How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

November, 17, 2010
11/17/10
10:00
AM ET
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FALLING

1. Interest in Minnesota: The Minnesota Vikings are 3-6 and aren't likely to make the playoffs. They're returning to the Metrodome for a home game against the rival Green Bay Packers, and there have been some questions about the reception coach Brad Childress and the rest of the team will get. I'm guessing it will be tamer than you might expect. This season's disappointment has gone on long enough, and I'm guessing Vikings fans who actually come to the game won't muster much venom. Second, I'm guessing there will be even more Packers fans in attendance than usual. I've been amused at how many of them have organized in favor of Childress keeping his job, for obvious reasons. The Twitter page @savechilly is especially creative.

2. Optimism in Detroit: It's amazing how quickly sentiment can change around an NFL team. Two weeks ago, Detroit Lions fans were riding higher than they had in years, anticipating a potential upset of the New York Jets. The Lions led for much of that affair before losing quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and the game in overtime. A week later, it seems legions of fans and media are questioning the job performance of coach Jim Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew. As we've discussed before, the Mayhew-Schwartz record since the start of the 2009 season is abysmal. In fact, it's now 4-21. But the worst thing the Lions could do now is panic and start over. Mayhew and Schwartz deserve three years to funnel the improvements they've made into the team's won-loss record.

3. Average age in Green Bay: The Green Bay Packers' decision to waive cornerback Al Harris and place right tackle Mark Tauscher on injured reserve robbed them of two key veterans. Tauscher has been asked to travel with the team and participate in meetings, but as Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette and Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com have pointed out, the Packers are a much younger team now. They have only six players older than 30. The good news is that the Packers' locker room leadership had already shifted toward quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Cornerback Charles Woodson is also a calming presence.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJay Cutler managed to stay upright Sunday thanks to the help of an improved offensive line.
RISING

1. Chicago Bears offensive line: This group was the target of frequent criticism for the league-high 32 sacks the Bears gave up through the first half of the season. Some of it was deserved, and some was convenient. Regardless, I think we can all agree that Sunday marked a breakthrough performance. Although the Vikings' pass rush has fallen off this season, the Bears should be recognized for the time they gave quarterback Jay Cutler. There isn't really a way to measure it other than to say it was substantial. Cutler was sacked only once and completed 63 percent of his passes. He joked Tuesday that he wasn't sore from the game because he was hardly hit. Kudos to a maligned unit for stepping up in a big game.

2. Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers right tackle: The decision to place Tauscher on injured reserve means Bulaga, originally drafted as the Packers' left tackle of the future, will be expected to at least finish out the year as their right tackle. Bulaga has made a surprisingly smooth transition to the role -- not because he was deemed incapable, but because the shift in sides is usually as difficult as a swap between tackle and guard. Bulaga has done both this year, working first at left tackle, then at left guard and now at right tackle. It's not clear where his long-term future rides, but to this point he's held down an unfamiliar spot for a first-place team.

3. Israel Idonije, Chicago Bears defensive end: There has been some discussion that Idonije's production this season is purely a result of Julius Peppers arriving to play on the other side. I'm sure it has helped, but Idonije beat a number of blocks on his own in Sunday's 27-13 victory over the Vikings. Among other plays, Idonije dropped Vikings tailback Toby Gerhart for a 1-yard loss during a key third-quarter sequence in the red zone.

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