Mike Nadel: Is it parity or mediocrity?

Mike Nadel

Six weeks in, here are six things we know about the NFC North:

1. NFL rules stipulate that one team must win the division, regardless of each squad's efforts to avoid doing so.

2. Detroit will not be that team ... but I'd fight to the death those who say the Lions would go winless in the MAC East.

3. While Aaron Rodgers had a tough act to follow in Green Bay, Kyle Orton only had a Rex act to follow in Chicago. Each has exceeded expectations to become his team's MVP.

4. The Vikings still have a shot at the 13-3 record Sports Illustrated predicted in its preview issue. All they have to do is win their last 10 games.

5. Already having defeated the Packers and Bears - and with a victory over the Lions practically guaranteed - the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sure wish they hadn't been banished from the former NFC Central.

6. When two or three NFC North teams finish the season 8-8, Pete Rozelle will be smiling down from football heaven. Some might call it mediocrity, but it would be parity, beautiful parity, in the eyes of the old Commish.

Defensive divisions

Back on Sept. 21, the Bears blew a 10-point lead with four minutes to go and lost to Tampa Bay. Brian Griese threw 67 passes that day and wasn't sacked.

The Bears explained that almost impossible statistic by saying the Bucs called mostly quick passes and used a tight end or running back to help protect Griese.

"When they max protect, they've only got two receivers out," defensive end Alex Brown said. "We've got to be able to cover them."

In other words: Don't blame the impotent pass rush, blame the poor coverage.

Flash ahead to last Sunday, when Atlanta rookie QB Matt Ryan threw 30 passes and finished with 301 yards. The Bears never sacked him and rarely even made him flinch.

Again, there was talk about quick passes and max-protect schemes. The Bears also played most of the game without injured cornerbacks Nate Vasher and Peanut Tillman and nickel back Danieal Manning. Not knowing how healthy and effective those defensive backs will be Sunday against Minnesota, Tillman has used the media to challenge his teammates:

"It all starts up front with our D-line tackling their quarterback and getting the timing off."

In other words: Don't blame the poor coverage, blame the impotent pass rush.

Can't everybody just get along ... and blame Lovie Smith and his overwhelmed defensive coordinator, Bob Babich? They're the ones who keep getting out-coached with the game on the line.

Clocking in

Several folks who watched replays of last week's game believe the Atlanta clock operator had a slow trigger-finger, aiding the Falcons in their incredible comeback against the Bears.

Yes, the clock started a little late after Atlanta's Harry Douglas fielded the Bears' poorly executed squib kick with 11 seconds left (his 10-yard return gave the Falcons the ball at their 44) and again after Ryan took the ensuing snap with 6 seconds remaining (his 26-yard pass to Michael Jenkins set up the winning field goal).

However, the operator also let two seconds tick off the clock after Orton's go-ahead touchdown pass to Rashied Davis with 11 seconds to go (depriving the Falcons of much-needed time) and allowed one extra second to run off after Jenkins was out of bounds with the aforementioned 26-yard pass (inconsequential, as the Falcons still had time for the triumphant kick).

As is the case in every stadium, the Atlanta clock operator is employed not by the team but by the league.

The Bears have become adept at blowing games. They didn't need help giving one away to the Falcons.

Perfectly imperfect

A reader named Lisa posted this comment after the Oct. 12 edition of my blog, The Baldest Truth ( "Mike, please pick the Bears to lose to Minn. so that they will win. Thanks."

It's a reasonable request. I've been either the kiss of death or the breath of life to the Bears, who are 0-3 in games I predicted they'd win and 3-0 in games I said they'd lose.

Hey, it's been a rough go for most of us who routinely make NFL prognostications. Tom Brady's injury ruined it for everybody who had the Patriots winning the Super Bowl.

Atlanta, Buffalo and Arizona are division leaders. Tennessee is a surprising 5-0 and Seattle is a surprising 1-4. Just last week, the Rams, Cardinals and Browns stunned the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants. And so on and so on.

Although I'm 0-6 picking individual Bears games, I did say before the season they'd be 3-3 after six weeks. Now, for the first time, I'm veering from my preseason script.

Two months ago, I thought the Vikings would win this game. But if they managed to beat the Lions by only two points at home last week, they can't be good enough to take down the mighty Bears at Soldier Field, right?

Sorry, Lisa: Bears 20, Vikings 17.

Mike Nadel ( is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service.