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State of the NFC North, Week 9 Recap

The North posted a 2-1 record in week 9 as the division leading Lions got some rest.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to the absence of the Detroit Lions this week, the island of misfit toys below them in the standings received their shot at stardom. There were no primetime games for the division this week, but drama ensued nonetheless. In Minnesota, an unlikely hero emerged in the biggest moment to keep the Vikings’ playoff hopes alive. Meanwhile, the Packers got back on track with a win over a backup quarterback who is not currently employed. Chicago continued a nice run of competitive games as they hung in with the Saints, but ultimately fell with Tyson Bagent at the helm. Let’s dive into our week 9 division recap.

Current Standings:

Detroit Lions (6-2)

Minnesota Vikings (5-4)

Green Bay Packers (3-5)

Chicago Bears (2-7)

Detroit Lions (6-2)

Week 9 Result: Bye

Week 10 Opponent: Los Angeles Chargers (4-4)

The Lions are coming off their bye with reinforcements on the way in the form of linemen Frank Ragnow and Jonah Jackson, and starting RB David Montgomery. They’ll need it against an inconsistent but talented Los Angeles Chargers team. While the Lions will be on the road, they shouldn’t face much fan resistance as they look to restore their commanding division lead. On the field, watch out for the Chargers’ strong run defense against the Lions’ ground and pound attack. The Lions may have to attack the Chargers through the air, an admittedly easy task for many teams this season.

On defense, look for Detroit to bottle up Austin Ekeler. Without any healthy downfield threats, shutting down the ground game will leave Justin Herbert without many options to hit big plays, allowing the Lions to grind out a gritty win. If they can hold up against the Chargers in the first half, recent weeks have shown that LA will fold in the second, as their point differential in the game’s latter half ranks 26th in the NFL.

Minnesota Vikings (5-4)

Week 9 Result: 31-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons (4-5)

Week 10 Opponent: New Orleans Saints (5-4)

When Joshua Dobbs arrived in Minnesota this weekend following a trade from the Arizona Cardinals, he planned on spending at least a week on the bench. The Vikings had named rookie Jaren Hall the starter after his brief stint in relief of the injured Kirk Cousins. Despite solid play in his few starts, Dobbs is on his fifth team in 12 months; an NFL nomad destined to be the bridesmaid and never the bride. Until Sunday. Jaren Hall was lost to a concussion in the first quarter, meaning the Vikings had to turn to Dobbs far sooner than anticipated. Surely his aerospace engineering smarts (you’ll hear about this in every game he plays a la “Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard”) were a boon in such a high-pressure situation, but Dobbs had never taken a snap from center Garrett Bradbury. The line did not know his cadence. Kevin O’Connell was telling him how each play should look through his headset!

Despite all of this, Dobbs kept the Vikings in a back-and-forth affair in the second half despite the offense missing Justin Jefferson and other key contributors. After Tyler Allgeier scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:08 to go, no one would blame you for sticking a fork in Minnesota. Dobbs had other plans. He calmly drove down the field, scrambling 22 yards to convert a 4th and 7 and enter the red zone. Three plays later on a 3rd down with 12 seconds left on the clock, Dobbs hit Brandon Powell to win the game. Just like that, a Minnesota hero was born, and a storybook ending (or just a beginning!) was written for every fan to appreciate.

Next up for Dobbs is a tough task as the Vikings take on an excellent Saints defense. But at this point, maybe it’s safer not to be against him.

Green Bay Packers (3-5)

Week 9 Result: 20-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams (3-6)

Week 10 Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)

The Packers stopped a four-game skid against the Rams this Sunday, as Matt LaFleur improved to 4-0 against Sean McVay. The Packers’ defense continued their own hot streak, allowing just three points to a bruised and battered Rams offense lead by Brett Rypien. Aaron Jones’ return was a rising tide for the entire offense, and his presence lead to 187 yards rushing for the entire offense. On and off rainy conditions limited both sides, and three fumbles were lost in total and the Rams had snap trouble early and often.

The first-half struggles continued for the Packers, but small steps were taken to competence, such as scoring a first-half touchdown! In the second half, the Packers were actually able to finish a game on offense, a feat that has been hard to come by in recent weeks. Overall, the offense still needs work, as any half-competent opposing quarterback would have taken advantage of their many penalties and turnovers.

On defense, a battered secondary showed out. Carrington Valentine recorded three PBU’s and held his own against the Rams’ star receivers. Jonathan Owens also showed out, picking off a Rypien pass off of a Jaire Alexander tip drill.

For those worried about draft position, this win only dropped the Packers one spot in projected standings, as they would pick 7th if the season ended today.

Next up, the Packers face a ferocious Pittsburgh Steelers defense, one that has the capability to turn those silly mistakes into points practically by themselves. Here’s to hoping that the Steelers’ own inept offense will provide the Packers with similar opportunities to put points on the board.

Chicago Bears (2-7)

Week 9 Result: 24-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints (5-4)

Week 10 Opponent: Carolina Panthers (1-7)

The Bears suffered a close loss to a possible division winner this week, a marked improvement over their Sunday night embarrassment at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers. Chicago fell 24-17 to the New Orleans Saints, failing to secure their first win in the Superdome since 1991. While the Saints are one of the worst teams rushing the passer in the NFL, the Bears did their part by protecting Tyson Bagent. The rookie has shown an ability to limit hits in a way that Justin Fields has not yet shown. On an even more positive note, the Bears tallied 156 rushing yards against the Saints’ excellent run-stuffing front. In the “let’s literally never talk about this again” bucket was Cairo Santos’ first half doink that would have given the Bears a halftime lead. Despite kicking in the Superdome during his college career at Tulane, the curse of Bears kickers simply proved too strong.

Where the Bears did themselves in time and time again was turnovers. Bagent threw three interceptions and the team lost two fumbles, all but ensuring they had no shot at snatching a victory. Third-year cornerback Paulson Adebo was responsible for two of Bagent’s turnovers and added a forced fumble that led to the Saints’ first lead of the game in the third quarter. In response, the Bears drove down to the Saints’ 13-yard line but were unable to seal the deal, settling for a game-tying field goal that would be their last score of the game. After the Saints took a 24-17 lead at the top of the fourth quarter, the Bears imploded, turning the ball over three times and sealing their fate on a day they out-gained the Saints and led in time of possession.

Tonight, the Bears face off against the Carolina Panthers in a game between the teams slotted to pick 2 and 3 in the 2024 NFL Draft. The twist here is that the Bears own both picks, which should reduce the level of glorious tanking normally seen in such matchups. This could be the final start for Tyson Bagent, as Justin Fields has begun practicing again and could be ready to roll with the long week ahead. Bagent will have some extra motivation to get DJ Moore involved this week, as the star wideout is facing his old squad. He will surely look to recreate the magic of his last Thursday night game against the Commanders, in which he totaled 230 yards and three touchdowns.

On defense, be on the lookout for former Commanders edge rusher Montez Sweat to make his first impact as a Bear. Only four teams have given up more sacks than the Panthers this season. No matter who wins, we can expect an absolutely disgusting matchup only real sickos would love. On Thursday nights, would we have it any other way?

That’s it for this week’s State of the North! All four teams will be in action this week as we get one of our few chances at a 4-0 week if Bagent and the Bears can pull off the victory tonight. Check back next week to recap all the action. By next week, we may even have a tight race at the top!