The Pro Football Notebook

September 27, 2010 8:19 AM

NFC North Showdown Ahead

PackersBears.jpgWhen the dust settles from Week 3 only one team in the NFC is going to be 3-0 and it's the winner of tonight's rivalry showdown in the North, as Green Bay visits Chicago (8:30 ET, ESPN). New Orleans made it possible for this game to have these early stakes, when they lost to Atlanta in overtime, 27-24. The Falcons pulled the road upset the old-fashioned way. They dominated on the ground. Michael Turner rushed 30 times for 114 yards and Jason Snelling kicked in 14 more carries that netted 62. Matt Ryan played mistake-free football, with zero picks and targeting tight end Tony Gonzalez eight times for 110 yards. While Drew Brees played well, he also threw two interceptions and the Saints missed a 46-yard field goal at the end of regulation. It was good no-nonsense football that got this win for Atlanta. The way they won no doubt warmed the heart of former University of Georgia head coach Vince Dooley, perhaps the greatest man to walk the sidelines in the Peach State.

Returning to tonight's game, it's clearly much bigger for Chicago. If these teams really are going to joust all year long, the Bears have to win their home game head-to-head. And more to the point, its Chicago that needs to show they're a legitimate contender. Defensive end Julius Peppers holds the key. The Bears' pass coverage isn't bad, but it's not so good they can contain Aaron Rodgers without pressure. On the other side of the ball, Green Bay has lost corner Al Harris, giving Jay Cutler the chance to look for receivers opposite Charles Woodson. This one's a tough call. Green Bay is the superior side, but not so much so that I'm ready to just pencil in a road win. The Bear defense is looking to be back in gear and it will come down to the wire. But I'll still lean Rodgers over Cutler, 24-20.

Two teams in the AFC are off to 3-0 starts and it's fair to say no one was betting Pittsburgh & Kansas City would be the two. Both did it by pummeling people on the ground. That's no surprise with the Steelers. They like to do it that way anyway, and they're down to their fourth option at quarterback in Charlie Batch. But Rashard Mendenhall ran for 143 yards in Tampa Bay, the Steeler defense sacked Josh Freeman four times and they rolled to a 38-13 win.

Kansas City finally got a good game from Matt Cassell, who threw for 250 yards. But it was the running game that made the difference in a 31-10 home win over floundering San Francisco. The Chiefs got 97 yards from Jamaal Charles and 95 more from Thomas Jones. The Niners were incompetent in all phases. When you're only offense is throwing the ball to the running back (nine catches for Frank Gore), you aren't going anywhere. Romeo Crennel's defense took away the receivers, took away tight end Vernon Davis and shut down Gore on the ground.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on baseball and game analysis in college football and the NFL

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