spreadapedia, a database available to Cold, Hard Football Facts Insiders that contains point-spread and game data going back to 1978 and can be searched by using over 100 different filters.
The trends show that even though the Bears are the better team in many ways, this isn’t a guaranteed victory. The Bears under Lovie Smith are 1-8 straight-up and 0-9 ATS when playing on the road and on a two game ATS losing streak.
Take Lovie Smith out of the equation and the Bears are 1-34 straight-up and 0-35 ATS in that same situation going back to 1978. Smith is also 0-2 against the Titans in his head coaching career. The Bears are 3-1/2 point favorites on Sunday but if you believe the trends they’re in for trouble on Sunday.
This is the third straight year that the Bears have put together a 5 game winning streak. According to the trends that streak is in grave danger.
2. The Packers received their wake-up call last week.
Which means they shouldn’t be looking past the Arizona Cardinals to their bye week plans after the game. The Cardinals have become a team that has a playoff quality defense matched with an offense that was satisfied with avoiding a shutout against the 49ers last Monday night.
The Packers were beginning to look like they were getting their “high octane” offense back on track until their Sunday sleepwalk last weekend. This week they’re playing a team that is very good at pressuring the quarterback, one of the keys to beating the Packers at any time. The Cardinals fall short in the other key to victory though, they can’t score points.
Unfortunately for them, the Packers have improved dramatically on defense from the group that gave up yards as fast as they gained them last season. The Packers are ranked No. 9 in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt, No. 9 in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating and No. 11 in Defensive Passer Rating.
The Cardinals are also excellent at stopping the run which won’t help them Sunday since the one thing the Packers can’t do on offense right now is run the football. They’re No. 28 in the NFL in Rushing Yards per Attempt.
One trend from Spreadapedia for the game, the Packers are on a three game win streak and in the following week’s game at home under Mike McCarthy as head coach they’re 12-1 straight-up, 11-2 ATS.
As long as the Packers learned their lesson about overlooking an opponent last week and keep their minds on the Cardinals this weekend they should be 6-3 heading into their bye week.
3. The Vikings have picked a tough week to try and turn things around.
The only team that doesn’t have trouble playing in Seattle is the Seahawks. They have home victories this season over the Cowboys, Packers and Patriots and now the Vikings travel west to see what they can do.
The Vikings have lost two of their last three games, mostly because of Christian Ponder’s struggles at quarterback after a hot start the first three weeks of the season. This week he’s facing a team that’s ranked No. 6 in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt, No. 6 in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating and No. 10 in Defensive Passer Rating.
In a lot of ways the Seahawks are a similar team to the Vikings. They’ve committed to a young quarterback over the long haul, they are both good, but not spectacular on defense and they can both control games with running backs that can chew up yardage in large chunks.
One of the things to look forward to this Sunday is the face-off at running back between Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson. The stats for both are nearly a mirror of each other in the eight games each has played this season. Peterson has rushed for 775-yards to Lynch’s 757 in two fewer carries.
Both teams are also good at stopping the run. The Vikings are No. 9 in Defensive Rushing Yards per Attempt and the Seahawks are No. 7.
With both teams as even as they are the difference comes down to home stadium which means the Vikings will still be trying to figure things out heading into Week 10.
4. Matthew Stafford is making a living in the fourth quarter.
A win is a win but does Stafford really need to put Lions' fans through cardiac arrest each week for one? He shouldn't have to this week with the Lions playing the NFL's equivalent of a second bye week, but the Jaguars hung tough against the Packers in Green Bay last week so anything can happen.
Even with the 300-yards passing day that Blaine Gabbert had last week, the Jaguars are still dragging the bottom of the NFL in nearly every offensive Quality Stat.
The one statistical area where the Lions dominate the Jaguars is with their offensive line, ranked No. 8 in the Offensive Hog Index against the Jaguars' defensive line which is ranked No. 29 in the Defensive Hog Index.
In most of the other statistical categories the Lions carry a slight edge over Jacksonville. Overall, if the Lions end up taking this game into the fourth quarter their problems go deeper than originally thought.
5. NFC North Power Rankings
1. Chicago Bears - On the basis of their 6-1 record and five game winning streak the Bears take the top spot. They'll be hanging on to this spot by their fingernails soon if they play another stinkbomb like they did against the Panthers last Sunday.
2. Green Bay Packers - Another instance of, based on their performance last Sunday they're fortunate that they have a quality overall body of work this season. They're on notice though, don't treat the Cardinals like a laugher.
3. Minnesota Vikings - They're going to be No. 3 with an anchor if they can't get some things figured out and moving in the right direction again. We'll see if they can start that process this Sunday in Seattle.
4. Detroit Lions - The Lions could be on the move up the rankings if they set their alarms for kickoff next Sunday instead of letting another opponent hang around, especially the Jaguars.
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