vikings gain ground
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

It’s a luxury when you’re able to gain divisional ground without playing a game, and that’s the good fortune the Vikings found in Week 6. With the Cowboys handing Green Bay its second loss, the 5-0 Vikings are now at least two games up on the rest of the division. The Bears continue to be impressively inept, and while the Lions managed to climb to .500, that also seems like a likely place for them to end the season.

The bye week theoretically gave the Vikings a chance to heal their injuries, most notably Stefon Diggs. Monday practice reports had Diggs sitting out the session, which is slightly concerning considering the extra week off, but only slightly. Groin injuries can linger, so there’s a chance Diggs sits out another week, but the Monday rest may also simply be a precautionary measure for a player who doesn’t need a full week of practice to be effective on game day. It’s probably a sign of how the season has gone that my initial reaction to the prospect of Diggs not playing against Philadelphia was basically, “Oh well. Thielen will just tear it up again.”

We’ve been lucky, haven’t we?

Let’s take our weekly gaze around the division.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (3-2)

The Dallas Cowboys rolled into Lambeau field and forced four turnovers, beating the Packers 30-16. It was another underwhelming performance for a once-proud, Aaron Rodgers-led offense that is now being called “dysfunctional” by national media. Rodgers threw for 294 yards but just a single touchdown, and also threw an interception, continuing a puzzling skid of mediocrity dating back to last season. He is now 25th in the NFL in both passing yards and completion percentage, and 20th in quarterback rating.  

The Packers defense, which has shown improvement through much of the season, surrendered 424 total yards and 3 passing touchdowns to rookie Dak Prescott, partially due to injuries in the secondary. Still, for the considerable fanfare the unit has received, they now sit 16th in the league in scoring defense, giving up 22.6 points per game. After last week’s win, Julius Peppers sarcastically told reporters to “talk about Minnesota; talk about Seattle. Continue to talk about the rest of the guys.” We will, Julius.

It won’t be easy when the Vikings go to Lambeau, but if the Packers offense continues to struggle, it will be interesting to see how they perform against the Vikings defense this time around. Regardless, Minnesota is firmly in the drivers seat in the division until further notice.

DETROIT LIONS (3-3)

The Lions won a wild one to improve to 3-3, beating the Rams 31-28 on Matt Prater’s go-ahead 34-yard field goal and a clinching interception from Rafael Bush. That makes two wins in a row in essentially the same fashion; in Week 5, it was Darius Slay with the interception after Prater’s kick to seal Detroit’s win over Philadelphia.

The Lions are showing life, and are the highest scoring team in the division with 25 points per game (the Vikings are second with 23.8). Offensively, they’ve proven they can be dangerous even without Calvin Johnson, but the defense is still bad enough to keep the Lions out of serious contention for the North; Detroit surrenders 25.5 ppg, 22nd in the NFL. It’s the same makeup they’ve had for years, and one that has consistently kept them out of the playoffs.

Detroit is a team worth monitoring, and figures to at least keep things interesting until late in the season. Next up is a date with the Redskins at Ford Field.

 

CHICAGO BEARS (1-5)

The Bears lost again. This is not surprising. What differentiates their 17-16 loss to the Jaguars from the rest is the way in which they did it; Chicago carried a 13-0 lead into the fourth quarter at Soldier Field, and had stymied the Jacksonville offense all game. But the Jags came roaring back, and a 51-yard Blake Bortles to Arrelious Benn touchdown with 2:49 left in the game gave Chicago its fifth loss. Like the Lions, the Bears game also had odd similarities to the week before, when they gave up a late Andrew Luck touchdown pass to again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Chicago’s lone victory came in the division, against Detroit, so there’s that. A relative bright spot against the Jaguars was Brian Hoyer throwing for 302 yards, which gives him four straight 300-yard games in place of injured Jay Cutler. At this point, no matter the record, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears stuck with Hoyer even when Cutler is ready to go; Hoyer has better command of the offense, is infinitely more likable, and Cutler gave them nothing in the first two games. They’re shackled to Cutler’s awful long-term contract, but they may just have to take their medicine and eat the sunk cost if they’re going to turn the page. Cutler has proven he’s not the answer in Chicago.

Next, the Bears head to Lambeau for a Thursday night tilt with the Packers. That should be a fun one.