There's always one NFL division that surprises at the season's quarter pole.
The Minnesota Vikings (3-1) have submitted the NFC North as this year's nominee with their 20-13 win at Detroit on Sunday. Their third victory of the year is enough to match their total from last season. They took at least a share of the division lead for the first time since 2009. It could turn to an outright lead if Chicago loses to Dallas on Monday.
The Vikings have done it without one of the fast-tracked superstars of the next generation of quarterbacks. Christian Ponder took his lumps as a rookie last season. Against the Lions, he didn't throw a touchdown pass -- or an interception -- finishing with an efficient but nondescript 16 completions on 26 attempts for just 111 yards.
Minnesota also has caught teams at the perfect time. Detroit is in the midst of special teams nightmare, allowing kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns in consecutive weeks. San Francisco was due for a letdown last week -- and it showed that was all it was in Sunday's resounding 34-0 blowout of the New York Jets.
But the Vikings can stay encouraged. Adrian Peterson ran for 102 yards on 21 carries in Detroit, his first 100-yard game since his knee injury last season. The Minnesota defense is in the top third in the league and controlled the Lions, and both Green Bay and Chicago have looked mortal. With one fourth of the season complete, Minnesota has every reason to believe it will remain relevant -- or better -- far longer than it did last year.
- Craig Stouffer