Packers Will Hold Off Vikings in NFC North
I have really appreciated the hospitality, kind words and intelligent debate provided by everyone as I attempt to hold down the fort in Jersey Al’s absence. I tweeted Al the other day that I felt like a squatter in his house, (think Randy Quaid) and that Al will soon return home, throw me out, and have me arrested.
But until that happens, it appears that I have free reign over the mansion that Al has built over here in the posh and tony section of the Packers cyber community. Meantime, I am going to raid Al’ refrigerator, drink all of his expensive liquor and swim naked in his pool (don’t worry, I’m not linking to a picture of that).
The best way to stir the pot and possibly get the readers of this fine blog to turn on me is to start making predictions. The original intent of this post was to do a simple evaluation of the NFC North during the Packers bye week, but that was kind of blah. To spice things up a bit, I decided to predict all of the remaining games for each NFC North team, including the playoffs and the Super Bowl. I threw in a little context as well.
Enjoy and please do not yell at me too loud. I don’t want all the commotion to cause the police to throw me out of Al’s house before Al throws me out of his house.
Current Record: 6-3 (1st)
@Vikings (L 20-27)
@Falcons (L 24-26)
49ers (W 30-14)
@Lions (W 30-20)
@Patriots (L 25-27)
Giants (W 23-10)
Bears (W 30-16)
Final Record: 10-6 (1st)
The Breakdown:When was the last time the Packers beat a really good quarterback on the road? I would probably say Eli Manning and the Giants on Sept. 16, 2007. But this was pre-Super Bowl Manning and he was not playing that well at the time. If you wanted to be super picky, you might have to go back to Michael Vick and the Falcons on Nov. 13, 2005. But was Vick ever a really goodquarterback? If you wanted to be even pickier, you have to go back to Daunte Culpepper and the Vikings on Christmas Eve of 2004.
If you were being generous, you could maybe make an argument for Jay Cutler and Denver on Oct. 29, 2007, Vick and the Eagles week one of this season (he only played a half), and Mark Sanchez and the Jets in week eight of this season (Sanchez was playing well at the time).
Whether you are being picky or generous, the Packers have not fared well against really good quarterbacks on the road recently. Their remaining 2010 schedule includes road contests against Brett Favre, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. Favre is 11-1 at the Metrodome since joining the Vikings. Ryan is 17-1 at home in his career. Brady has 25 straight home wins. Yikes.
But games against the 49ers, Lions and Bears will help make up for the continued road struggles against top quarterbacks (and yes I still consider Favre a top quarterback if he is playing the Packers). A key win at home against the Giants will also help deliver the NFC North to the Packers.
Current Record: 3-5 (3rd)
@Bears (W 31-17)
Packers (W 27-20)
@Redskins (L 17-14)
Bills (W 27-17)
Giants (L 20-26)
Bears (W 28-16)
@Eagles (L 27-23)
@Lions (W 34-13)
Final Record: 8-8 (2nd)
The Breakdown: Brace yourselves Packers fans, the Vikings are going to make a run. I still think the Vikings are too talented to tank. And unlike the Cowboys “too talented to tank” team, the Vikings have the right mix of veterans that will not allow the younger players to throw in the towel.
However, it is going to be too little, too late.
The Vikings have not won on the road since beating the Packers week eight of last season, but they should break that streak against the deceptively lousy Bears. After stealing one from the Packers, the Redskins will continue the Vikings road woes before the Eagles officially end the purple’s season in Week 16. Somewhere in that mess will be a home loss to a Giants team that is playing for a high playoff seed. If the Vikings win that Giants game, then who knows what could happen.
The way I see it, the only chance the Vikings have of going on a sustained run that could vault them past the Packers is if Favre continues playing well and Brad Childress opens up the offense. Don’t get me wrong, Adrian Peterson is having a great season, but teams are fine with giving Peterson 100-plus yards on 25 carries. As long as Peterson does not break off runs of 25 yards or more, teams are content to watch the Vikings try and methodically move the ball down the field.
