[size=13pt]Around the NFC North[/size]

September 29, 2006

Author: Mike Wobschall, vikings.com

Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills (Ralph Wilson Stadium, 1:00 PM ET)

Both the Vikings (2-1) and the Buffalo Bills (1-2) look to rebound off disappointing losses last week. Against division rival Chicago last Sunday at the Metrodome, the Vikings held a four-point lead at the two-minute warning only to see Bears quarterback Rex Grossman throw a touchdown pass to Rashied Davis for a game-winning score.

Last Sunday's offensive explosion for the Bills wasn't enough to claim victory over the New York Jets. Quarterback J.P. Losman threw for 328 yards and Willis McGahee rushed for 150 yards, but it didn't result in a victory as the Jets took advantage of three Buffalo turnovers to claim a 28-20 win on the road.

Facing three of the best defenses in the league so far this season, the Vikings offense has managed just two touchdowns, with no touchdowns over the last nine quarters. Running back Chester Taylor has been the team's workhorse, toting the ball 75 times over three games for 275 yards and one touchdown. Taylor leads the league in rushing attempts, two ahead of Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson. Quarterback Brad Johnson has limited his mistakes, but costly penalties and negative plays on first down have prevented the Vikings offense from generating many points.

McGahee's 311 yards rushing leads the league, but he has yet to find the endzone. The receiving game woke up last week against the Jets, as Lee Evans (107yds) and Roscoe Parrish (104yds) both had phenomenal games in the wake of Losman's career-best performance.

The Vikings defense has kept the team in each of the three contests so far in 2006. Key plays such as Antoine Winfield's interception return for a touchdown have allowed the Vikings to stay in close games against three playoff teams from last season. Both Winfield and Pat Williams will be returning to their NFL birth places this week when the team plane arrives in Buffalo.

Buffalo's defense has been middle-of-the-road this season and was effective in shutting down Miami's potentially explosive offensive attack in Week 2. With middle linebacker Takeo Spikes out because of injury, the Bills will need to look elsewhere for leadership on the defensive side of the ball.

Offense: Edge - Buffalo
Both teams feature workhorse running backs, but Buffalo's performance last week shows how explosive Losman and McGahee can be together.

Defense: Edge - Minnesota
The Vikings defense has played well in all three games this season and has good talent level at each position.

Special teams: Edge - Minnesota
Buffalo averages slightly better on returns but Ryan Longwell's performance this season has been a key part in both the Vikings early-season wins.

Overall: Edge - Minnesota
Buffalo is favored, but look for the Vikings to be razor sharp after last week's close loss to Chicago. Is Buffalo in for a letdown after last week's explosive performance on offense?

Detroit Lions at St. Louis Rams (Edward Jones Dome, 4:05 PM ET)

Lions Head Coach Rod Marinelli looks for his first win and offensive coordinator Mike Martz returns to St. Louis as Detroit's offensive coordinator this Sunday. The Lions (0-3) play outside the division for the first time this season and the Rams (2-1) return home for the first time since opening day.

Detroit has been unable to pair a solid performance from the offensive and defensive units. In Week 1, the Lions defense held reigning league MVP Shaun Alexander and the Seahawks to just 264 total yards and nine points. The offense, however, tallied only two field goals and Seattle escaped with a three-point victory. Chicago's defense stifled the Lions in a Week 2 34-7 blowout and Green Bay's offense outscored the Lions 31-24 in Week 3. Quarterback Jon Kitna finally got into a groove for Detroit last week, completing 25 of 40 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions surrendered an early fourth-quarter touchdown, however, and lost the game by seven points.

Marinelli comes to Detroit after spending ten years coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line. Last week, the Lions were held without a sack and the week prior Detroit gave up 34 points to the Bears. Sunday will be an opportunity for the Lions defense to get on track against a Rams offense that has underachieved so far in 2006. Running back Steven Jackson has yet to see the endzone and quarterback Marc Bulger has just two touchdown passes through the first three games.

Detroit must seize control of the game early if they are to upend the Rams at home. If Detroit's talented corps of linebackers can neutralize the Rams offensive attack and Kitna can find the groove he was in last week, the Lions may be able to build a lead large enough to earn their first victory of the season. Rams Head Coach Scott Linehan is a keen offensive innovator and he is sure to have his team ready to finally breakout and score points. With Martz on the opposing sideline, this game could turn into a shootout quickly if the defenses aren't on top of their games.

Offense: Edge - St. Louis
Too many playmakers on this offense to not give them the edge here.

