NFC North Stock Watch


1. Our "Watch" series: At various times this season, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen was on pace to break the NFL record for sacks in a season. Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson was on track to contest the single-season record for touchdown receptions and Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte was in contention to set a new record for all-purpose yards. All three have fallen off those record paces, unfortunately. Allen has one sack in his past three games, Johnson has one touchdown catch in his last four games and Forte has produced 246 all-purpose yards over his last four games and is now sidelined by a sprained knee. All three players have had great seasons, of course, and their record pace was fun while it lasted.

2. Roy Williams, Chicago Bears receiver: Williams hasn't inspired much confidence with his underwhelming showing this season, and I can't imagine a quarterback on the Bears' roster feeling good about throwing in his direction after he turned what should have been a touchdown into a game-changing interception Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Quarterback Caleb Hanie delivered a perfectly placed ball into Williams' chest at the goal line late in the fourth quarter. But Williams bobbled it, knocked it into the air and ultimately couldn't prevent Chiefs safety Jon McGraw from making the interception. The score would have tied the game at 10. Ultimately, the Bears lost 10-3.

3. Direction in Detroit: This week might be the most critical in the tenure of Lions coach Jim Schwartz. The NFL made his job as team disciplinarian easy last week by handing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh a two-game suspension. The league isn't likely to step in on the cases of receiver Titus Young, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and kick returner Stefan Logan, all of whom received costly personal fouls Sunday night in the Lions' 31-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints. I'm sure some people don't enjoy watching that kind of football, but the real issue Schwartz has is that the penalties have impacted his team's competitiveness. Schwartz is facing the prospect of benching three prominent players during a playoff run. His response to this crisis will go a long way toward determining whether the Lions make the playoffs.


1. Debate in Minnesota over quarterback Christian Ponder: On the one hand, Ponder threw for a career-high 381 yards and had the first three-touchdown game of his career Sunday against the Denver Broncos. On the other hand, he committed three costly turnovers in a 35-32 loss. He now has nine turnovers in six starts this season. Are we seeing the typical hot-and-cold performance of a rookie quarterback, especially one who had no offseason work due to the NFL lockout? Or is that excuse-making? Reasonable people could occupy both sides of that argument.

2. Intrigue surrounding Mike Martz, Chicago Bears offensive coordinator: In recent weeks, we've seen reports that Martz has interest in several college football openings, including Arizona State and UCLA. On Sunday, ESPN reported that Martz appears unlikely to return to the Bears when his contract expires after the season. On Monday, Bears coach Lovie Smith said those reports have been "made up" because, as the man who hires and fires assistant coaches, he could be the only credible source on the topic. Some of what we have seen lines up with classic contract leveraging: creating the perception of a market for a soon-to-be free agent. Some of it could reflect the hope of others in the Bears organization. I'm not sure. But I'll repeat my earlier sentiment: Martz is far from perfect, but starting over with a new coordinator and/or scheme would be a destructive setback for quarterback Jay Cutler and render moot two years of roster maneuvering to fit Martz's player requirements.

3. Cash accounts, Green Bay Packers: The Packers launched the fifth stock offering in franchise history Tuesday morning, putting up 250,000 shares at $250 apiece to help pay for a looming $143 million expansion and renovation project for Lambeau Field. It's a little early for a progress report, but I know I had a hard time even accessing the dedicated website (www.packersowner.com) to see what all the fuss was about. Most every NFL team solicits public money for stadium projects, but in this case, only the people interested in contributing have to participate. Taxpayers with no interest in football have no obligations.