28

November

Around the NFC North in Week 13

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 13

With just five weeks remaining in the 2012 NFL season, we take a look around the NFC North at the matchups and storylines.

In week 13, a bit of Luck visits the Detroit Lions in the form of the Indianapolis Colts while the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears tangle for the third time in as many straight seasons.  The Green Bay Packers come home to host their neighbors to the west, the Minnesota Vikings for the first time in 2012.

This divisional race is starting to take shape with the Bears in first place and the Packers breathing down their necks, a close second.  The Vikings are still alive, to the surprise of many, while the Detroit Lions have made their road to a repeat playoff appearance very difficult.

Here’s the breakdown:

Indianapolis Colts (7-4) at Detroit Lions (4-7)

The surprising Indianapolis Colts come into Detroit to face the struggling Lions.  The Colts find themselves in the thick of the AFC Wild Card race.  While many knew Andrew Luck would eventually turn into a solid NFL quarterback, few would have foreseen the success that this team has had so far in 2012.

With that said, let’s also consider that only one of Indianapolis’ wins have come against a team that would currently be in this year’s playoffs (Packers in week 5).  But they are taking steps in the right direction after having won only two games last season.  At least they’re beating the teams that are struggling (Detroit falls into this category) or just plain bad.

While the Lions took the Houston Texans to overtime last week, they were unable to get the elusive Thanksgiving Day win and fell to 4-7.

Detroit’s biggest advantage in this game is that it’s at home.  While much has been made of Detroit’s offensive output this season, Indianapolis isn’t far behind.  The Lions rank 2nd in total yards while the Colts are 5th.  I expect this game to be a shootout.  An indoor game featuring two top offenses and two good quarterbacks.

Each team has had their issues on defense that have prevented them from winning some of their close games.  Both teams also have negative give/take ratios heading into this one. Detroit is at (-7) while Indianapolis is at (-14).

1

November

Week 9 Packers Stock Report: NFC North Edition

Through eight weeks, Matt Forte might be the runner-up to Aaron Rodgers for NFC North MVP.

While the Green Bay Packers were enjoying their bye week, some potential challengers for the top seed in the NFC struggled on Sunday. The Saints laid an egg against the Rams. The Giants had to rally to beat the Dolphins, and the Cowboys got destroyed by the Eagles.

Meanwhile, the Lions overcame the power of Tebow to improve to 6-2 and the 49ers took care of business aginst the Browns to improve to 6-1.

In other news, the Vikings got a little bit of good fortune to win their second game and the Bears joined the Packers in taking the week off.

Even though the Packes didn’t play, their stock went up. If you watched any football at all this weekend, you’d be hard pressed to find a team that could beat the Packers right now. But instead of spending another stock report praising all that is right in Cheeseland, lets devote some attention to other stocks throughout the NFC North.

Which players in the NFC North are on the rise and could give the Packers some fits down the stretch? Which players are playing at a steady level and which have dropped off a cliff?

Rising

Matt Forte
Bears RB
A new contract might not be in his immediate future, but that hasn’t stopped Forte from carrying the Bears’ offense. In addition to 672 rushing yards and 5.4 yards-per-carry, Forte also has 38 catches for 419 yards. To put those receiving numbers in perspective, the only Packers player with more receptions is Greg Jennings (42). The only Packers receivers with more yards through the air are Jennings (677) and Jordy Nelson (465).

I know the Packers offense doesn’t rely solely on one or two players, but those comparisons are still eye-opening.

Calvin Johnson
Lioms WR
Speaking of eye-opening, Calvin Johnson has left many DBs wide-eyed this season. Johnson is averaging six catches for 101 yards and over one TD per game. More importantly, he makes defenders and coaching staffs feel helpless when trying to stop him.

How do you stop a guy that’s bigger than some TEs, runs faster than a lot of WRs and jumps higher than a lot of NBA players? Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson and Dom Capers better figure something out.

25

September

Packers vs. Bears Preview: 5 Things to Watch

The Green Bay Packers (2-0) and Chicago Bears (1-1) face off in Week 3 of the NFL season.

