Hughes: Breaking down the NFC North
The old Welsh poet George Herbert once wrote that, “Life is half spent before we know what it is.”Such is also true with football.Especially in the NFC North, where a few W’s and L’s springing up in unexpected places changed the way we initially thought about these four teams.Sure, perhaps it’s a week early to file a midseason report on the league’s northerly teams, but sometimes when you’re a fifth-year senior who the homework gods decided to take a dump on, you tend to take a few moments here and there to do whatever you want.So here, as herald of arms, I bestow onto you the briefing of the four armies of the NFC North:The steadiest of hands – ChicagoI had to go relative with the Bears’ moniker. They are not the steady hand, only the most stationary the north has got. With a 6-1 record, they’re perched in first place with a game-and-a-half lead in the standings.This is a typical Bears team of recent years. The offense stumbles over itself while the scary-good defense watches and thinks, “LOL, we can score better than they can.” Which is pretty much the truth. The Monsters of the Midway have forced 23 turnovers and found pay dirt six times thereafter.Chicago has won most of its games by comfy margins, but the second half of the schedule has far more obstacles. They’ll play four division games, with other contests against Houston, San Francisco and Seattle. We’ll see how steady the hand is then.The one getting the “are you ok”? look – Green BayOne week they’re collapsing in the second half to lowly Indianapolis, the next they’re shutting up the league’s hottest team – Houston. The 5-3 Packers put in a top-shelf performance at St. Louis, then look lazy against woebegone Jacksonville and barely win by more than one possession.The passing game has clicked and clunked. The offense faces the all-too-familiar problem of having a nonexistent running game, at least until Cedric Benson maybe returns. Meanwhile, Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams and the rest of the defense looks closer to the tough Super Bowl version from two years ago again. But can they be as durable as that team was? Multiple key players have been taken out by injuries in all three lines of defense.The second half of the Packers’ schedule is slightly easier. My bet is, after getting such a look, they rally.At first they weren’t who we thought they were, but now they might actually be who we thought they were – MinnesotaMinnesota’s young quarterback, Christian Ponder, was a big reason for the NFL’s biggest surprise team at the outset of the season. He threw four touchdown passes to no interceptions in the first four games and toppled well-built teams like San Francisco and Detroit. He thrice posted passer ratings of 94.7 or above.But ever since, Vikings fans have been thinking deeply over what the hell happened to Ponder. After the 3-1 start, he proceeded to throw two picks in each of the next three games and threw one more in last week’s game against Tampa Bay. He is, however, also throwing more touchdowns, so perhaps a boost of confidence after the first four games had drawbacks to go along with the perks.Nevertheless, the Vikings have lost two of their last three and the defense has been allowing offenses to score from almost anywhere on the field.Minnesota still has to play Green Bay and Chicago twice and has dates with Seattle and Houston. It’s hard to see Ponder handling those defenses well and it’s easy to see those opposing offenses scoring what they need to get the win.Gonna make you work it – DetroitYour guess as to where the Lions will be by season’s end is as good as mine. Detroit stands with a 3-4 record, but they could easily have been 7-0 or 0-7 by now. They have neither won nor lost by more than one possession this year, and they’ve faced a mixed bag of opponents in terms of quality.The offense is second in the league with 407.6 yards per game, but has stuttered with 12 turnovers and a meek running game. Quarterback Matthew Stafford also hasn’t been able to cash in on the suddenly mortal Calvin Johnson, either.Allowing two touchdowns on both kickoff and punt returns in a span of two games must also mean something important.But still, the fact that Detroit has not lost by more than one possession should be unsettling to future opponents – especially with Stafford under center, who now has eight fourth-quarter comebacks under his belt.He is a ninja that can bring you down.The beauty of fall in the north – Bears cornerbacks and Adrian PetersonThrough the first half of the season, Chicago’s Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman have probably been the league’s top pair of corners, gathering six and two interceptions, respectively, while combining for three touchdowns. Tillman cuts the field in half by muting the primary targets and Jennings intercepts all the other passes. Seems to be a good plan.Amazingly, the duo has failed to come up with an interception in only one game this year. And just three wide receivers have had 100-yard games against them.Then there’s Minnesota’s Peterson. Nobody would have blamed him for having a gingerly start to the season after ending last year with a torn ACL and MCL, but it’s as if all he needed was a change of tires.Peterson leads the league with 775 yards and has eight carries that have gone for 20 yards or more, also the best there is. He’s eighth with 5.1 yards per carry, but has carried the ball 31 more times than anyone else in the top 10.Getting the shivers – Calvin Johnson and Jermichael FinleyThe hounds of the Madden curse are at it again. If there were anyone in the league I thought to be unstoppable it would have been Johnson, but it turns out Megatron can be handled. He’s still had his moments, but he didn’t produce against Minnesota, Chicago and Seattle and he even dropped an easy game-winning touchdown against the latter.Finley is at a completely different level, to the point where it’s reached embarrassment. He’s had some injury issues this year, but is nonetheless nearly physically incapable of catching a football that hits him in the hands.When he manages to haul in a pass, by the good grace of the football gods, Finley enjoys celebrating like some sort of crazy rooster. So at least he understands the gravity of the accomplishment.It’ll all come down to – Packers at Bears, Week 15They’re the division’s only safe bets for the playoffs. Green Bay’s 5-3 mark and Chicago’s 6-1 record should even out by the time they meet in mid-December, given their strength of schedules.Who shall carry the torch of the north into the postseason battlegrounds? The answer lies in the cheese and deep-dish pizza.Elliot is a fifth-year senior majoring in journalism and philosophy. You can chew him out or give him a pat on the back via twitter (@elliothughes12) or email (email@example.com).