Sports Specs with Sam

    How the NFC North stacks up after five games

    Sam Janssen

    More stories from Sam Janssen


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    The Green Bay Packers are looking like the kings of the NFC North five weeks into the 2019 NFL season.

    While it is early in the season, their defense seems to have greatly improved in several areas. The offense seems to be picking up steam after starting out slow against Chicago and being held scoreless in the second half in a win against Minnesota.

    Green Bay responded to a soul crushing defeat in week four to the Philadelphia Eagles by picking up a solid road victory in Dallas, during a game where running back Aaron Jones scored a career-best four touchdowns.

    The Packers now sit alone atop the division at 4-1 and look ahead to two home games where they are heavily favored for the next two weeks against Detroit and Oakland. 

    The Detroit Lions had an exciting start to their year by getting two surprising hard fought wins against the Chargers and on the road against the Eagles to start 2-0-1.

    This excitement was eventually lessened by a close 34-31 loss to the Chiefs, a game that could have been a huge statement win for a franchise that hasn’t won the division since 1993: the last time the franchise won the division. 

    Eight wildcard bids since 1993 have resulted in losses in the first round of the playoffs each time.

    Even sitting at second place with a 2-1-1 record after a bye in week five, the Lions’ chances of advancing to the playoffs this season are pretty slim in, arguably, the best division in football. 

    They still look ahead to all six of their divisional matchups, and they may not be favored to win any of them, especially not on the road. 

    It is hard to envision their defense taking enough of a step forward this season to contain the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Dalvin Cook and other stars coming their way.

    The defending division champion — the Chicago Bears — have had a disappointing start to their season thus far. However, it could have been even worse.

    They turned in a dud of a performance in week one at home against Green Bay, in which they only scored six points of offense. 

    They followed this up by barely beating the unimpressive Denver Broncos, in a game they should have lost, and beating one of the biggest disasters in the NFL, the Washington Redskins.

    Perhaps their best defensive performance thus far came against Minnesota in week four, as they contained the Vikings whole offense and only surrendered one score, but lost quarterback Mitch Trubisky to an injury in this game.

    The Bears suffered another disappointing outcome in week five, by falling 24-21 to Oakland in a game in which they didn’t have Trubisky and failed to contain the Oakland Raiders’ offense that seems to have turned a corner the last two weeks. 

    The Bears’ defense was the main reason why they won the division last year and while they haven’t replicated their dominance yet this season, Khalil Mack and company are still a force to be reckoned with. 

    The deciding factor on whether or not the Bears will take the next step this season is the offense. 

    The Bears has talented skill players in running backs David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen, along with Allen Robinson at receiver.

    Mitch Trubisky does not look like a Super Bowl caliber quarterback yet and the Bears’ offense is going to have to improve greatly for them to take the division again in 2019.

    The Minnesota Vikings have had an up and down campaign so far in 2019. Their running game has been by far the biggest bright spot, as a now-healthy Dalvin Cook has shown himself to be one of the best running backs in the NFL. 

    The Vikings’ offensive line also looks improved in the rushing attack. It’s their passing game that has left a lot to be desired so far in 2019 and the protection up front has played a huge part in that. 

    The Vikings have also dealt with controversy off the field, as Stefon Diggs has appeared to be disgruntled in recent weeks, and skipped practice in the week leading up to the week five matchup against the Giants, resulting in a reported $200,000 fine. 

    This skipped practice was followed up by a mercurial press conference the following day, which stirred up trade speculation and uncertainty about his status for the Giants game. 

    After a win on Sunday where Diggs played and the Vikings’ offense performed well, the Vikings hope to put this controversy behind them.

    The 28-10 win over the Giants saw the Vikings’ passing game putting up their best performance so far this season, with Kirk Cousins posting a 138.6 passer rating and 306 yards through the air.

    The Vikings have yet to turn in a complete performance against a winning team, with their three wins coming in good offensive performances against the struggling defenses of the Falcons, Raiders and Giants. 

    They currently sit at 3-2 with two losses to division rivals Green Bay and Chicago coming on the heels of horrible performances in the passing game, especially in Chicago. 

    The Vikings will face several tough tests in the coming weeks, with a home matchup against the Eagles coming next week and road matchups against the Chiefs and Seahawks coming at the beginning of November. 

    Kirk Cousins will have plenty of chances to prove that he can lead the Vikings’ offense to victory against winning teams, which he has mostly failed to do in his time in Minnesota.

    The Vikings’ defense is still the identity of the team, but Cousins needs to improve his performance especially in big games for the Vikings to return to the playoffs in 2019.

    Janssen can be reached at [email protected]