Packers Periscope: Week 17 at Chicago Bears

The Past: The last meeting in this storied rivalry did not go so well for the Packers; losing the game was actually the smaller matter as the Packers season essentially spiraled out of control with Aaron Rodgers breaking his collarbone, which would eventually take 7 weeks to heal.  The Packers did do a couple things well, notably Eddie Lacy rushing for 150 yards and James Starks chipping in for another 40 but without Jay Cutler being, well Jay Cutler, the Bears played an efficient and mistake free game with Josh McCown under center and ultimately won 27-20.

For the Packers, this started a team collapse, starting first with the uncertainty at quarterback; Seneca Wallace was injured and placed on IR the next week, Scott Tolzien played with glimpses of potential, but costly mistakes ultimately caused the Packers to call on their old friend Matt Flynn, who had been released by Seattle, Oakland and the Bills in this season alone.  While Flynn was completely overmatched against the Lions in the Thanksgiving game and has been a below average quarterback, he also has shown the moxie that got him drafted by the Packers in the first place, managing to win two comeback games by 1 point, something that many critics have argued Aaron Rodgers has failed to do.

Ironically, while the Packers have done about as well as can be expected without Rodgers, they shouldn’t even been in the playoff race right now as the rest of the NFC north has had an even more inexplicable collapse.  Naturally the Vikings and notably Adrian Peterson weren’t going to be able to repeat their magical season from last year one more time, and more importantly seem just as confused about their quarterbacks as they were last year.  The Bears have been an enigma this year as well; sometimes it looks like they are finally becoming a dominant offensive team, other times it looks like they really wish they had their stalwart defense, at times crushing the Dallas Cowboys 45-28 but then getting destroyed by the Philadelphia Eagles 11-54.  Most startling is the fall of the Detroit Lions, who should have clinched the NFC North months ago.  The Lions have clearly one of the most talented teams in the NFL and unlike the Bears, Packers and Vikings have had a stable quarterback position the entire season, which should have won them the division right there.  Add to that a ferocious defense, and a powerful passing game spearheaded by Calvin Johnson and the Lions should have been the cream of the black and blue.  However, in the last 6 games, the Lions have only beat the Packers and basically killed their playoff hopes by letting a kicker beat them and then sealed their fate with a loss against the Giants.



NFC North Pre Season: What’s The Story?

Around the NFC North

Each NFC North team has a storyline heading into training camp later this month

NFL training camps begin in just under two weeks and no doubt, the story lines will pick up as position battles take shape and budding stars emerge.  But what about the story lines up until now?  Let’s take a look around the NFC North and the biggest question each team is facing as they prepare for the 2013 season.

Can Matthew Stafford live up to his new contract extension?

After making a playoff appearance in 2011, the Lions took a huge step backwards in 2012, finishing 4-12 and in last place in the NFC North.  Muted by the team’s dismal record last year was a record-setting performance by wide receiver Calvin Johnson.  Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s record for total receiving yards in a season.  Johnson will, of course, be back in 2013 and will be a key piece to Detroit’s success.

The team also returns head coach Jim Schwartz despite the team’s regression last season, but the biggest story out of Detroit during the offseason and preseason is the recent contract extension the team gave to quarterback Matthew Stafford.  The deal is for the next five seasons and worth $76.5 million.  That makes Stafford one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL.

It’s no secret that the quarterback position is most important to a team’s ability to succeed, and especially in today’s NFL.  The Green Bay Packers clearly agree and rewarded quarterback Aaron Rodgers with his own extension this off season.  But more questions will surround Stafford and on the heels of his new deal because there are more questions about the Lions as a team.  How will they respond to last season?  Are their core players ready to take another step forward?  Or will it be another year of the same old Lions?

The quick answer is that as Stafford goes, so go the Lions.  The debate over whether he deserves the kind of money the Lions gave him is another argument altogether, but the Lions have at least taken a stand and are going “all in” on the face of their franchise.  Now, all eyes and expectations will be squarely on Stafford.  He has been able to respond to pressure in the past but the microscope just got a bit bigger.