The Vikings offense gets dangerous when Favre starts connecting with Percy Harvin (and soon Sidney Rice) for large chunks of yardage. That gets the Vikings ahead early, which allows Peterson to milk the clock in the second half and put teams away. However, Favre has struggled early in games, and Childress seems reluctant to stick with a downfiled attack if it is not working immediately.
Those of you that have read my work in the past know that I tend to overvalue the Vikings. But we have seen what the Vikings’ offense is capable of in spurts. We saw it in the final five minutes against the Cardinals, late against the Jets and occasionally against the Packers. If this offense’s downfield attack gets rejuvenated, look out.
Current Record: 5-3 (2nd)
Vikings (L 17-31)
@Dolphins (W 17-9)
Eagles (L 6-20)
@Lions (L 17-19)
Patriots (L 17-22)
@Vikings (L 16-24)
Jets (L 10-20)
@Packers (L 16-30)
Final Record: 6-10 (3rd)
While everyone is talking about the Cowboys collapse and waiting for the Vikings to follow suit, the real collapse might come from the Bears. The Bears have the toughest second-half schedule in the NFC North, a schedule that makes it more difficult to slop out wins like their first-half victories against the Lions and Packers.
The Bears offensive line, combined with Jay Cutler’s stupidity, has prevented Mike Martz from moving the offense forward. Both Martz and Cutler are both too stubborn to make any adjustments, so look for everyone to continue trying to figure out why Cutler continues to throw interceptions and not take live up to his talent. The Bears should get some continuity on the line in the second half, but when the line was terrible to start, will continuity make much of a difference?
Dom Capers has received most of the defensive-coordinator love in the North, but Rod Marinelli deserves some recognition too. Marinelli has the Bears playing the Tampa-2 scheme effectively again, which frees up the linebackers and defensive backs to force turnovers and make plays. But if teams take care of the football, is this defense still capable of carrying the team? I don’t think so.
The wild card for the Bears is Devin Hester, who appears to be rejuvenated in the return game. Teams that score on special teams are always in games and inevitably end up stealing a few (Exhibit A: the Arizona Cardinals. Exhibit B: the Bears). If Hester stays hot, the Bears might hang around and not end the season as dismally as I have predicted.
Current Record: 2-6 (4th)
@Bills (W 22-20)
@Cowboys (L 16-22)
Patriots (L 13-27)
Bears (W 23-21)
Packers (L 20-30)
@Bucs (L 10-17)
@Dolphins (W 22-21)
Vikings (L 13-34)
Final Record: 5-11 (4th)
If the Lions add a couple of competent defensive backs and offensive lineman next season, they will make the playoffs. Of course, Matt Stafford needs to stay healthy, but having a better offensive line should help alleviate that problem. For now, look for more of the same from the Lions in the second half : A lot of praise for their talented skill players and defensive line, fans pulling for them each week, and several reminders that they are sill, after all, the Lions.
Rookie Jahvid Best showed flashes of brilliance early, but has been slowed by a turf toe injury the last five weeks. If he gets healthy again, I think he can make some noise in the final eight weeks. Ndamukong Suh already has 6.5 sacks, which is a huge number for an interior lineman, rookie or otherwise. Julius Peppers received most of the offseason attention, but Kyle Vanden Bosch has arguably been just as big of an impact acquisition.
As improved as the defense is up front, it is still allowing over 233 passing yards and 130 rushing yards per game. The bright spot is that the defense is allowing fewer points than a year ago. Through nine weeks in 2009, the Lions allowed 237 points. The Lions have only allowed 188 points this season.
There is no question that the Lions are improving. The key to continued improvement will be better pass coverage and keeping Stafford in the game and out of a full body cast.
Packers 24, Giants 14
Falcons 27, Rams 16
Eagles 27, Packers 24
Saints 22, Falcons 19
Eagles 26, Saints 24
Ravens 23, Eagles 9