How bad is the NFC North? Well, the Vikings in first place despite loss

How bad is the NFC North? Well, the Vikings in first place despite loss

If the NFL season ended today, your Minnesota Vikings would be … crowned champions of the NFC North!

Skol! Right? No?

Yes, it is that bad in the league's only fully defeated division.

The Vikings, Packers, Bears and Lions opened the 2021 season by allowing 140 points and losing by a combined 66 on Sunday. Because the Vikings were the only team to not lose to an NFC opponent, they get the conference-record tiebreaker and therefore sit atop the worst division in football.

"We shot ourselves in the foot," was Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's cliché of choice after his squad posted 12 accepted penalties for 116 yards in a 27-24 overtime loss at Cincinnati.

"It's one game, and that's the beauty of the National Football League," Green Bay's Matt LaFleur said the day after a shockingly ugly 38-3 loss to New Orleans in front of a pro-Packers crowd in Jacksonville.

"Overall, I'd say the biggest theme for us would be, 'no panic,'" Chicago's Matt Nagy said the day after his defense proved the Rams right about Matthew Stafford in a 34-14 prime-time beatdown in So-Fi Stadium's first game with fans.

"It's the little things that go into playing this game that we have to clean up, and the positive is if we do, now let's see where we stand," Detroit's Dan Campbell said the day after a 41-33 home loss to the 49ers.

The Lions are supposed to be awful. That's what they do and do and do over again.

But the Packers? Losing by 35 points and giving up five touchdown passes to Jameis Winston? Reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers throwing two picks — after throwing only five all of last season — and not converting a third down before taking a seat in the fourth quarter?

That sure makes one wonder whether all that offseason drama with Rodgers has now leaked into the regular season. What say you, Mr. LaFleur?

"No," he said. "I think this team is focused on now. Unfortunately, sometimes in this league you get humbled. We got humbled. Now, it's about how we respond."

It certainly helps that the next game is against the Lions at home on Monday Night Football. At least the North is guaranteed to post a Week 2 win. Unless, of course, the Packers and Lions tie.

The Vikings couldn't protect Kirk Cousins in Cincinnati, and now head to Arizona to face Chandler Jones, who had five sacks in the Cardinals' 38-13 thrashing of the Titans in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, the Bears and former Bengal Andy Dalton play host to Cincinnati in a game the Bears should win. Of course, the Vikings know all-too-well how those kinds of games can go sideways with 10 first-half penalties and a turnover in overtime.

The Bears are hoping first-time defensive coordinator Sean Desai has a better plan for Joe Burrow's deep ball this week than he did for Stafford's deep ball last week. Stafford threw touchdown passes of 67 and 56 yards while posting a perfect 158.3 passer rating — 7 of 9 for 212 yards, three touchdowns — on balls thrown 10 yards or farther.

"We just have to understand that, 'Hey, that was Sean's first game calling [plays] and this was our first game of 2021, and we understand that that's not good enough,'" Nagy said. "We know we want to be better."

In Green Bay, it was odd to hear a young offensive coaching mind channeling his inner Zimmer while talking about the importance of running the football to keep future teams from using the Saints' so-called blueprint for dominating Rodgers.

"If teams want to play us in two-[deep] safety defenses, man us up on the perimeter and play versions of two-man, you better be able to run the football," said LaFleur, whose team ran for 43 yards on 15 carries. "And if you don't, it's going to be a long day."

Fortunately for the Packers, Vikings, Bears and Lions, there were nothing but long, disappointing days for the NFC North in Week 1.

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