NFC North weekend mailbag

Whoa. What a week. The Green Bay Packers had three starters knocked out of action this week and watched as the running back their fans coveted was traded elsewhere. A nine-sack beating put Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on the sideline for the first time in his career. The Minnesota Vikings acquired a Hall of Fame receiver to go with their Hall of Fame quarterback, who had the NFL reviewing accusations that he sent racy messages and photographs to a former sideline reporter of the New York Jets. The Detroit Lions dealt with the disappointment of three close losses and an 0-4 start.

It was enough to make you pine for the weekend, when we could thrust aside off-field news and actually see some football.

Everyone's watching, to see what you will do

Everyone's looking at you, oh

Everyone's wondering, will you come out tonight

Everyone's trying to get it right, get it right

Everybody's working for the weekend

Everybody wants a little romance

Everybody's goin' off the deep end

Everybody needs a second chance, oh

You want a piece of my heart

You better start from start

You wanna be in the show

Come on baby, lets go!

As a reminder, I read everything you send to the mailbag, Facebook and Twitter. Responses are a little less frequent, but to echo Vikings receiver Randy Moss, I've had my share of slip-ups in the past. But what if I had been on that boat? What then!

Moving on ...

Yee of San Francisco notes the regional debate sparked this week by Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who argued that the Denver Broncos got the best of the Kyle Orton-Jay Cutler trade. Yee writes: Cutler and Orton will forever be tied together and compared against each other. I think it's misleading to say that Orton is having the better season. Of all the articles and comments that I've read, one key data point is constantly left out -- strength of defensive opponents they have faced. If you look at the defensive rankings for the first 4 weeks, here's the breakdown:



In short, Cutler has faced a top-10 defense in three of the first four games whereas Orton has only faced one. The game against the Baltimore Ravens will be truly telling of how "great" Orton really is.

Kevin Seifert: Oftentimes, readers do the work for us. Thanks, Yee. The only potential hole I'd poke in your argument is that after four games, rankings can still be skewed by one particularly strong or weak outing. Does a team have a bad defense? Or is its yardage total skewed by one poor outing?

With all of that said, King's analysis was based on the start of last season -- a 20-game span where Orton has matched Cutler's win total and has a significantly better rating. And that's to say nothing of the three draft choices the Bears gave up in the deal.

This is a multi-pronged argument that might never be decided. Among other things, you have to ask if you think Orton would have had a better record than Cutler's 10-10 if he had remained with the Bears. Or perhaps you would look at it this way: Would Orton, plus two first-round picks, have made the Bears better than they've been under Cutler to this point?

You also have to consider the future. What did the Broncos do after their first year with Orton? Aggressively move up in the 2010 draft to select Tim Tebow. It's only a matter of time before Tebow displaces him. That's how it works with highly drafted quarterbacks in this league. If Orton moves on while Cutler remains behind center for the Bears, that's a pretty important point in any trade analysis.

Robert of Los Angeles writes: As a Packer fan I am a little concerned about the injuries to both Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar. However, the injury to Mark Tauscher is not that bad because it allows Bryan Bulaga to fill in. Do you think that the Packers have enough depth at the injured players position to still make a playoff run? The media has been blowing up that this has been a bad week for Packer fans and that it's pretty dim right now.

Kevin Seifert: It's been without question a difficult psychological week for the Packers. Their locker room was so morose after squeaking by the Lions last Sunday that coach Mike McCarthy had to remind players -- twice -- that they won the game. Then the bad news really started flowing on injuries to Tauscher, Barnett and safety Morgan Burnett.

The impact of each injury is independent to the rest. In Burnett's case, the Packers are going to be in a tough spot for a couple weeks. You would assume that former starter Atari Bigby could step in after he is activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but that can't happen for another two weeks at the earliest. Until then, the Packers will have to patch it together with three players they didn't plan to use on defense this season: Derrick Martin, Charlie Peprah and Jarrett Bush.

I don't disagree with your take on Tauscher. As we've discussed all spring, the Packers entered this season with a much better plan for depth along the offensive line this year. With two aging tackles, they needed some younger replacements. To me, Bulaga and T.J. Lang are decent alternatives.

The Barnett injury might be the most crippling of all. There is still no confirmation that he will miss the rest of the season, but he is definitely not playing Sunday at the Washington Redskins. He is an emotional leader of the defense and, with Chillar also injured, the Packers are limited in their possibilities to replace him. For now, it looks like it will be Desmond Bishop. Nothing against Bishop, but Barnett has been a critical member of this defense for a long time.

Jackson of Henderson, Nevada, writes: According to the Star Tribune, the Vikings not only gets Randy Moss, but also the Patriots' seventh-round pick in 2012. So if the Vikings do not re-sign Moss, they'd probably get a third-round pick from the NFL as compensation AND the Pats seventh rounder in 2012. Not bad.

Kevin Seifert: That's a very interesting point and one we did not get to last week. It's very difficult to predict compensatory draft picks, which the NFL awards to teams based on a secret formula of free agency gains and losses. It'll depend on many factors, including Moss' full 2010 production and whether the Vikings sign any free agents themselves, but it's certainly possible that a third-rounder could be the net result.

Even if it's a fourth-rounder, the Vikings would have in essence moved down one round to rent Moss for 13 games. I think they would find that a pretty reasonable cost.

Steven of Brick, N.J., writes: Is it just me or did the Lions steal Alphonso Smith from Denver? They gave up Dan Gronkowski, who looked pretty good in the preseason but he wouldn't of made the 53. Smith is starting to look like a 37th overall pick. He's becoming a stud.

Kevin Seifert: It's awfully early to make any judgments, but I thought Smith's interception last Sunday at Lambeau Field was big time. Normally, I would take my chances with Packers receiver Greg Jennings running down the field against anyone. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers made a pretty nice throw, but Smith timed his jump perfectly and simply stole the ball from Jennings. It was about as well as you can play an elite receiver, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Smith start Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

Gronkowski was a decent prospect who wouldn't have played much this season behind the Lions' two-headed tight end monster of Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. The teams also exchanged 2011 draft picks. But generally speaking, I'll always take a player with potential at cornerback over a player with potential at tight end.