Around the NFC North: Week 8
The Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings all lost their games while the Green Bay Packers were victorious. That puts the Packers in first place in the North and heading into their first of two straight Prime Time games this season. They will be in Minnesota for a Sunday night tilt against the Vikings with a home game against the Bears the following week.
The Lions will host the Dallas Cowboys and look to get back on track after dropping a close one to the Cincinnati Bengals at the end of regulation.
The Bears have a bye week and it could not have come at a better time. During their loss to the Washington Redskins, the Bears lost quarterback Jay Cutler to a torn groin that will sideline him at least a month. They also lost veteran linebacker Lance Briggs for up to four weeks. This seems to be the story with the Bears each year after a hot start. Coming out of the bye, the Bears draw a road game in Green Bay so things don’t get any easier for them.
With the Bears on a bye and a divisional matchup, there are only two games this week. Let’s dive into each.
Dallas Cowboys (4-3) at Detroit Lions (4-3)
The first-place Cowboys are coming off of two straight wins and face a Lions team that is reeling a bit from a nail-biting loss to the Bengals. The Cowboys won their first road game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions are now one game behind the division-leading Packers and can gain some ground on the Bears, who are idle this week.
Offensively, these two teams are very even in terms of their production. The quarterback play has been close, with an edge going to the Lions in the running game. Each team features a top-flight wide receiver in that of Calvin Johnson for the Lions and Dez Bryant for the Cowboys. The Cowboys rely heavily on their running back DeMarco Murray while the Lions mix it up with both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.
The Lions seem to have found a bit of an answer to a lack of another receiver opposite Johnson. Tight end Joseph Fauria has taken over as the starter over Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew. Listed at 6’7″, Fauria is a matchup nightmare for any defensive back or linebacker, especially near the goal line. The Cowboys are seeing another solid season from their salty veteran-tight end Jason Witten. This could turn into the battle of the tight ends.
Defensively, the Cowboys will be closely monitoring the health of defensive end DeMarcus Ware. Ware missed his first game as a professional this past week due to a hamstring injury. A self-proclaimed “fast healer”, Ware takes a lot of pride in being available and will likely lobby to play this week at Detroit. The Lions will be bringing their stout front four in chase of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who has been sacked 16 times this season.
Both teams need this game to keep pace in their divisions. The Cowboys are benefiting from disappointing starts by the Eagles and Redskins and a terrible start by the New York Giants. The Lions find themselves in a familiar position of being on the coattails of the Packers once again. With a loss to Green Bay already, Detroit can ill-afford to fall further behind.
This has the makings of a game that comes down to a mistake being the difference.
Green Bay Packers (4-2) at Minnesota Vikings (1-5)
The Vikings dropped their Monday night game in New York and allowed the Giants their first win of the season. Minnesota fell to 1-5 on the season and despite adding new quarterback Josh Freeman, were not able to get the road win. Freeman looked badly out of sync with his new receivers and offense, as a whole. If that continues next week, the Packers could end up on the good side of a lopsided contest.
The Packers come in after a sound win at home against the Cleveland Browns, but still reeling a bit from the bruised spinal cord injury suffered by tight end Jermichael Finley. Finley was released from an area hospital on Monday and was said to be in good spirits. That he was able to walk out of the hospital after being taken off the field on a stretcher was a very encouraging sign for Finley, the person. As far as Finley the football player, we are quite some time away from knowing exactly what will become of him. He will definitely not be in uniform for the Packers on Sunday.
Injuries have decimated the Packers starters this season and have forced many of the team’s young guys to step in. The silver lining amidst all of the carnage is that Green Bay is getting decent production from these youngsters. Guys like David Bakhtiari, Jamari Lattimore and Micah Hyde have all played roles in the Packers’ success thus far. This experience will help the team later in the season and when the playoffs roll around. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has implemented a “keep calm and carry on” mantra for his team and so far, they have.
The Vikings are dealing with some dings of their own. Safety Harrison Smith is currently determining whether he will need surgery on an injured toe. If he does, he would be placed on injured reserve with designation to return. It is highly unlikely that Smith will play this week. Running back Adrian Peterson was said to be nursing a hamstring injury, but he looked fine against the Giants and figures to give the Packers run defense one of their stiffer tests of the season. Peterson racked up over 500 rushing yards between the team’s three meetings last year.
In the background of all of the injury news is that fact that this will be the first time that former Packers receiver Greg Jennings will face his old team. Jennings has not found the early goings in Minnesota to be as fruitful and easy as they seemed to be in Green Bay, where he described things as “the best, the best, the best”. Jennings had hoped that he was leaving for what were greener pastures in Minneapolis. I suppose technically the grass is greener in Minnesota, but only by virtue of the turf playing surface at Mall of America Field.
Over the course of time, these divisional matchups do not tend to follow a set pattern. There have been their share of lopsided wins, but for the most part, they are tough and hard-fought games, regardless of records and standings. Despite the continued injuries that the Packers face, they seem to find a way to put up points and remain competitive. With a banged up Minnesota secondary, I’d have to say that Green Bay has a good chance of getting another road win this week.
UPDATE: During Wednesday’s press conference, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier declined to say whether quarterback Josh Freeman would or wouldn’t play this week, despite having suffered a concussion. If Freeman is officially ruled out, it would seem that he would be replaced by Christian Ponder.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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