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Around the NFC North: Week 8

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A win by the Vikings coupled with the first loss for the Packers mean just one game separates the two for the division lead. Here's what happened in week 8 in the NFC North.

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Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Packers fall to Broncos, 29-10

In a battle between one of the top defenses in the league and one of the top quarterbacks in the league, the Broncos’ defense got the better of Aaron Rodgers to give the Packers their first loss of the season.

Rodgers had by far one of the least impressive outputs of his career, finishing with just 77 yards with Randall Cobb finishing as the top receiver with a mere 27 yards. The Packers did average just over four yards a carry on the ground, but this team will live and die by the success Rodgers has in the passing game. The Packers completed just three passes of over ten yards, and Denver’s pass rush forced Rodgers to get rid of the ball quickly much of the game.

Defensively, things didn’t go much better for Green Bay. Peyton Manning looked more like the top quarterback he used to be rather than the broken veteran he was for his first six games of the year, finishing 21 of 29 for 340 yards. The Broncos were productive on the ground as well, running for just below five yards a carry, with 101 yards coming from the guy you finally benched on your fantasy team, CJ Anderson.

Takeaway

You could say the Packers’ lack of receiver depth was exposed Sunday night, as they struggled to get open the entire game. On the other hand, the Broncos’ defense has been shutting down teams all season long, as they lead the league in DVOA against the pass, and it’s not close. In the end, it is probably some of both, but the Packers do seem like they could be more vulnerable than previously thought against the league’s top defenses. Thankfully for them, no remaining team on the Packers’ schedule can match the Broncos’ talent in terms of pass rushers and cornerbacks, so they should be able to rebound and return to their winning ways.

Up next: On the other hand, next week might not be the best week for a rebound game. The Packers hit the road for a game between the two best records in the NFC as they play the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers were second best against the league by DVOA in stopping the pass through Week 7, giving Rodgers and company a chance to show they can succeed against an elite defense.

Vikings sneak past Bears, 23-20

The Vikings were far from perfect in Chicago on Sunday, but some key mistakes late by the Bears allowed the Vikings to put up ten unanswered points in the last few minutes and get the win.

The Vikings continue to have some struggles on the offensive side, but Stefon Diggs added on to his strong rookie season with six catches for 95 yards, including a 40 yard catch and run for a touchdown that tied the game late. Teddy Bridgewater got more help from his receivers on the game winning drive, when Charles Johnson adjusted nicely to reel in a 35 yard catch that looked like it was about to be intercepted. Adrian Peterson had a more consistent day running the ball, rushing for 103 yards on 20 carries, with more steady doses of yards rather than it all coming one on huge play.

The Vikings continued the success they had rushing the passer against the Lions in Chicago this week, pressuring Jay Cutler on 56% of his dropbacks. Cutler did about as well as you could probably hope for under duress, and a big game from Alshon Jeffrey helped the Bears stay with the Vikings and ahead of them most of the game. The big news for the Bears was that Matt Forte went down with a knee injury and did not return, allowing former Spartan Jeremey Langford to see substantial playing time.

Takeaway

The Vikings didn’t look like a playoff team for much of Sunday, but the win still puts them at 5-2 and keeps them in line for a playoff spot. The Vikings have six games in a row starting this week against teams that are .500 or better, including multiple against potential NFC wild card competition. With two wins against the Lions to go with the victories against the Bears, Chargers, and Chiefs (8-23 combined record), the Vikings will have the opportunity to show if they truly belong among the league's contenders in the coming weeks.

For the Bears, this is just another painful loss in a painful season. Sure, they maybe didn’t have the playoff expectations that Lions’ fans had going into the season, but that doesn’t make it any more fun.

Up next (Bears): The Bears travel to San Diego in a battle of two-win teams next Monday night, in what has to be one of the worst primetime games this season.

Up next (Vikings): The Vikings host the St. Louis Rams next week, in an intriguing game between two teams jockeying for wild card position. Todd Gurley could be in line for another big game, as the Vikings were just 27th in DVOA against the run through the first seven weeks.