(CBS Chicago) — A familiar story may already be beginning to play out in the NFC North, with the Green Bay Packers sitting atop the division and the Detroit Lions still looking for their first win. In between, the Minnesota Vikings appear to be rounding into form, while the Chicago Bears are falling apart. At least that’s how things look from Week 3 in the NFL.
The Packers needed a last-minute drive and a last-second field goal to secure their second win. The Lions dropped their third, when the Baltimore Ravens beat them the same way. The Vikings put together a complete effort to overcome the Seattle Seahawks. But the Bears were over overwhelmed by the superior Cleveland Browns.READ MORE: Tiger Woods Comes Back In Second Round To Make Cut At PGA Championship
Week 4 matchups in the division could create some separation in the standings. Green Bay draws a battered and struggling Pittsburgh team. The Vikings host the Cleveland Browns, who are coming off another strong showing. And the Bears and Lions try to avoid the division cellar.
CBS Chicago sports director Marshall Harris looks at the three NFC North matchups.
All times listed are Eastern.
Cleveland Browns @ Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, October 3 @ 1:00 p.m.
The Browns are coming off a dominating 26-6 win over the Bears to improve their record to 2-1. The defense gave rookie quarterback Justin Fields fits in his first NFL start, sacking him nine times and knocking him down 15 times. Myles Garrett alone had 4.5 sacks, setting a franchise record. The Browns limited the Bears to a little over one yard per offensive play.
While the Browns deserve credit for the win — not to mention downing the Houston Texans to open the season and almost knocking off the Kansas City Chiefs in the opener — it’s still a little unclear how good this Cleveland team is. “I think we’re looking at a situation where the Browns are good,” Harris conceded. “But I don’t know how good they are, because I just saw them play a Bears team that looked like they had no clue what was going on on the football field on the offensive end.”
The Browns, on the other hand, have a good sense of what they want to do with the ball. And that is hand it to Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The two combined for 165 yards on the ground on 32 carries. Mayfield continued to run the offense efficiently. And Odell Beckham Jr. returned to the lineup, hauling in five passes for another 77 yards.
The Vikings are coming off a strong performance of their own, topping the Seattle Seahawks 30-17. Quarterback Kirk Cousins continued to look comfortable in the pocket, tossing three touchdowns passes in the first half and ultimately completing 30-38 for 323 yards. Running Back Dalvin Cook sat out with an ankle injury, but Alexander Mattison put up 112 yards on 26 carries and caught six passes for 59 yards out of the backfield on a busy afternoon.
“I’m interested to see if Kirk Cousins can really say they’ve made a move to doing more positive things,” Harris said. “I think this is going to be a tightly contested game. It’s a real proving ground for the Browns to go on the road to try to beat Minnesota. But I really believe that the Vikings are going to win this game, somehow, some way in a tight one.”
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears, Sunday, October 3 @ 1:00 p.m.READ MORE: Tom Brady Plans To Become An Announcer After He Retires
The Bears were embarrassed by the Browns in Week 3, at least on offense, where they couldn’t do anything. They held their own on defense, sacking Baker Mayfield five times and holding Cleveland to 10 points in the first half. They’ll have an easier matchup when they host the winless Lions in Week 4. But nothing about the Bears so far inspires confidence.
That starts at quarterback, where injuries have created a potential revolving door. “I don’t know who the Bears are going to start at quarterback,” Harris admitted. “We’re told by Matt Nagy that they don’t know who the Bears are going to start a quarterback. Of course it depends on the injury to Andy Dalton, who missed last week with a knee injury. And Justin Fields, if you take nine sacks, you might get hit a few times, in a way that you don’t want to. He’s got a dinged-up hand, so we’ll see how that shakes out. Nick Foles, you know, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, could be the starter for the Bears after being your third-string quarterback to start the season. We’ll just have to see how the injuries play out.”
Whoever it is will need some help. The Bears offense put up a measly 114 yards last week, and that’s before netting out sacks and penalties. A lot of that burden falls on coaches putting their players in a position to succeed. And that didn’t happen last week.
“Matt Nagy says he doesn’t want to reveal who is going to call plays,” Harris said. “It probably should not be him. Expect Bill Lazor, the offensive coordinator, to take over the play-calling. If he doesn’t, Matt Nagy could very well be coaching for his job. Not that he’ll get fired next week, but for all intents and purposes, this could be his last go-round with the Bears, if they lose to a winless Detroit Lions team.”
The Lions lost to the Baltimore Ravens last week in maybe the most heartbreaking way possible. Jared Goff drove Detroit well into field goal range in the game’s final minutes, allowing them to take the lead with a field goal. But Lamar Jackson brought his Ravens back just far enough for Justin Tucker to kick a record-setting 66-yard game-winning field goal.
Lost in the excitement is that the Lions were able to stay with the Ravens and could easily have won. Baltimore moved the ball, but the Detroit defense largely contained Jackson and mostly kept the Ravens out of the end zone. Jared Goff was an efficient 22-30 for 217 yards.
The Lions can probably expect another close one in Chicago. “That’s not how they want to end the game,” Harris said of the Lions’ loss. “But with the Bears, we don’t even know where they’re going to start, or more specifically, who they’re going to start. But I think, because it is a home game, the Bears find a way to eke this one out. And I do mean eke it out, 13-10.”
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Green Bay Packers, Sunday, October 3 @ 4:25 p.m.
The Steelers and Packers seem to be heading in opposite directions. The Steelers looked lifeless in losing 24-10 to a Cincinnati Bengals team that’s long been the AFC North punching bag. The Packers looked just the opposite, coming back to knock off the San Francisco 49ers with a walk-off field goal.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 38 passes for 318 yards, but mostly of the short variety. Najee Harris hauled in 14 of them out of the backfield. The running game was non-existent behind a makeshift offensive line that couldn’t get out of its own way. Big Ben was sacked four times and knocked down five more.
“Here in Chicago, we know a little thing or two about 39-year-old future Hall of Famers trying to hold on to that last bit of glory,” Harris said. “That’s what’s going on right now under center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger is washed. I think I can say that with a degree of confidence and the tape will bear that out. The thing is can Mike Tomlin and the Steelers do anything about it to have them win more football games?”
It won’t be easy against a Packers team firing on all cylinders. That starts with Aaron Rodgers, who after a dud of a game to open the season, is back to his old ways. Rodgers completed 23 passes for 253 yards, two TDs and a passer rating of 113.3. He found Adams a total of 12 times for 132 yards. Aaron Jones averaged an effective 4.3 yards per carry on his 19 carries. The defense pushed around Jimmy Garoppolo, sacking him four times and hitting him 11 more.MORE NEWS: Rich Strike Wins The 148th Kentucky Derby
The Packers are favored by a touchdown, but it may not end up that close. “I think he (Rodgers) is going to be in a position where he maybe throws the ball 25 times at the most, goes for three or four touchdowns and they cruise in this game,” said Harris. “I’m going to say 31-10, giving Pittsburgh the benefit of doubt that somehow, some way they get into the end zone. But this one has all the potential to get ugly, because like I said, Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t look like he should be still playing in the NFL.”