Around the NFC North: Week 15
A snow-filled weekend brought about three very entertaining games in the NFC north. The Detroit Lions visited the Philadelphia Eagles in a scene right out of any backyard in the Midwest or East Coast on a snowy day. Just before game time, snow piled on Lincoln Financial Field. The sidelines and yard markers had to be shoveled clean so players and officials could determine where the boundaries were. Detroit seemed to have an early handle on how to play in the white stuff but in the end, the Eagles came back and pulled away for their fifth straight win.
The Minnesota Vikings went to Baltimore to face the Ravens in another snow globe game. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson suffered what is being reported as a foot sprain early on, but Minnesota hung with Baltimore all day long. The game saw five lead changes in the final two minutes, which is a new NFL league record. In the end, the Ravens scored a game-winning touchdown on an acrobatic catch by Marlon Brown to seal the win.
The Green Bay Packers hosted the Atlanta Falcons and earned a 22-21 victory, sealed in the last seconds by an interception by Jarrett Bush. Yes, you read that correctly, Jarrett Bush. The Packers also benefited from the Falcons tripping over themselves as sure-handed receiver Harry Douglas dropped what would have been a first down conversion to help move Atlanta into realistic position to kick a game-winning field goal. The win stopped a five-game winless streak.
Lastly, the Chicago Bears hosted the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night football, although they were not very gracious hosts. Freezing temperatures coupled with a lights-out offensive output by the Bears led to an easy 48-25 win over Dallas. The win evened Chicago with the Lions for first place in the north while the loss put the Cowboys one game behind the division-leading Eagles in the east.
Chicago Bears (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-9)
The Browns nearly defeated the New England Patriots in New England. It would have been the first time the Browns beat the Patriots in New England since 1992. The irony there is that the Browns head coach at the time was Bill Belichick, current Patriots head coach. Cleveland fell to 4-9 and all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention, although they are still mathematically alive.
The Bears were inspired by the retirement of their former coach Mike Ditka’s #89 and did their best rendition of the ’85 Super Bowl championship team in beating up on the Cowboys on Monday night. After losing to the Vikings last week, Chicago needed this win to stay alive in the race for the north. Not only did they win, but the Bears looked better than they have all season, arguably. And this all behind backup quarterback Josh McCown, who threw for four touchdowns and ran for another. With all of the quarterback issues that the Packers have had, their fans have to be at least a bit envious of what the Bears have been able to accomplish behind McCown.
The story in Chicago remains the health of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Backup Josh McCown has helped keep the Bears in the hunt for the NFC north division title, but more thanks probably goes to the Lions for not closing it out when they could have. The Bears next face road games against the Browns and Eagles, followed by their season finale at home against the Packers. That week 17 matchup against Green Bay could have major playoff implications and many expect that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be back by then. Bears head coach Marc Trestman reiterated that when Cutler is healthy, he will remain the starter.
As is always the case in NFC/AFC matchups, the opponents are unfamiliar with each other and some very entertaining games often result. See yesterday’s game between the Vikings and Ravens. The Browns are 3-4 at home this season and have hardly rolled over as many expected them to do before the season began. While they may not have as much to play for, this past week’s near win against the Patriots makes it obvious that Cleveland is making the most of their role as spoilers. The Bears can’t afford to take this game lightly. This contest could feature two emerging receivers in that of Cleveland’s Josh Gordon and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery. Both had big days this past week and appear ready to break out.
Philadelphia Eagles (8-5) at Minnesota Vikings (3-9)
The Eagles will continue their tour through the NFC north this week as they head to Minnesota. So far, Philadelphia is 2-0 against the North with this week’s contest upcoming followed by a home game against the Bears in week 16. The Eagles dispatched the visiting Lions with a 34-20 win on Sunday in come-from-behind fashion.
LeSean McCoy continues to be the dominant back that he has been in recent seasons, racking up over 200 yards against the Lions, including a 57-yard touchdown run. The Eagles will continue to feed McCoy in the hopes that he can run them into the playoffs. Without snow to slow him down and in a dome environment, I would expect McCoy to see between 20-25 touches in this one.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw for one score and ran for another as he continues to baffle defenses. Foles did commit his first turnover of the season on an interception, but the fact that this is just now happening in week 14 says a lot. Against a challenged Vikings pass defense, Foles could have a big day with his trio of receivers DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper along with tight end Brent Celek.
The Vikings started Matt Cassel against the Ravens after Christian Ponder was not medically cleared to return following a concussion the week prior against the Bears. If he is cleared, Ponder should figure to start against the Eagles. The Vikings are coming off of a roller coaster ride against the Ravens. With five lead changes in the last two minutes, fans could ill-afford to turn away for even a moment.
The Vikings will be eagerly awaiting more news on Peterson’s foot injury this week. As of Tuesday, it was being reported that the injury is a foot sprain and that there appears to be no ligament damage. Petersons’s inability to play against Eagles would greatly diminish Minnesota’s chances of keeping up with the Eagles. Emerging late in his rookie season, however, is receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who had another long catch and run for a score yesterday. Patterson has become a legitimate threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball, both in the return game and as a receiver. Philadelphia’s pass defense is average at best and this could be a matchup that the Vikings like this week.
