(CBS Minnesota) — It’s already Week 4 in the NFL, and the NFC North isn’t quite shaking out as expected. The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers sit atop the division, both at 3-0. While the Packers are no surprise, the Bears, so far led by an inconsistent Mitchell Trubisky, certainly are. Just as interesting are the winless Minnesota Vikings, who seem on the verge of putting it all together, but just haven’t. And then there are the Detroit Lions, true to form, nestled in between at 1-2.
How will Week 4 shake out in the NFC North? Can the Bears stay undefeated as Nick Foles takes over under center? Will the Vikings finally put it all together? CBS Minnesota sports anchor Norman Seawright III breaks down all the matchups in the NFC North
All times listed are Eastern.
New Orleans Saints @ Detroit Lions, Sunday, October 4, 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
The Lions were finally on the winning end of a last-minute drive capped by a game-winning field goal. Now, at 1-2, Detroit will host the Saints, who couldn’t quite keep up with the Green Bay Packers in Week 3. The Saints welcome back Michael Thomas to an offense that has been riding the electric Alvin Kamara.
“Expect a shootout,” says Seawright, “because Alvin Kamara… enough said. The man’s having some fun.
His stats bear that out. “He leads the league in yards, touchdowns among non-quarterbacks, yards after catch, running back receiving yards,” Seawright points out. “They’re going to game-plan for him a lot.”
The Saints will look to exploit the Lions’ weak run defense. The Lions have allowed 517 rushing yards through three games, third worst in the NFL. And they’ve done it at a 5.7 yards per carry clip, which is second worst. The Saints have struggled a bit running the ball, but Latavius Murray should find plenty of lanes against that Lions front seven.
The added offense should help Drew Brees, who hasn’t quite seemed like himself this season. “It’s a big positive for Drew Brees,” says Seawright, “because, for all the talk of him being washed [up], a weak arm, whatever, it will take a lot of the pressure off of him. And if Michael Thomas comes back, they can spread the offense even more. And that’s even more fun. And Brees hasn’t obviously thrown anything very long this season, he may not have to.”
The edge may go to the Saints, but the Lions have the momentum coming off their first win in 11 games. And Matthew Stafford has the weapons to attack a suspect Saints passing defense that’s already allowed eight receiving touchdowns.
Minnesota Vikings @ Houston Texans, Sunday, October 4, 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
The winless Texans had the misfortune of opening the season against three of the NFL’s best teams –the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. The winless Vikings can’t say that, though losing to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers is hardly a sin. This week, the Vikings and Texans will both look to find the win column and turn around seasons before they start to slip away.
The Vikings seem close to pulling it together. “The Vikings do love to run,” says Seawright. “But you can’t do that without passing effectively. And the Vikings have not yet settled on that this season. They haven’t quite gotten there with the consistency. We saw some flashes against the Titans with Justin Jefferson. What an amazing catch he had. So, if they’re able to rush, they have to open that passing game up so they can get that running game happening. Once they get both of those things running in sync… again, consistency is the problem. If they’re able to pull that off, they’ll be fine.”
But pass protection has been a major issue for the Vikings. “Kirk Cousins has been pressured a lot, which isn’t necessarily his fault,” says Seawright. “But the way he handles it is a little bit more his fault. He has problems not surrendering the play when he is pressured. We do see him trying to run, scramble a little bit, extend the play. But he’s still getting there.”
Deshaun Watson is a much better at handling pressure, which is fortunate for the Texans because their pass protection has been terrible. The Texans have allowed 13 sacks through three games, tied for second-worst in the NFL.
With all this talk about the passing game, the difference might come down to the ground game. Dalvin Cook is coming off a 22-carry, 181-yard performance and will be facing a Texans defense that has issues defending the run. The Vikings, who allowed Derrick Henry to pile up 119 yards on 26 carries, aren’t that much better.
Indianapolis Colts @ Chicago Bears, Sunday, October 4, 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
The Bears are undefeated at 3-0, but starter Mitchell Trubisky hasn’t been the reason why. So far he’s thrown for just 560 yards against three defenses — the Falcons, New York Giants and Lions — that can be be exploited. So this week Nick Foles, after coming in off the bench last week, will be the starter in Chicago.
He’ll face a Colts pass defense that excels in both pressuring the quarterback and defending in the secondary. Xavier Rhodes, who already has two interceptions with a pick-six, is making the Vikings regret they ever let him go.
The Colts have their own new starting quarterback this season in Philip Rivers. The longtime Los Angeles Charger opened with a 36-46, 363-yard outing in Jacksonville and has been consistent since. “The Colts do well with protecting Philip Rivers, and he’s really good at reading defenses,” says Seawright.
But he hasn’t faced defense yet this season that can get after him like the Bears. “The game will be good,” says Seawright. “But I don’t think the Bears are going to lose this one.”
Atlanta Falcons @ Green Bay Packers, Monday, October 5, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
The Falcons keep finding new and exciting ways to lose. It’s kind of interesting to see what they’ll come up with this week. Atlanta fans, not to mention the players, probably don’t see it that way. “It just seems like nothing is going right for the Falcons this season,” says Seawright. “And it’s hard for anybody, including the Falcons fans, to expect that to change, which I know is painful.”
The potential for another heartbreaking loss exists again this week, when they head to Green Bay to face the undefeated Packers. Aaron Rodgers is no stranger to the comeback win, or, frankly, just winning in general. He’s lighting up defenses again this season, tossing nine touchdowns against zero interceptions, with a QB rating of 121.1 so far this season. And he’ll welcome back leading receiver Davante Adams this week, which will just make Rodgers all that more dangerous.
“This will be a high-scoring game as well,” Seawright predicts. “But Aaron Rodgers does not turn the ball over like Matt Ryan does. Both are very good quarterbacks, but Rodgers finds ways to not turn the ball over. He’s got to through the ball away or check down, whatever he needs to do. He just doesn’t really give up a whole lot of turnovers. Controlling, protecting the football will be key. And Green Bay is very good at that.”
Can the Falcons find the win column? It won’t be easy against a Packers team that leads the league in scoring and is second in total offense so far.