Week 5 was a pretty good one for most of the NFC North. Three of the four teams in the division secured a win, with the Detroit Lions the only loser of the bunch and the only team in the North that remains winless. Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings was especially painful. More on that in a bit.
Here are four takeaways from the week that was in the NFC North.
The Chicago Bears are for real. Seriously, they are.
The Bears (3-2) earned a quality win on the road against a Las Vegas Raiders team that entered Sunday’s game with one of the NFL’s best passing offenses. Chicago’s defense, led by Khalil Mack, limited Derek Carr to 206 yards and an interception while also holding running back Josh Jacobs to just over three yards per carry. Mack finished his Revenge Game 2.0 with the highest Pro Football Focus grade among Bears starting defenders (86.0), totaling five pressures and one sack of Carr.
It’s time to take this team seriously. The defense is beginning to play at a high level again, and with Justin Fields behind center, the upside on offense—especially with Bill Lazor calling plays—is the highest it’s been in many years.
Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams is must-see TV
In case you missed it Sunday, Rodgers connected with Adams 11 times for 206 yards and a touchdown on 16 targets. Rodgers threw a total of 39 passes in the game; Running back A.J. Dillon was the second-most targeted skill player with just four.
Rodgers-to-Adams was a recipe that helped the Packers hold off an ascending Cincinnati Bengals team, 25-22, and improve their record to an NFC North-leading 4-1. It wasn’t a particularly pretty victory, however, as it took a 49-yard game-winner from kicker Mason Crosby in overtime to get the ‘W’. Crosby missed three straight field goals prior to the game-winner, all of which could’ve ended the game (including a miss in overtime). Rarely does a team get that many chances, but in the end, a win is a win.
Fans of the NFC North better get their popcorn ready. It’s Aaron Rodgers vs. Justin Fields, Part 1, in Week 6 at Soldier Field.
Those poor, poor Detroit Lions
The Lions are playing a moderately impressive brand of football in 2021. Sure, they still haven’t won a game, but no one expected them to compete for a playoff spot this year anyway. And if you’re in a rebuild like Detroit is, sometimes it’s best to be a tough and competitive team that loses a lot of games (for a better draft pick) but isn’t too far from being a potential playoff team.
Still, losses like Sunday’s against the Vikings sting. Head coach Dan Campbell was nearly brought to tears in his post-game press conference (weird for a guy with an appetite for kneecaps) after his team suffered its fifth straight loss, this time by way of a last-second and improbable 54-yard field goal.
"You want it for everybody, man,” Campbell said after the game. “You've got to earn one. We're this close. We haven't done it.”
It’s true. The Lions haven’t done it yet. But they haven’t been an easy out either. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if as the season marches on, they’re on the right side of a few upsets. The culture in Detroit is changing, and once the talent catches up, it’ll be bad news for the rest of the NFC North.
The Vikings have a two-headed monster brewing at RB
A few weeks ago, I suggested that it was time for Minnesota to put running back Dalvin Cook on a pitch count in order to preserve their most important offensive weapon. His backup, Alexander Mattison, is a talented player in his own right, and in Sunday’s win over the Lions, he carried the ball 25 times for 113 yards and caught seven passes for 40 yards and a score. Yes, he fumbled late in the game and almost coughed up the win, but he isn’t the only running back to ever put the ball on the ground like that.
The bigger takeaway here is that the Vikings have a chance to complement Kirk Cousins and an already explosive passing game with a tough-to-defend two-headed monster in Cook and Mattison. Both running backs are capable three-down players who defenses have to respect as receivers as much as they do as runners. Keeping Cook’s legs fresh for late-game drives (and just keeping him healthy in general) could end up being the difference between wins and losses for this squad. More Mattison means more Cook, which means more wins and a potential late-season playoff push.