How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch


1. Rigidity in Minnesota: Joe Webb was originally drafted as a receiver and, even after being moved to quarterback, opened some eyes during the preseason as an open-field runner. But the Minnesota Vikings buried him as their No. 3 quarterback after trading Sage Rosenfels and apparently never considered using him as a playmaking specialist until last week against the Buffalo Bills. Webb returned the opening kickoff 30 yards and was expected to get some work on offense as well before he was sidelined by a hamstring injury. Still, credit goes to the Vikings for trying to utilize a bottom-of-the-roster asset.

2. Faith in the Chicago Bears: I'll admit I wasn't sold on the Bears early in the season, but when a team wins nine of its first 12 games, it's hard to find much to criticize. It's true the Bears have an unenviable final-quarter schedule that includes home dates against the New England Patriots and New York Jets, along with road games against the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. But so do the Packers, with whom they're competing for the NFC North title. I don't know if the Bears will win the division or not, but the national consensus that they're due for a fall seems based more on emotional projections than facts. End rant.

3. Brad Childress, former Minnesota Vikings coach: It's not necessarily fair to kick a man when he's down, but watching the Vikings play their first two games under interim coach Leslie Frazier has been illuminating. The energy level and elevated performance, especially on defense, has confirmed players gave up on Childress this season. While part of the responsibility lies with the players, it's still striking to see the attitude adjustment that seemed immediate upon his departure.


1. Donald Driver, Green Bay Packers receiver: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Driver's injured quadriceps is feeling better. His 61-yard scoring play in Sunday's victory over the San Francisco 49ers was the highlight of the weekend in the NFL. It was Driver's first touchdown since Week 4 and suggested that he is ready to begin stretching the field again as the Packers launch into their final playoff push. Before Sunday, Driver had gone almost two months without a reception longer than 17 yards.

2. Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions defensive end: With teammate Kyle Vanden Bosch (neck) sidelined, Avril picked up the slack by recording three sacks against the Bears. He now has six sacks in the past four games he has played and a career-high seven for the season. Many of us wondered to what extent Avril would benefit with three new teammates next to him in Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams. I think we've found out the answer.

3. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings defensive end: A sack against the Bills brought Allen's total to 8.5 on the year. He has had at least one sack in each of the Vikings' past five games, due in part to a one-on-one session he had with Frazier. During the meeting, Frazier showed Allen video evidence of the difference between his approach this season and last season. According to Frazier, Allen was surprised at how different he looked. Consider it an effective appeal to personal pride.