The Case For The (NFC) North

By Adam Barton

One of the toughest divisions to predict over the offseason was the NFC North. Three weeks into the season, there has been a separation in the pack. But even with the Vikings sitting at 0-3, in such an unpredictable division, it’s tough to rule them out.

There remains a case for at least three of the four teams to win the division. While the Bears would be very much the outside bet, there have been flashes from Justin Fields and they are a team that could get hot down the stretch in an unpredictable division. Let’s focus on the reigning champions, and the division leaders facing off tonight.

Vikings Are Down, But Not Out

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The Vikings have flipped the narrative from last year, going from 11-0 in one score games to 0-3 this term. At some point, they should regress to the mean in both directions and have a record better reflecting their performances.

They have had a couple of tough games against the Eagles and Chargers. They could easily be 2-1 if things had broken differently. In fact, they have the third highest yardage total but haven’t converted that into points, where they sit 17th. It is the defense that has let them down, being just outside the bottom five for both yards and points allowed, though that will be impacted by playing the Eagles and Chargers offenses so far. Outside of Danielle Hunter, Marcus Davenport and an aging Harrison Smith, there are very few impact players on the roster. That’s evidenced by the two turnovers all season.

Starting off 0-3 in a two-game hole to the division lead is far from ideal but wins against the Packers and Lions could quickly bring Minnesota into position to challenge in a whacky division. Despite being in a period of transition, the Vikings have the experience and knowledge that they can win a division crown on their side, giving them the edge in crucial games down the stretch.

Packers Bouncing Back

The Packers are managing without Aaron Rodgers. Despite Jordan Love having an up and down season so far, the Packers are 2-1. Love has a completion percentage of just 53%, but crucially has 7 touchdowns to 1 interception. The Packers swept away the Bears on opening night but since then they couldn’t get the better of the Falcons but did edge the Saints with a 4th Quarter comeback. David Bakhtiari has been MIA, along with Elgton Jenkins, putting extra pressure on Love on his blind side.

The defence has been average across the board in yards and points but proved that they can come up with a big stop when needed as they kept them in the game against the Saints before the offence came alive.

Outside of division games, the Packers don’t face an NFL powerhouse until week 13 against the Chiefs. Until then, it is crucial for them to keep stacking wins in winnable games, particularly when a division tiebreaker is on the line.

Lions On The Prowl

It’s bizarre to think of Detroit as favourites for the division. But despite a stunning opening day win in Kansas City, the Lions have shown that they are not the finished article yet. A disappointing home loss to the Seahawks, perhaps influenced by the emotional comedown from the Chiefs victory, but they did manage to beat the Falcons – who beat the Packers – have kept Detroit above .500.

The offense is developing, with a new backfield led by Jahmyr Gibbs, having let DeAndre Swift walk. Jameson Williams is also three games away from returning. For now, it is on Amon-Ra St Brown and rookie Sam LaPorta. The defense is led by Aidan Hutchinson and supported by journeymen such as Alex Anzalone. The defense needs to be better in the redzone, having been top ten in yards allowed, but below average in points allowed.

Who Has The Edge?

This week sees a crucial matchup as the Packers head to Michigan to face Detroit with sole lead of the division on the line. Both teams have clear flaws on show through the first three weeks. In a way though, this is the Lions’ first real test to prove if they can handle it as a front runner, a very different effort to the underdog triumph in Kansas City.

The winner will also have three wins in the bank over the Vikings, albeit with a game in hand. The Vikings need to start getting wins on the board, but in a division without a front runner, in a weak conference, it is hard to rule them out entirely of the playoffs. They need to beat the Panthers and Bears in the coming weeks, with the Chiefs, 49ers and a trip to Lambeau Field rounding out the slate until week 8.

For now though, the winner at Ford Field has to be the favourite for the division. But it will surely go back and forth between now and week 18.

Feature Image Credit: Junfu Han-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Barton

NFL Analyst

A veteran NFL fan of 15 years, Adam has followed the Ravens since growing up in Maryland. He puts his loyalties to one side to provide (largely) unbiased content from across the NFL for The Touchdown, as well as appearing on the Ninety-Nine Yards podcast. You can find Adam on Twitter @abarton93.