How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch


1. Qualifications for linebacker in Detroit: The Lions signed free agent Bobby Carpenter during their bye last week. This week, it's possible he'll be in their starting lineup because of Zack Follett's neck injury. Much is left to be decided this week during practice, and Carpenter has more pedigree than the average player you sign off the street in midseason. But the bottom line is he flamed out as a 2006 first-round draft choice for the Dallas Cowboys and made it through only five games this season with the Miami Dolphins before being released. When a player walks in your door one week and has a chance to start the next, you know your depth at the position is far from adequate.

2. Tolerance for interceptions in Minnesota: Last summer, the Vikings signed the quarterback who has thrown more interceptions than any other in NFL history. They were the beneficiaries of a one-year aberration in 2009; Brett Favre threw seven in what was the best season of his career. But what they've gotten this year -- 10 in six games -- is closer to Favre's career-long habit. The big problem for 2010 is not the interceptions, but the fact that Favre has made less big plays to even out the mistakes. Still, no one in the Vikings organization, from coach Brad Childress on down, should be complaining at this point. If you're not going to tolerate the occasional (or even somewhat frequent) head-scratching throw, then Favre wasn't the right quarterback to bring in.

3. Numbers on the Detroit Lions' injury list: The Lions emerge from their bye with the likelihood that two key players who have missed most of the season will return. Quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and linebacker DeAndre Levy (ankle) are on pace to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to see Stafford play the Lions' final 10 games and observe the progress for ourselves that the team has suggested he made in the offseason. Levy will help settle down a position that has been in disarray, but it's critical for the future of the franchise to get a better handle on where Stafford is and how far he might be able to take it.


1. Tramon Williams, Green Bay Packers cornerback: How confident are the Packers in Williams' ability to hold down this position? We got two big clues last week. First, the Packers didn't seem compelled to rush back former starter Al Harris from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list for Sunday's game against the Vikings. Second, it was Williams -- and not All-Pro Charles Woodson -- who was matched up most frequently against Vikings receiver Randy Moss. Williams helped hold Moss to three catches for 30 yards, and overall has been the best cover corner on the Packers' roster this season. That's right. From a coverage standpoint, at least, Williams has surpassed Woodson.

2. Chad Greenway, Minnesota Vikings linebacker: Greenway has always run up high tackle totals, but I think close observers would note he has taken his game to a higher level in 2010. In the past, I've noted that Greenway's tackle totals didn't often include many of the game-changing plays that big-time linebackers make. But this season, Greenway has made more plays behind and close to the line of scrimmage than I've ever seen from him. He already has seven tackles for a loss, one behind his career high for an entire season. Three of them came Sunday night against the Packers, and on a fourth play he stopped Brandon Jackson for a 1-yard gain and forced a fumble. Greenway leads the Vikings with 65 tackles through six games and might be on track for Pro Bowl recognition.

3. Interception totals in Chicago: Quarterback Jay Cutler held himself to three over the Bears' first six games, causing some of us to wonder whether he had put behind his irrational gun-slinging habits. Oops. Four second-half interceptions Sunday against the Washington Redskins, all to cornerback DeAngelo Hall, reaffirmed that Cutler's self-destruction gene is still active and operating. The quarterback isn't always fully responsible for every interception, and FOX analyst Troy Aikman blamed Bears receivers for two of them during the live broadcast. But this was Cutler's third four-interception start in his first 22 games with the Bears. Sacks are one thing. As with Favre, we're willing to tolerate some interceptions if they're balanced with a requisite number of big plays. But Cutler now has 33 interceptions during his short Bears career. It will be impossible to consider him a long-term franchise quarterback at that pace.