The basics

When: 3:15 CDT, Sunday, September 25, 2011

Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL

TV: FOX, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman with the call, Pam Oliver on the sidelines

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network

Series: Bears lead, 92-84-6. Packers won last regular season game, 10-3, in January 2010 at Lambeau Field. Bears hold 20-19 record at Solider Field.

Five things to watch

1. Containing Forte

In six career games against the Packers, Bears running back Matt Forte has only averaged a little over 20 touches per game. The Bears will need to go over that number on Sunday to win. Forte is the focal point of the Bears offense, but too many times the Bears have went away from him.  Mike Martz isn’t making that same mistake to start this season. After asking for a new contract before the season, Forte has looked like one of the more complete backs in the game through two weeks. He’s averaging 4.5 yards on 26 attempts, but Forte is doing his real damage as a receiver, where he’s caught a team-high 15 passes for 204 yards.  If the first two weeks are any indication, the Packers might have trouble containing him in that role. Of the 851 yards the Packers have allowed to opposing quarterbacks, running backs are responsible for 235 of those. With the kind of film the Packers’ defense have put out early this season, you’d have to think Martz spent this week looking for ways to get Forte the ball in space.

2. Missing a playmaker

For all the nicks and bruises Packers safety Nick Collins has endured over the years, he’s played in 95 of the 98 regular season games the team has played since 2005. After suffering a neck injury in the second half against the Panthers, Collins will now miss the Packers final 14 games. I think most are underestimating how big of injury this could potentially be. Yes, Charlie Peprah played over 900 snaps for the Packers last season. Yes, Morgan Burnett looks like he could be a playmaker. But you simply can’t replace a two-time All-Pro who has 18 picks over the past three seasons with a journey man backup or a guy who really is in his first year at the professional level after an ACL injury. Making matters worse is the fact that the Packers now have undrafted free agent M.D. Jennings, who was expected to be nothing more than a practice squad guy, as the primary backup to both Peprah and Burnett. What was a position of strength for the Packers now appears to be a place opposing offenses could go to attack.

20

January

A Cold Shower for Overly Excited Green Bay Packers Fans

I can’t remember ever feeling this good about a Green Bay Packers team. I liked their chances against the Eagles, I was very confident they would beat the Falcons, and I have a good feeling about Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

This feeling of positivity just does not seem right. I’m not sure how to handle it. Usually I’m pessimistic and grumpy to a fault. I expect the worst and wait for everything to come crashing down with another last-second Mason Crosby clank off the goalpost, Mike McCarthy clock kerfuffle or Aaron Rodgers sack/interception.

I feel I need to channel my old pessimistic self, so that is exactly what I am going to do now. There are many reasons why the Packers will not win on Sunday. For those overly excited Packers fans like me, consider this a cold shower.

It’s the Bears. It’s Soldier Field
That about says it all doesn’t it? Very little has gone right for the Packers at Soldier Field recently. Too many penalties, blocked field goals, special teams meltdowns. You name it and it has gone wrong.

And how about that turf? If you dumped a can of green spray paint on a gravel road in Menomonie, WI you would have a better playing surface. That mess of a field neutralizes any speed advantage Bears’ opponents might have and forces you to muck it up and play their slop brand of football.

If I was a prison warden, I would not even allow my prisoners to set foot on that disaster of a playing surface.

Devin Hester
Led by Hester, the Bears average 17.1 yards per punt return. I said 17.1 yards per return! How many times have the Packers gotten 17 yards on a punt return this season? Not very many. The Bears get it almost every time!

Sure, Tim Masthay and the special teams unit contained Hester in week 17. Big whoop. They were just delaying the inevitable. Lovie Smith probably looked at the matchup on special teams and immediately instructed team officials to start making plans for Dallas.

Jay Cutler is super talented
Cutler’s physical tools are unbelievable. Sometimes he throws these deep balls where he appears off-balance, yet somehow manages to flick a perfect strike to one of his streaking wide receivers.

