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NFC North Midseason Awards: Slow start no problem for Packers

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

Remember back in Week 3, when the Packers were 1-2 and everybody thought that this was finally the year they would miss the playoffs? Well, they've won four straight -- three in convincing fashion -- and they're atop the division a half-game clear of the Lions.

At the midway point of the 2013 season, the question is this: Can Detroit make a run at Green Bay? The Lions are coming off an inspiring come-from-behind win over the Cowboys, but they'll need to be more consistent (the way they lost to the Lions in Week 7 is troubling). As for the rest of the division: Without Jay Cutler, the Bears' already slim chances are reduced to zero. Meanwhile, the Vikings' hopes and dreams are in the hands of Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman.

Chicago Bears

MVP: Brandon Marshall

Surprise: Alshon Jeffery

Disappointment: Shea McClellin

Going Forward: The Bears need Jay Cutler healthy. He suffered a groin injury in Week 7 and is expected to be sidelined 4-6 weeks. By then, the season could be over. Brandon Marshall predicted that Cutler could be back when the Bears take on the Packers on Nov. 4. Sounds ambitious, and who knows how sharp Cutler will be even if he doest make it back.

It's too bad, too because the quarterback looked at ease in coach Marc Trestman's offense, something we rarely saw when Mike's Martz and Tice were calling plays.

On the other side of the ball, the defense hasn't been as formidable as in recent seasons. Last year's first-rounder defensive end Shea McClellin continues to underperform and Major Wright grades out as one of the NFL's worst safeties, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Fielding a substandard defense is no way to slow down the Packers.

The first eight weeks in one GIF:

Just in case you still had doubts: Cutler's pretty tough.

Detroit Lions

MVP: Calvin Johnson

Surprise: Larry Warford

Disappointment: Brandon Pettigrew

Going Forward: The Lions need to be more consistent, not just from game to game, but drive to drive. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing some of the best football of his young career, but he's still careless with the ball. And let's be honest, if not for the MVP efforts of Calvin Johnson, Detroit might be closer in the standings to Minnesota than Green Bay. That said, Reggie Bush has been a solid addition and third-round rookie guard Larry Warford has been dominant.

If the Lions hope to challenge the Packers, they're defense will have to play a lot better. The unit ranks 19th against the pass and 18th against the run, according to FootballOutsiders.com, and that won't last two quarters against Aaron Rodgers. But even if Green Bay runs away with the division, Detroit is positioned for one of the wild-card spots. If they replicate their 5-3 record over the second half of the season, they'll almost certainly be in.

The first eight weeks in one GIF:

Could this be the turning point in the Lions' season?

Green Bay Packers

MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Surprise: Eddie Lacy

Disappointment: Injuries

Going Forward: Just keep doing what you're doing, Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers knows how to hold a grudge, and use any slight -- perceived or otherwise -- as motivation to prove critics wrong. The team has been besieged by injuries and hampered by a mediocre defense yet continues to play at a high level; according to FootballOutsiders.com, they're the NFL's fifth-best team behind Denver, Seattle, Indianapolis and Kansas City.

And unlike the Lions, the Packers have shown that they can win without a dominating defense. At the halfway point, they remain the favorites in the NFC North, and this time they have the added benefit of a running game. Whether Green Bay can win playoff games in hostile envirornments like Seattle or New Orleans is another matter, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. There's still nine weeks left in the regular season.

The first eight weeks in one GIF:

Good luck stopping this.

Minnesota Vikings

MVP: Adrian Peterson

Surprise: Cordarrelle Patterson

Disappointment: Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman

Going Forward: The good news: At 1-6, the Vikings only have 540 minutes left in the season. The bad news: They have 540 minutes left in the season. Adrian Peterson has been Adrian Peterson but it's hard for one man, no matter how talented, to carry an entire team back to the playoffs.

Two months into the season, there's a better chance Ponder wins NFL MVP honors than the Vikings end the year with a winning record. The team will use the rest of the season to see if Josh Freeman's the long-term solution at quarterback (his one outing against the Giants screams no), and if not, they'll likely target one with their top-five pick.

The first eight weeks in one GIF:

Maybe Ponder's future is at fullback. Hey, it worked for Tim Tebow. (Wait, what?)

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