The Minnesota Vikings currently sit atop the NFC North Standings.
The Vikings have a number of messes to sort out as they prepare for their latest biggest test of the season that awaits them in Carolina. Sloppy penalties. Terrible blocking. An injured Adrian Peterson… and Xavier Rhodes… and Sharrif Floyd… and… well, you get the picture.
For now, however, the reigning NFC North Champs are again atop the standings after an exciting victory in their new digs and against their biggest enemy.
Two battles have been won, but the war is far from over. The other teams in the NFC still present to us the biggest obstacle, each intent on denying the Vikings their purpose, and they must each be conquered before postseason aspirations can really be taken seriously. Week Two is a long, longs way from Week Seventeen.
Let’s take a look at what our biggest enemies are up to.
DETROIT LIONS (1-1)
Like the Vikings one week ago, the Lions were able to hold the Tennessee Titans to just 16 points. Unlike the Vikings, however, that was enough to lose the game. This is where you can insert some joke about not being able to score two defensive touchdowns making that outcome more likely.
Still, I think the Lions are a sneaky good team whose defense is as good this year as it has been in a long time. If they continue to play balanced and can work out some kinks under the new regime, they might be able to make some noise in the NFC North. A team that has won seven of their last ten games (counting this week’s loss) has plenty of reason for some optimism, to be honest.
One of those items that needs cleaned up are all of the penalties. Now this might sound a bit like the pot calling the kettle black considering the 13 penalties (for 137 yards) committed by the Vikings Sunday night, but it was even a little worse for the Lions.
The Lions were flagged 17 times for 138 yards. The Titans gained first downs on four occasions from the penalties alone. It was a sloppy game all around, especially considering the Titans drew 12 penalties themselves.
For both the Lions and the Vikings, the ability to get better disciplined in short order could go a long way towards determining the outcome of their first head-to-head on November 6th.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (1-1)
The Green Bay Packers continue to have issues with their yards gained per pass play. As we discussed in this segment last week, despite the presence of Smug Master #12 at the helm the Packers have not been nearly as effective in the area of passing as your brain would think they have been. The issue is a carryover from 2015, and their 4.4 yards per pass against the Vikings was yet another step back from the 5.7 number posted against the Jaguars in Week One.
Still, it may have been coaching decisions that contributed most to the outcome of this one, and one Mike McCarthy decision in particular has been deservedly getting plenty of scrutiny.
After a long third quarter drive, McCarthy opted to keep his offense on the field for a fourth and two situation that would’ve otherwise been a short, high-percentage field goal. Naturally, given the finally score had a margin of three points, that is a failure that will be a magnet for criticism.
“It was fourth-and-2, we were on a 12-play drive,” McCarthy said via ESPN. “I felt the advantage was to the offense in that particular situation. We had a solid play call, and that’s my decision.”
Taking three points in a close game against a team whose own kicker is dealing with some serious kicker woes seems like the obvious choice to me – and that isn’t just hindsight – but McCarthy opted instead to flex against a Mike Zimmer defense.
That means Packer Ranter got at least one thing right in our discussion from Saturday when he admitted that Zimmer gave the Vikings a bigger advantage than McCarthy gives Green Bay.
CHICAGO BEARS (0-2)
The Chicago Bears are a wreck. The real bummer for Windy City fans is that they aren’t even the kind of wreck that is fun to watch and pick out signals of optimism for the future. They’re just a wreck.
And bad is now going to worse as the Chicago injuries piled up during the 29-14 beat down delivered on Monday night at the hands of Carson Wentz and the Eagles.
Starting quarterback Jay Cutler sprained his thumb on his throwing hand. Free agent prize linebacker Danny Trevathan also sprained a thumb and will have surgery this week, according to the team’s official site.
Linebacker Lamarr Houston suffered a significant knee injury while nose tackle Eddie Goldman had to be carted off the field with an ankle injury. Safety Adrian Amos, safety Chris Prosinski, running back Ka’Deem Carey and cornerback Bryce Callahan each suffered injuries, as well.
Time will tell as to what extent the Bears roster has now transformed into a center for disaster recovery, but the one thing we know is that all of the bumps and bruises accompanying two straight losses cannot be a good sign for the team’s hopeful progression.
The Bears get the Dallas Cowboys next, an away game on a short week, and will first play the Vikings on October 31st.