Vikings hope to end misery against NFC North

BY foxsports • September 25, 2012

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder says he hasn't been keeping up with what's going on with the NFC North this season, but he's well aware of the recent past.

Heading into this week's first divisional game at Detroit, Minnesota has lost 11 straight games within the NFC North, including 0-6 in 2011. The last game the Vikings won in their division was at home against the Lions in Week 3 of 2010.

Ponder will be learning all about Detroit this week as Minnesota looks to build on Sunday's big win against the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's going to be a big one," Ponder said of Sunday's game. "We haven't won on the road yet. We haven't won two times in a row, and we haven't won in the NFC North in a while."

Minnesota hasn't had reason to worry about the rest of the North to this point in the season. The Vikings played two games against the AFC and then Sunday's win against NFC West powerhouse San Francisco.

What Ponder has missed is a crazy turn of events within the division. The NFC North has been turned upside down with Minnesota and the Chicago Bears tied atop the division at 2-1, while last year's playoff teams, Detroit and the Green Bay Packers, are 1-2.

The Vikings' 3-13 finish last year put them well behind in one of football's strongest divisions. Chicago was also on its way to a potential playoff berth last season before quarterback Jay Cutler was hurt. That led to lowered expectations for Minnesota within a division with three teams expected to fight for the playoffs this year, including a favorite for the Super Bowl in Green Bay.

As the season has unfolded, though, the Vikings have avoided the strange circumstances that have plagued the rest of the division.

Green Bay's season is defined by the bizarre scene after Monday night's last-second loss on a Seattle Seahawks' Hail Mary that appeared to be an interception but was ruled a Seattle touchdown. The Packers' offense hasn't had its usual explosiveness this season.

Chicago has dealt with an injury to perhaps its top offensive playmaker, running back Matt Forte, and has its usual issues of protecting Cutler. In Week 2, Cutler added to the craziness by bumping one of his offensive linemen while walking off the field following a sack.

Detroit has not looked like the team that appeared on the rise last season and suffered a weird loss on Sunday after rallying at the end of regulation by completing its own Hail Mary. In overtime, the Lions gave up a Tennessee Titans field goal and were in position to tie the game again, but a miscommunication on fourth down led to a failed quarterback sneak. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said the plan was to try and draw the Titans offside, but center Dominic Raiola didn't understand and snapped the ball.

Making matters worse, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford left the game with an injured leg and his status for Sunday is unknown.

"I don't know where we stand right now," Ponder said of the North. "It's not that big of a deal right now. Once we face them, obviously it's important that we win in those matchups. I guess we'll pay more attention once it becomes Week 16, Week 17."

Looking at common opponents, the Vikings beat the 49ers after San Francisco had beaten Green Bay and Detroit in the season's first two weeks. Meanwhile, Minnesota might be dealing with heightened expectations after Sunday's win against San Francisco.

"There will be a lot of people telling our players a lot of positive things this week, and I'm sure they got a lot of phone calls yesterday," coach Leslie Frazier said. "But in our league, it can change like that (snaps fingers). They understand that. They have to remember the hard work they put into last week and the focus they brought to practice every day and how much they did not want to be embarrassed at home. They've got to carry that same attitude on the road this week, which is going to be tough."

Green Bay and Detroit know how things can change in an instant with their strange losses over the weekend. Minnesota hopes to change its recent luck just as quickly against the rest of the NFC North.

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