The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Sports

November 6, 2013

NFC North tied at top

(Continued)

Then there are the Vikings, who have turned 2013 into essentially an open quarterback tryout. Christian Ponder has the job back for now, after Josh Freeman wasn’t ready for it, but Ponder has played more like the rookie he was two years ago. Adrian Peterson’s storybook MVP season has given way to a 1-7 mess.

“It’s a terrible feeling. But we’ve got eight more. That’s something to look forward to,” Peterson said.

So, the Packers are hoping for quick healing, the Bears and Lions are salivating at the opportunity to pull ahead of the two-time defending division champion, and Vikings fans are poring over top-of-the-draft quarterback prospects for 2014.

What a year!

Here are five things to know about the NFC North at the halfway point:

ON THE LINE: Stafford’s connection with Johnson is the best asset the Lions have, and the addition of Reggie Bush has provided more balance, but this is a more productive offense because of the blockers up front. New starters Riley Reiff of Iowa and Larry Warford have helped strengthen a line that’s allowed a league-low 10 sacks.

IMPROVEMENT NEEDED: Rookie Eddie Lacy has established himself as a powerful alternative to the pass for the Packers, but their primary responsibility with Rodgers out is to play more consistent defense. The return of star linebacker Clay Matthews will help the pass rush, but this group has forced a total of two turnovers over the past five games.

RUSH RESTORATION: The Bears have 14 sacks, more than only four other teams in the league, and five came Monday in victory over the Packers. Shea McClellin had three, including the fateful takedown of Rodgers in the first quarter. Contributions from recently signed defensive tackle Jay Ratliff are welcome on this injury-affected front four.

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