1

January

NFL Week 17: Packers-Bears Preview: Packing for the Playoffs?

The Green Bay Packers defeated the New York Giants 45-17 last Sunday to set up what is basically a “win or go home” game against the Chicago Bears this Sunday at Lambeau Field.

The Packers can still make the playoffs with a Giants loss to the Redskins and a Buccaneers loss to the Saints if they lose to the Bears, but the Packers and their fans know the best way for them to take care of business is do beat their arch rivals and not rely on other teams for help.

The Bears, meanwhile, have wrapped up at least the No. 2 seed and in theory could get home field advantage should the Saints and Falcons both lose and they beat the Packers. Atlanta plays the Panthers, so that scenario is incredibly unlikely but again “any given Sunday.” You never know.

Breaking down Da Bears

The big, no HUGE, question is how long Bears coach Lovie Smith will play his starters. If he is anything like mentor Tony Dungy, the odds are they will play very little in a meaningless game. That said, when Smith took the Bears job he swore that beating the Packers would be his number one priority so the Packers could see the Bears first unit for a good chunk of if not the entire game.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has never played in a playoff game, so perhaps offensive coordinator Mike Martz will want to keep his arm fresh and have him sit most of the game. Or, on the flip side, Martz wants Cutler to remain hot and will keep him in the game for the majority of it.

Cutler has been playing very smart football as of late and his trademark interceptions have been on the decline. Still, it seems like everyone is waiting for one of those boneheaded Cutler throws that tips the outcome of a game in favor of the opponent. If one defense will do that, it’s the Packers who lead the NFL in scoring defense.
The Bears defense has played lights out all year and it’s highly unlikely Smith would want to subject any of his players to injury. If the starters do end up playing a majority of the game, that’s bad news for the Packers. Defensive end Julius Peppers leads a superb pass rush and linebacker Brian Urlacher is returning to the Pro Bowl after missing all of last season with a wrist injury. The Packers offensive line will have their hands full again. They handled the Giants so they should be able to handle the Bears.

24

September

Packers-Bears Preview: 2010 NFL Week 3: Black and Blue All Over

Now THAT was more like it.

Despite getting off to a sluggish start in the first half and after a fiery speech by a supposed red-faced Mike McCarthy, the Green Bay Packers ran over the Buffalo Bills 34-7.

This week, the Packers won’t be afforded the luxury of a slow start as they head to Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears Monday night with first place in the NFC North on the line.

With two weeks of the 2010 NFL season now in the books, some trends are beginning to emerge. The Packer offense is every bit as potent as expected and the defense, despite some occasional shakiness, looks to have rebounded from the debacle that was last year’s playoff loss in Arizona.

Clay Matthews continues his torrid pace recording his second consecutive three sack game, a first in Packers history. Aaron Rodgers recovered nicely from a shaky game against the Philadelphia Eagles and the offense didn’t seem to miss a step without running back Ryan Grant who is out for the season on injured reserve.

The Chicago Bears enter this game as one of the biggest surprises of this young season. The Bears sit at 2-0 after a win over what could be a worse than expected Dallas Cowboys team and an incredibly lucky Week 1 win over the Detroit Lions when Calvin Johnson’s obvious touchdown catch as time expired was overturned by the officials.

With first place on the line and a potential three game lead over the Minnesota Vikings hanging in the balance, this is a very important game for both teams despite it being only Week 3.

Breaking Down Da Bears

I can’t believe I am typing this sentence, but Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is actually playing sound football. Thus far he has meshed nicely with new offensive coordinator Mike Martz and both men have been able to keep their bigger than average egos in check. Cutler has thrown only one interception thus far which is much lower than where he was at this time last season.

Cutler, to the surprise of no one, has found a reliable target in tight end Greg Olson despite the fact that tight ends usually don’t feature much in Martz’s offensive packages. He usually likes to stretch the field but with Chicago lacking in the wide receiver department (Johnny Knox aside, and I am still not convinced about Devin Hester), Martz obviously has decided to play to Cutler’s strengths.