NFC North The NFL’s Toughest Division?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 7, 2012 – 2:20 pm

Is the NFC North the NFL’s toughest division? The numbers suggest the answer is yes.

There are many different ways to measure the strength of a division. For the purposes of this discussion, though, let’s take a look at a pair of metrics that seem to be appropriate ways to measure the success achieved by individuals teams and, collectively, individual divisions: Win-Loss Record and Point Differential.

– Teams in the NFC North have combined to win 22 games through nine weeks of action so far this season. No other division has come close, with the NFC West next in line at 18 total wins. No division in the AFC has more than 16 wins and the AFC West has just 13 wins on the year. Furthermore, the NFC North has 0 teams with a record below .500. Every other division has at least 2 teams under .500, and the NFC East has 3 teams under the .500 mark.

– The NFC North’s superiority over other divisions through nine weeks is further – and perhaps better – illustrated when looking at point differential. The cumulative point differential for the 4 NFC North teams is +179, a number that looks impressive but has little meaning without comparison. In comparing it to the 7 other divisions, though, that +179 is a dominant number. No other division is within 100 points of the NFC North, with the NFC South the next best division coming in at +76 and the AFC South the worst in the NFL at a dreadful -160; the Vikings Week 16 opponent – the Houston Texans – is +100, for the record.

Detroit Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz was asked about the NFC North being perhaps the NFL’s best division to this point in the season while meeting with Twin Cities reporters via conference call on Wedensday. While Schwartz did acknowledge the NFC North as being a tough division, he also (wisely) pointed out that it’s best to wait until the entire season concludes before making any steadfast judgments on the division or any other division across the NFL.

“It’s obviously a tough division,” Schwartz said. “There’s no team under .500 in the whole division. We know that every year it’s going to be a fight. There are really, really talented players in this division. Good quarterbacks. That sixteen-game season, it’s a long haul and you have to be consistent over the course of sixteen games.

“Let’s wait until sixteen games are over. We have a lot of respect for the teams in our division. Let’s wait until sixteen games are over before we start making assessments of the division. The NFC North certainly has the makings of a very strong division.”

We’re just over half-way through the season, so we’ll temper the bravado a little bit here. But the numbers don’t lie – the NFC North is the toughest division in the NFL right now.

Total Wins By Division
NFC North: 22
NFC West: 18
NFC South: 17
AFC North: 16
AFC South: 16
AFC East: 5
NFC East: 15
AFC West: 13

Point Differential By Division
NFC North: +179
NFC South: +76
NFC West: +24
AFC East: +13
AFC North: -21
NFC East: -34
AFC West: -77
AFC South: -160

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7 Vikings-Lions Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 7, 2012 – 7:32 am

The Vikings began this season with wins in four out of their first five games. Since then, however, they’ve lost three of their last four and two in a row. It’s time to get back on the winning track, and to do so the Vikings will have to upend division rival Detroit for the second time this season.

It’s only Wednesday, so we have plenty of time to breakdown the matchups and analyze the trends. Here are seven Vikings-Lions storylines we’ll be chasing this week.

1. Harvin’s Ankle, Megatron’s Knee
Two of the NFL’s best WRs reside within this Vikings-Lions matchup, and they are both dealing with injuries. Vikings WR Percy Harvin leads the NFL in receptions with 62, but he injured his ankle in last week’s loss to Seattle. Harvin wouldn’t rule himself out for Sunday’s game, but he also called himself a “long shot” to play. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is widely regarded as the best receiver in the NFL, and he looked every bit the part in last week’s win over Jacksonville. Johnson had 7 receptions for 129 yards on the day, making a profound impact on the game even though he didn’t get into the end zone. Johnson missed practice all of last week with a knee injury, and although he doesn’t seem to be in jeopardy of missing the game on Sunday, it’ll be interesting to see how the knee ailment impacts his practice time this week and then his performance on Sunday.

2. Can Ponder Shake His Slump?
A beautiful beginning to the season, highlighted by a solid outing against San Francisco in which he generated 3 TDs, has turned into a dreadful slump for Vikings 2nd-year QB Christian Ponder. The slumping Ponder has thrown for fewer than 100 yards twice in the last three games and he now has 8 INTs in nine games after going through the first four games of the season without throwing it to the opposing team. I believe Ponder will emerge from his slump in a big way, and it could happen on Sunday.

3. Vikings Looking For Pass Rush Re-Emergence
No team has more sacks than the Vikings (74) since the start of 2011, but the Vikings also have just 2 sacks over the past two games. In order to slow down this Lions passing attack, the Vikings must pressure Lions QB Matthew Stafford. In five career games against the Vikings, Stafford has been sacked 20 times, including three times in each of the last three games. Last year, Vikings DE Jared Allen registered 6.0 sacks by himself against the Lions. On the flip side, the Lions have improved their pass protection this season and have allowed just 15 sacks through eight games, 10th-best in the League.

4. More Special Teams Fireworks?
The Vikings defeated the Lions earlier this year by a score of 20-13 in a game that was dominated by special teams. The Vikings won the game, yet didn’t score an offensive TD. Both Vikings TDs were on returns, with Harvin registering a 105-yard kickoff return and Marcus Sherels darting through and around the Lions coverage group for a 77-yard punt return TD on his birthday. At that point, the Lions had surrendered both a kickoff return TD and a punt return TD in back-to-back games. Since then, though, the Lions have not allowed a return TD. Can the Vikings find a way to gouge the Lions coverage groups again?

5. Peterson Gunning For 4th Straight 100-Yard Game
Adrian Peterson has given the phrase “back and better than ever” a whole new meaning. Just over 10 months removed from a major knee injury, Peterson is leading the NFL in rushing with 957 yards and also leads the NFL in yards per carry (5.7) among players with 100+ carries. And Peterson isn’t slowing down. He rushed for a season-high 182 yards last week in Seattle, giving him his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game. Can he make it four straight?

6. Glancing At The Standings
While it’s still too early to attach the “must-win” tag to this game, there’s no disputing this game’s importance to both Detroit and Minnesota’s playoff hopes. The loser of this game will be looking up at the three other teams in the NFC North and will do so with a losing record in the NFC. Both teams are 3-3 in NFC play, an important metric for tie-breaking purposes when it comes to awarding playoff spots after the regular season. Regardless of who wins and loses this game, both the Vikings and Lions have enough division games remaining that they control their own destinies. Even still, the fact remains that Sunday’s game is a big one in terms of placement in the NFC North standings.

7. Salute To Service
The NFL will continue its long history of honoring veterans and active duty members of the military with its annual Salute to Service campaign. For every point scored during the NFL’s 32 designated Salute to Service games, the League will donate $100 to each of its three core military non-profit partners – Pat Tillman Foundation, USO and the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP).

The Vikings will participate in the Salute to Service campaign during Sunday’s game by incorporating several pre-game, in-game and halftime elements in its game production. Here are just a few examples…

The Honorary Viking will be Betty Strohfus, one of just over 1,000 American women who flew military aircraft during World War II; the Honorary Captain will be Sergeant Brian Neill, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who served in the Minnesota National Guard for a period of 23 years; a traditional riderless horse will cross through the end zone during a moment of silence and remain there through the National Anthem; during the National Anthem, the entire stadium will participate in a card stunt. The stunt will display a patriotic message and stars/stripes graphics. Fans should be in their seats 15 minutes prior to kickoff to ensure full-stadium participation;

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Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 125 Comments »