NFC North Stock Watch


1. Pass defense rankings, Detroit Lions: After giving up 307 yards to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers last week, the Lions fell one spot, from No. 5 to No. 6, in the NFL's rankings of pass defense. It's fair to assume another drop Sunday when the Lions' presumably depleted defense travels to New Orleans to face quarterback Drew Brees -- who is fresh off a 363-yard, four-touchdown performance Monday night against the New York Giants. It's possible the Lions could be playing this game without three defensive starters. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been suspended. Safety Louis Delmas has a knee injury he has indicated will sideline him for at least one week. And the status of cornerback Chris Houston remains unknown after he suffered a knee injury last week.

2. Performance arrow, Minnesota Vikings: With every passing week, it appears the Vikings have more rebuilding work to do. In Week 12, it became clear that coach Leslie Frazier needs to grow in the job more than originally believed. Frazier and his team made a number of glaring mistakes at the end of a 24-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, errors of judgment and execution that you wouldn't have thought a calm, disciplined and experienced coach like Frazier would have allowed.

3. Questions about personnel use, Green Bay Packers: One of our NFC North preseason narratives: How would the Packers use their array of wide receivers? Eleven games in, some answers have emerged. It's clear that Greg Jennings (58 catches, eight touchdowns) and Jordy Nelson (44 catches, nine touchdowns) are deservedly getting the most looks. James Jones has been the designated big-play threat, with five touchdowns among his 24 receptions and an average of 18.8 yards per catch, tying him for the fourth-best mark among NFL receivers with at least 10 catches. Donald Driver, 36, has been respectfully phased into a spot player, and rookie Randall Cobb is getting a chance to learn the professional game mostly as a full-time special teams player.


1. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears quarterback: Sometimes, a player's value isn't totally clear until he is unavailable. It's more than reasonable to suggest the Bears would have won Sunday at Oakland had Cutler been available and played anywhere close to the level he has achieved in the past month or so. In three starts before breaking his thumb, Cutler threw four touchdown passes and one interception and took two sacks. A relatively mistake-free game from backup quarterback Caleb Hanie probably would have been enough Sunday for the Bears. But we can also use Cutler's history to cut Hanie a break. Don't forget that Cutler threw 16 interceptions in his first 15 games in Mike Martz's offense.

2. Claims of hypocrisy: Some of you cried foul in the wake of my reaction to Suh's ejection from the Thanksgiving Day game. After all, on Oct. 29, I wrote that I didn't think Suh was a dirty player. To be clear, I thought what happened Thursday clearly crossed the line Suh had previously hovered near. To me, "dirty" connotes a deliberate attempt to injure opponents. Pounding the head of Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith into the turf three times, and then stomping on his arm, is well beyond the scope of football and could have no purpose other than to cause harm. I didn't change my mind here. I saw something different. To me, the distinction is clear.

3. Winston Moss, Packers inside linebackers coach: Fans see Moss from time to time on candidate lists for head-coaching jobs, but few probably know why or are aware of his credentials. Thursday, at least, Moss' work was visible for all to see. The Packers finished the game with two inexperienced inside linebackers on the field in place of injured starters A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop, both of whom had suffered calf injuries. Rookie D.J. Smith finished with five tackles and Robert Francois had three more, along with an athletic interception. Obviously, Smith and Francois deserve part of the credit. But it's mostly a credit to coaching when a team's overall performance doesn't dip noticeably when backups are forced into competitive games at key positions. Moss is in charge of the daily development of Smith and Francois.