How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
11:00
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Falling

1. Bears bravado: Chicago coach Lovie Smith likes to say that his teams “get off the bus running,” but this season they’ve stumbled on the steps. Through five games, the Bears rank No. 27 among NFL teams with an average of 89.8 rushing yards per game. Fortunately, they have an elite quarterback in Jay Cutler who can carry the offense on his own. But it’s hard to imagine a Bears team progressing far into playoffs without a better running game. Part of their red zone problems Sunday at Atlanta was Matt Forte’s inability to punch the ball into the end zone. But they have no personnel options beyond Forte, who has appeared very average this season. Smith hasn’t ruled out the possibility of reconfiguring his offensive line.

2. Lions quarterbacks: Matthew Stafford had a setback last week in his recovery from a dislocated kneecap. Daunte Culpepper strained a hamstring during while running at Lambeau Field. Drew Stanton returned only a few weeks ago from knee surgery. The bye came at a good time for the Lions, who need a week to sort through the status of this position. It’s possible Stafford will be ready to resume practicing next week. But if he isn’t, you also wonder if the time isn’t rapidly approaching for the Lions to find out, once and for all, if Stanton is capable of playing -- or even being a backup -- at this level. They’ll have some time to sort out the issue this week.

 Ogunleye
3. Adewale Ogunleye, Chicago defensive end: The veteran has been enjoying a renaissance season, producing 4.5 sacks in what coincidentally (or not) is a contract year. So you had to take notice Friday when the Bears gave up a second-round draft pick to acquire a player six years younger who plays the same position. Does Chicago envision Gaines Adams taking over for Ogunleye next season? It’s easy to draw that conclusion. Adams was a bust in Tampa Bay, but the Bears consider him more than a flyer if they sent a second-round pick to get him.

Rising

 Matthews
1. Clay Matthews, Green Bay linebacker: Coaches made him a full-time player during the bye week, and he responded Sunday with the best game for a Packers linebacker this season. Unofficially, Matthews finished with five tackles, including three for a loss, two sacks and one defensed pass. That’s the type of line the Packers envisioned in April when they traded back into the first round to draft him, but a series of hamstring injuries limited his development in the spring and summer. After four games, the Packers realized it was time to unleash him full-time.

 Rice
2. Sidney Rice, Minnesota receiver: He’s made an appearance in this space before, but it’s hard to ignore Rice’s 176-yard performance Sunday against Baltimore; in terms of yardage, it qualified as the seventh-best day of the season for an NFL receiver. Once pigeon-holed as a red zone target, Rice has convinced quarterback Brett Favre that he is a reliable downfield receiver. He doesn’t run away from many people, but Rice’s size and ball skills give him a decided advantage when the ball is in the air. Of all the additions and changes to the Vikings’ offense, Rice is by far the freshest story.

 Driver
3. Donald Driver, Green Bay receiver: Driver’s first catch Sunday against Detroit pushed him past Sterling Sharpe and made him the all-time leading receiver in Packers history. His total now stands at 602 receptions -- and counting. The Packers’ team history isn’t necessarily overflowing with Hall of Fame receivers, but I like how coach Mike McCarthy put it: “I think anytime you say all-time in the history of the Green Bay Packers, regardless of the category, I think that speaks volumes.” Amen to that.

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