With the Eagles a full game ahead and in first place in the NFC east, Dallas has to hope that the Vikings can somehow pull this one out. It would help the Cowboys pull even with the streaking Eagles, who have won five in a row. Dallas won the first matchup against Philadelphia and will face the Eagles in a week 17 matchup that seemingly has all kind of playoff implications.
Baltimore Ravens (7-6) at Detroit Lions (7-6)
This is next week’s Monday night football matchup.
The Ravens got up over .500 with their win over the Lions while the Lions continued to keep the NFC north race alive by losing to the Eagles. The Vikings nearly bested the Ravens and may have taken some wind out of their sails heading into this matchup with the Lions, but Baltimore is very much alive in the wild card race and even has an outside chance of winning the AFC north.
The Lions had an early lead against the Eagles and despite two return touchdowns by former Packer Jeremy Ross, the snow eventually caught up with Detroit and they were unable to get a tough road win in Philadelphia. They are now tied with the Bears for first place in the north, although the Lions own the tie-breaker after having swept the Bears this season. With the Packers winning against Atlanta, the Lions’ division lead over them fell to just one-half game.
Both teams equally need to win this game to establish their positioning in their playoff push. With this being a home game and on Monday night football, the Lions need to take advantage of the extra day off and home-field advantage. Detroit still controls their own destiny and can lock up the north division title by winning out, regardless of what the Bears and Packers do. After hosting the Ravens, the Lions will host the Giants and then head to Minnesota for their final trip to Mall of America Field. On paper, that slate seems favorable, but these are the Lions we are talking about.
A win over Baltimore would move the Lions closer to their first division title since the early 1990′s, but the Lions are definitely stumbling towards the finish line with their inconsistent play over the last month. The Ravens are currently fighting the Dolphins and Chargers for the final wild card spot, with the Kansas City Chiefs seemingly having the first locked up.
Besides always wanting to see a divisional opponent get beat, the Packers and Bears can be even more thankful that the Ravens beat the Vikings and have so much hope for this season. With more motivation, the Ravens will come into Detroit confident and looking to compete and leave with just their second road win of the season.
Both the Packers and Bears will have a close eye on this game next week to see if their chances of leapfrogging the Lions is any better than before. Slight advantage to the home team in this one but I saw some of that Super Bowl spirit from the Ravens against the Vikings. The question is whether Baltimore brings that added mojo to Ford Field with them.
Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
If you have been a fan of the Packers since or before the 1990′s, this matchup should conjure up some incredible memories. Every year from 1993 – 1998, it seemed that the Packers and Cowboys always met in the postseason or at critical points during the season. Those Dallas teams bettered the Packers overall, but this is a new era.
The Packers have won the last two games against the Cowboys, both at Lambeau Field. The last time these teams met in Dallas was in late November, 2007. Back then, the Packers quarterback was Brett Favre and Green Bay had lost just one game leading into that game. The Cowboys got the win, as has been the case in every matchup between these teams in Dallas since December 24, 1989. For some perspective, that was Troy Aikman’s rookie season and Emmitt Smith (the NFL’s all-time leading rusher) was still in college. The Packers, however, have a chance to keep that win streak from reaching the quarter-century mark with a win on Sunday.
Green Bay finally emerged victorious after five straight winless games. Four of those games were losses with one tie against the Vikings two weeks back. Despite the slide the Packers have been on since losing Rodgers, they are still very much in the thick of their divisional race. With the Lions loss to Philadelphia, the Packers are just one-half game out of first place.
The questions remain, this week, about whether Rodgers will be medically cleared and allowed to play against Dallas. While the win against Atlanta was encouraging, most of those connected to the Packers organization are hoping for good news on Rodgers this week. Rodgers will practice with the team this week and as of Monday, was not yet scheduled for a scan of his collarbone. Players were not made available to the media on Monday and all Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said was that in order to play, Rodgers would need to be medically cleared.
For the Cowboys, it’s a matter of keeping up with the Eagles for the NFC east division lead. They did themselves no favors with a loss against the Bears on Monday night. Dallas went up early and appeared to be moving the ball but their defense proved to be no match for Chicago’s methodical passing attack.
The Cowboys secondary looked very pedestrian against the big and physical Bears receivers. The Packers don’t have that same size advantage but with top-tier talent at receiver, the Packers can make some noise and move the ball. Another big question mark for Green Bay will be the health status of running back Eddie Lacy, who suffered an ankle sprain at the end of the first half against Atlanta. Lacy returned but his status for this weekend is undetermined. If he is not able to play, the Packers will turn to James Starks and Kahlil Bell at running back.
“Keys” will be up in its usual Sunday morning time slot and expect to see Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant’s name a time or two. Bryant had only two catches against the Bears, although one was for a touchdown. He has 10 on the season and while he was stifled in Chicago, this game is at home where Bryant has played some of his best ball.
As badly as they looked against the Bears, the Cowboys are perfectly capable of bouncing back and pridefully putting together a better showing a home.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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