Heading into the 2013 regular season, the talk amongst those paying close attention to the NFC North was about how many wins it would take to win a division in which three of its four teams could easily be put in the top five in the conference. Much has changed since those conversations were had, ones that were still taking place a couple weeks ago.
The joke following this past Sunday’s games was that the NFC North has gotten so bad, that all four teams went winless. And two of them were playing each other.
Certainly it is amazing to see where this division has gone given what we knew a few weeks ago. For two of the teams, injuries to their starting quarterback has derailed gameplans. The Chicago Bears played partially into that when they took on the Packers in a primetime game a few weeks back, knocking Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers out with a collarbone injury.
Since Rodgers absence from the team early on in the Bears games, the Packers have struggled to get anything flowing on offense, in large part due to their inability to get league average play at the quarterback position. In fact, the best they have looked during that period of time was a small stretch by recently signed Matt Flynn, who hasn’t been able to stay on a team anywhere else.
Flynn may be the definition of a system quarterback, but the Packers could use anything on offense right now to keep them afloat in the NFC North. As of now, the only thing that has kept them in the race is the inability for either of the other teams to grasp opportunity when it has been there for the taking.
The toughest part for the Packers and their fans this season is that for the first time, maybe in Rodgers’ entire career, they have a legit running threat that teams have to gameplan for. That opens up the field for Rodgers even more, and when you factor in what he’s been able to do with the revolving door of running backs he has had, the Packers offense could have been something special this season.
It is true that Lacy was around for a few games while Rodgers was healthy, but it took a few weeks for Lacy to get acclimated with the NFL and his team’s offense. Now, even when Rodgers does return, it will be Rodgers trying to readjust while battling the concerns of a previously broken collarbone.
The Detroit Lions seemed like the team poised to stand atop the division following injuries to Rodgers and Cutler. Coach Jim Schwartz had seemed to turn much of his team’s undisciplined play around, and I even went as far to say on the Bears Cast that I was actually impressed with the coaching of Schwartz, who had become the guy who I couldn’t quite understand how he still had a job following last season.
But as the saying goes, give it time, because the true colors of a team come out over the course of an entire season. The Lions have reverted back to their old form, and their discipline, or lack their of, has actually cost them games almost exclusively.
Without having to deal with major injuries to their star players on offense, the inability of the Lions to begin to pull away from the injury bitten Packers and Bears is almost mind-baffling. Keep in mind, this is a team with Matthew Stafford throwing to the best receiver this league has seen since Jerry Rice. Yet, even with Calvin Johnson having an amazing season, and a nice balance at running back with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, the Lions seem to find ways to cost themselves games. It’s hard to make a case for Schwartz to hold his job if this team misses the playoffs.
Then there are the Bears. Coming into the season as a giant question mark given a new, offensive minded head coach, no one was really sure if the Bears would be able to compete in a division with two high powered offenses and some losses on the defensive side of the ball.
Trestman has been everything had been advertised as an offensive mind. Cutler was well on his way to his best season ever before his injury, and with some weapons surrounding him, the Bears had been able to overcome some of the worst defense seen on the lakefront in over a decade.
With Cutler out, the Bears offensive production has taken a slight hit, and with an underwhelming defense that can’t stop the run no matter what they have done, the offense couldn’t afford to take that hit.
Reports vary on if and when Cutler will return, but it may not matter now that teams have figured out the exact points of weakness in the Bears defense.
There was a time when fans amongst any of the top three NFC North teams would look at the NFC East and laugh at what might win that division. Now, in large part due to injuries, the leaders of both the North and East stand with the same record at 6-5. What could have been the most exciting three way divisional battle in a long time, has now just become a sad state of mediocre football in a division that seemingly no one wants to take advantage of. The real losers are the viewers who have lost the chance to witness what could have been a great battle to the finish. In a sports sense, it’s a shame.