Defense: Edge - Detroit
The Rams defense is actually rated higher, but the Lions give up just 80 rushing yards per game. Making the Rams one-dimensional is one way to beat them.

Special teams: Edge - St. Louis
J.R. Reed is averaging close to 25 yards per kickoff return.

Overall: Edge - St. Louis
Playing at home against a below average defense should be enough for the Rams to get it done.

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears (Soldier Field, 8:15 PM ET)

Two NFC powers meet on Sunday night in Chicago as the Seahawks (3-0) challenge the Bears (3-0) without reigning MVP Shaun Alexander. Alexander suffered a fracture to his foot during last week's win over the Giants and it looks like he will not play this week. The Bears are coming off a tight three-point victory on the road against the Vikings and are benefiting from outstanding performances by their defense and a resurgent offense that has received a spark with quarterback Rex Grossman's play.

The Bears defense is dominating once again this season, giving up just 7.7 points and 82 rushing yards per game. The Bears offense has been the story in Chicago this season, however, as Grossman is showing signs that he can lead a productive offense. Grossman has not thrown for fewer than 262 yards in any game this year and he currently has a 100.9 quarterback rating.

With Alexander likely missing the game for Seattle, the Bears defense will be able to focus a little more on stopping quarterback Matt Hasselback and the Seahawks passing attack. Darrel Jackson, Deion Branch, Nate Burleson and Bobby Engram form quite the corps of receivers, so the Bears pass defense may be tested some on Sunday night. If Seattle chooses to stick with a four-wide offensive formation, linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs may have less of an impact on the outcome of the game.

With the defending NFC champions coming to town, you can bet that Soldier Field will be a tough environment in which to play. Alexander being out puts the pressure on the Seahawks passing game to carry the load. Chicago will be looking for momentum from a boisterous home crowd and will be ready to pounce on any mistake Hasselback might make early in the game.

Offense: Edge - Chicago
With the league MVP out and Grossman on a roll, Seattle loses the edge on offense.

Defense: Edge - Seattle
Alexander is out, but did you see how the Seahawks performed after he left? They barely missed a beat.

Special teams: Edge - Seattle
Willie Ponder is averaging over 25 yards per return for Seattle, so we'll give the edge to them.

Overall: Edge - Chicago
This game might mean a little more to the Bears since Alexander is out and the game is at Soldier Field.

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles (Lincoln Financial Field, Monday Night Football, 8:30 PM ET)

Arguably the league's two hottest quarterbacks meet on Monday Night Football in Philadelphia this week. Brett Favre and the Packers (1-2) earned their first victory last week while the Eagles (2-1) and Donovan McNabb look to notch their first home victory of the 2006 season.

In last week's win, Favre threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns while completing 69% of his passes and throwing no interceptions. Green Bay defeated Detroit 31-24 behind two second-half Favre touchdown tosses. Running back Ahman Green is coming off an injury-riddled season and is averaging close to four yards per carry while rookie receiver Greg Jennings has jolted the Packers passing game with ten receptions and two touchdowns.

McNabb is having another solid season after a sub-par performance in 2005. Through three games this season, the former Syracuse quarterback has thrown for 960 yards and seven touchdowns. Receiver Dante Stallworth, acquired from the New Orleans Saints just before the start of the season, has given McNabb a legitimate playmaker and deep threat.

A porous Packers defense has prevented the team from winning early-season games. Green Bay is allowing 28 points per game, second-worst in the league, and if not for Favre's great start, Green Bay would be looking at a 0-3 record heading into their matchup with the Eagles. Eagles running back Brian Westbrook could be the X-factor in this game. If he plays well and gets a lot of touches, the Packers won't have an answer on defense.

This game could also turn into a shootout if the Eagles aren't executing on defense. All-Pro defensive end Jevon Kearse is already out and the Philadelphia secondary is one banged-up unit. The Eagles have five members of their secondary on the injury report and if some of them aren't able to go, Favre and the Packers receivers could have a field day.

Offense: Edge - Push
Both quarterbacks are hot and the Eagles are hurting on defense, with five members of the secondary on the injury report. Favre is licking his chops.

Defense: Edge - Philadelphia
This shows you how bad the Packers defense is performing. Even with all those injuries in Philadelphia, they still get the edge on defense.

Special teams: Edge - Philadelphia
Close one here, but David Akers gives Philly the edge.

Overall: Edge - Philadelphia
McNabb looks like a quarterback on a mission this year.