Final Word: NFC North

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 3:

Early positioning: Last season, the Chicago Bears took the early advantage in the NFC North race with a Week 3 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. This season, the Packers are hoping to put some early distance between them and their top rivals. A 3-0 start would be the Packers' first since 2007, but more importantly, it would give them a two-game lead over a Bears team that would be 1-2. (Technically it would be more than two games because of an early tiebreaker. But that breaks our unofficial rule on mentioning tiebreakers in September.)

Sod wars: I firmly believe that constant public discussion about the playing surface at Soldier Field gives the Bears a level of competitive advantage. There is no doubt that some opposing players get caught up in concerns about loose sod and painted dirt. This week, the Chicago Park District re-sodded the field. Normally that would bode well for opponents. Loose sod is probably better than painted dirt. Regardless, the Bears have won nine of their last 10 NFC North games at home. The Packers were the only team to beat them in that stretch, a Week 14 victory in 2009. The Packers should feel fortunate they are playing at Soldier Field in Week 3 rather than Week 13.

Temptation: You have to think that Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz salivated this week as he watched film of a Packers defense that has given up 800 net passing yards in two games. He also knows that the Packers have lost safety Nick Collins for the season. But Martz backed himself into a corner last Sunday by overdosing on passing plays in the Bears' 30-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Whether or not he sees a favorable matchup, he just can't come out firing against the Packers. And even if he did it, chances are it wouldn't work. First, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler won't have his most reliable receiver, Earl Bennett, who has a chest injury. And Cutler has struggled against the Packers' nickel defense since joining the division in 2009. When the Packers have five defensive backs on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Cutler has averaged only 5.7 yards per attempt, throwing two touchdowns and nine interceptions.

[+] EnlargeHerman Moore
Craig Lassig/AFP/Getty ImagesHerman Moore celebrates his game-winning touchdown catch in the last game the Lions won in Minnesota.
Historical data: Is the NFC North in for a seismic shift this weekend? For the first time in 30 years -- and the first time ever in the Metrodome -- the Detroit Lions are favored to win a game in Minnesota. The last time the Lions won a game in Minnesota was Dec. 14, 1997, when quarterback Scott Mitchell threw a one-yard touchdown pass to receiver Herman Moore with one second remaining in a 14-13 victory. The Lions also have an 11-game road losing streak in divisional play, the longest active streak in the NFL. All of that could end Sunday. The Vikings' discombobulated start to this season leaves them ill-equipped to handle a healthy and well-oiled Lions team that has sprinted from the gates this season. Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb has lost seven of his past eight starts, a streak that began when his Washington Redskins lost to the Lions last season. The Lions are pushing for their first 3-0 start since 1980. We could go on and on....

Standard rush: You might envision Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham as a mad blitzer. When he joined the Lions in 2009, he predicted they would blitz on 40 percent of opponents' drop backs. But this season, at least, Cunningham is smartly capitalizing on his talented defensive line and leaving his back seven in position to make plays as often as possible. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cunningham didn't send more than four pass-rushers on any of the Kansas City Chiefs' drop backs last Sunday at Ford Field. On the season, he has sent at least one extra rusher 17.6 percent of the time. That's the third-lowest percentage in the NFL. Given the Vikings' limited passing effectiveness this season, there is every reason to believe Cunningham will follow a similar path this Sunday. If you can play good pass defense with four rushers, why send more?

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