NFC North weekend mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Through rain or shine, with snow or clear skies, you can always reach us through the mailbag. Or Facebook. Or Twitter. We’re multi-dimensional, ambidextrous and amphibious here at NFC North headquarters.

Enough with the pleasantries. Let’s get to the weekend mailbag.

Don of Sioux Falls, SD, writes: How can NFL officials make that roughing the passer call (Roethlisberger) on the Lions and completely ignore the horse collar tackle that injured Matthew Stafford in the Bears game??? Are they really trying to protect the QB? Or create a controversy for you all to talk about for the next week? Anymore it seems to me that the NFL wants as many controversial subjects as they can muster. The NFL is more and more becoming the WWE.

Kevin Seifert: If they’re looking for controversy, they’ve got a good target in me. You know how I love this stuff. But as for the Stafford play, there simply was no roughing the passer on the play. What did happen, however, was a violation of the horse collar rule. Officials flatly missed the call during the game, but the NFL corrected the mistake (partially) by finding Chicago defensive end Adewale Ogunleye $7,500.

When you watch the replay, you see Ogunleye first grab Stafford’s jersey with his left hand. That was a legal play. But he eventually snags his right hand on the neckline of Stafford’s jersey and spins Stafford to the ground.

There is a perception that a player must reach into the shoulder pads in order to be called for a horse collar tackle. I actually thought that was the case myself. But here’s the actual wording of the definition: “Grabbing the inside collar of the back of the shoulder pads or jersey, or the inside collar of the side of the shoulder pads or jersey, and immediately pulling down the runner.”

Other than creating controversy for reporters to debate, it’s hard to know why the officiating crew didn’t make the call. I suppose it’s possible that Stafford’s awkward spin shielded their view of Ogunleye’s right hand, but the league did its best to make amends by issuing the fine.

Brock of Minneapolis writes: Cincinnati just beat the Ravens. Time to revisit the meaning of the Packers’ loss to the Bengals at home?

Kevin Seifert: Without question, there are instances when the pain diminishes of an early-season “bad loss.” If the Bengals go on to win the AFC North, Packers fans might feel a little better about losing to them in Week 2 at home.

They shouldn’t.

There is no BCS formula in the NFL that places different values on each opponent. They all count the same here. And in the end, the Packers still lost a home game in large part because of 11 penalties and an offensive approach that never figured out how to stop Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom.

I understand what you’re saying, Brock, but the strength or weakness of the Bengals is mostly irrelevant to the endgame. About the only way it will matter is if the Packers become enmeshed in a playoff tiebreaker that extends past five other levels and on to a sixth: Strength of schedule.

An anonymous questioner over on Facebook wants to know the history of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler in domes.

Kevin Seifert: That’s an appropriate question as the Bears head to the Georgia Dome this weekend. When you look at the three games Cutler has started in non-retractable domes -- in other words, the loud kind -- you see he is 1-2 with a 92.4 passer rating.

In 2007 games at Indianapolis and Detroit, and in 2008 at Atlanta, Cutler completed a combined 35 of 52 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. (He threw only four passes against the Lions before being knocked out of the game in a 44-7 loss.)

As we pointed out during the week, the victory came against the Falcons. Sunday night will be the first of three indoor games for Cutler this season.

Reuts of Midland, Mich., writes: My question for you is about the MVP race. I am thrilled that Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson are on the list but I have a big problem with who is not. It is painfully obvious that Jared Allen is the best defensive player in football and he has been making plays all over the place this year. I know it is an offensively dominated league. However, don’t you think if he continues on this rampage he has been on that by the end of the year he could be a SERIOUS contender?

Kevin Seifert: I assume you’re referring to the new feature on Mike Sando’s NFC West blog. You should also read his explanation here for why it’s so populated by quarterbacks. Generally speaking, quarterbacks are more valuable to a team and MVP voters tend to abide by that rule.

Let’s take the example of Allen, who has 6.5 sacks through five games. That projects to 20 sacks over a 16-game season. Doesn’t get much better than that for a defensive end, huh? Well, consider the 2001 season. New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan set an NFL record with 22.5 sacks and wasn’t the MVP. He wasn’t even in the top-5 of voters.

I believe that an elite edge rusher is the second-most important position on an NFL team, after the quarterback. But fair or not, in this age of MVP voting, it’s going to take one hellacious season by a defensive end to win the MVP award.

Kevin of Burlingame, Calif., writes: I just want to comment on all the talk about the Lions looking better this year than last. I think everyone is forgetting that the Lions lost 5 of 16 by only one possession, and that the Lions were within one possession in the 4th quarter in another three games. That's "competing" in half of the season's games. The Lions this year have won a game, lost by a single possession, and were within a possession (barely) in another, while being blown out in two games. That's "competing" in 60% of games with a small sample size. A blowout next week puts them in the same boat as last season. So, let's temper the enthusiasm just a hair, because the data suggest these Lions are remarkably similar to last year's Lions.

Kevin Seifert: Wow. And I thought I was cynical.

You sound like you’ve been following the Lions longer than I have, but my perception is that people naturally look for the good and the positive and the potential of a new regime.

One thing I can tell you is that from a talent perspective, the Lions are only marginally better than last season. They have different players at many positions, but not many of them are better. This is a feeling held widely around the NFL. Their draft class has the potential for significant impact, but as of now, that qualifies as hope. The only thing we can base on fact is that the Lions are one game better than they were last year at this point in the season.