Around the NFC North: Week 12
Despite the recent slide that the Green Bay Packers have gone through, they are just one game out of first place in the NFC North at 5-5. The Packers dropped their third straight this past week to the New York Giants. It was also Green Bay’s third straight loss to the Giants, including playoffs.
The Minnesota Vikings were no match for the NFC-leading Seattle Seahawks and fell to 2-8. This week, the Vikings will head to Lambeau Field to round off their season series with the Packers. For Green Bay, Scott Tolzien has already been named the starting quarterback. The Vikings have announced that Christian Ponder will get the start for them.
The Detroit Lions were on the losing side of a wet n’ wild one in Pittsburgh as the Steelers thwarted some of Detroit’s trickery to preserve the win. This week, the Lions host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have won two straight after losing their first eight.
The Chicago Bears weathered the storm and squeaked by the Baltimore Ravens in overtime. That game was delayed due to weather shortly after kickoff. The Bears will travel to St. Louis and face the Rams this week.
Chicago Bears (6-4) at St. Louis Rams (4-6)
The Bears get another “battle of the backups” this week as Josh McCown will start the Chicago and face backup Kellen Clemems for the Rams. McCown will be making his third start of the season and in relief of Jay Cutler, who is now nursing an ankle injury. McCown is 2-0 in his previous two starts. Clemens came on at quarterback for the Rams when starter Sam Bradford suffered a season-ending ACL injury last month.
St. Louis is coming off of their bye week and after upsetting the Indianapolis Colts the week prior. That win snapped a three-game losing streak and was Clemens’ first win as a starter. Clemens needed only 16 passing attempts and nine completions, two for touchdowns, to defeat the Colts.
Both the Bears and Rams have running backs who have been playing well this season. St. Louis’ Zac Stacy has three touchdown runs in the last two games. Chicago’s Matt Forte has averaged just over five yards per carry and has three touchdowns against the Rams in three career matchups. Forte ranks sixth in overall rushing with 774 yards and nine touchdowns on the year.
Each defense has stepped up in recent weeks. The Rams got a defensive touchdown with Chris Long returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Colts. The Rams gave up just eight points in that contest. The Bears went from averaging 29 points per game to just over 20 in the past three weeks. They have done so without the services of defensive tackle Henry Melton, linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman.
With the Lions hosting the Buccaneers, the Bears need to find a way to get a win on the road and keep pace with Detroit, who is also 6-4 but holds the tie breaker after having won both head-to-head matchups.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8) at Detroit Lions (6-4)
The Bucs are on a two-game win streak after having lost their first eight last season. Part of the reason is Tampa’s stingier defense, led by cornerback Darrelle Revis. Tampa has recorded five interceptions in the past three weeks.
Detroit returns home and has to find a way to get its offense back on track. The Lions managed just 73 yards in the second half last week. Receiver Calvin Johnson was targeted three times during that half, with no receptions. Detroit tried to boost their production with a little trickery early in the fourth quarter last week and with a 27-23 lead. After having lined up for what would have been a 27-yard field goal, holder Sam Martin ran and attempted to pick up the first down. He was tackled short of the marker and the Steelers went on to claim the lead, and the win.
Potentially adding another element to Detroit’s offense could be the return of receiver Nate Burleson. Burleson broke his arm earlier this season in an off-field car accident and was listed as doubtful last week. His return would surely mean some additional attention and increased opportunities for Johnson to see favorable coverages.
Tampa has endured many twists and turns this season so far. They have seen their original starting quarterback get released and have lost their top two running backs to injury. Still, Tampa is getting some juice out of new quarterback Mike Glennon as he continues to grow and improve within the offense. Glennon has 11 touchdowns and just four interceptions since taking over the starting quarterback spot in early mid-October.
This figures to be an easier matchup for the Lions, who have the easiest schedule of any in the NFC North for the remainder of the season. The Lions will face the Packers on Thanksgiving Day, just four days after they meet the Bucs. Being tied with the Bears and just one game ahead of Green Bay, the Lions need to rebound quickly from the loss at Pittsburgh. Detroit can’t afford to stay too close to either team, as both should be returning their starting quarterbacks sooner than later.
Minnesota Vikings (2-8) at Green Bay Packers (5-5)
The Vikings were victimized by the Seattle Seahawks, and who hasn’t been this season? The loss ended any possibility of the Vikings finishing over .500 this season. Adding to that equation is the continuous question of who starts for the Vikings. This week, it will be Christian Ponder. Ponder appears to be the team’s choice in moving forward, at least in 2013.
The Packers lost another game with quarterback Aaron Rodgers sitting on the sideline as he continues to heal from his collarbone injury. Scott Tolzien got his first career start and saw extensive action in his second straight game. While Tolzien did throw for over 300 yards and hit on several long pass plays, he continued to make the same mistakes that plagued him against the Philadelphia Eagles. His interception that was returned for a touchdown by Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was the backbreaker and the Packers weren’t able to recover.
Green Bay has been desperately searching for a win since seeing their top signal caller go down and have not been able to get it done in three tries. Another loss this week would drop the Packers to 5-6 and with just four days to prepare for the Detroit Lions. What seemed like an easier stretch in the schedule has proven to anything but with the quarterback carousel the team has been forced to endure.
Based on the comments that have been made so far this week, it seems very unlikely that Rodgers will play this week against the Vikings. He still seems like a long shot to return in time for the Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit. With these next two games coming against divisional opponents, the Packers realistically need to win at least one of them. Probably both.
Without Rodgers, the Packers have seen opposing defenses stack the line of scrimmage to take away the run and force Green Bay to throw their way to victory. Tolzien seems to be improving each week so the Packers have to hope this is the week where he can actually make Minnesota pay for leaving some of his passing lanes open and receivers to roam free.
Injuries are currently plaguing both teams. In addition to Rodgers, the Packers are also dealing with ailments to cornerback Sam Shields, defensive end Johnny Jolly, cornerback Casey Hayward, linebacker Nick Perry and offensive lineman Don Barclay. None had practiced as of Wednesday. Hayward won’t play against the Vikings. Shields and Barclay were said to be in the “rehab stage” of their recovery, according to Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has an interesting injury list of their own. Running back Adrian Peterson was set to practice in a limited fashion on Wednesday due to a groin injury. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier went so far as to say that he was cautiously optimistic that Peterson will be ready to go against the Packers on Sunday. The loss of Peterson would be a huge blow to the Vikings offense.
Also currently nursing ailments are receiver Greg Jennings, who missed last week’s game against the Seahawks with soreness in his Achilles. Jennings will likely do whatever it takes to be on the field this weekend for his first return to Lambeau Field since signing with the Vikings. Center John Sullivan is still undergoing the league-mandated testing after suffering a concussion last week and his status is unknown. And cornerback Josh Robinson will not play this week after it was discovered that he has a fractured sternum. Rookie Xavier Rhodes will get the start at left cornerback.
The term gets used more than it should, but this game is a “must win” for the Packers, who really cannot afford many more losses if they want to keep hope alive for a division title and another run at the postseason. A loss would mean a third straight at Lambeau Field, something that has not happened since 1991.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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