31

October

Around the NFC North in Week 9

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 9

Week 9 brings us to the start of the 2012 season’s second half.  Quick trivia:  Which is the NFL’s only division with three teams over .500?  You’re correct if you guessed the NFC North.  Let’s dive into the matchups around the division this week.

Chicago Bears (6-1) at Tennessee Titans (3-5)

The Bears are rolling, the Titans are not.  About the only thing in Tennessee’s favor this week is that it’s a home game.

The Bears narrowly escaped with a home win over Carolina while Tennessee came up just short against the Indianapolis Colts in overtime.  As the saying goes, good teams find a way to win and Chicago keeps doing it week after week.  They find themselves alone in 1st place atop the NFC North.

Tennessee has had solid play from backup QB Matt Hasselbeck in place of injured Jake Locker.  Hasselbeck will start Sunday against the Bears.  Unfortunately, Hasselbeck is the only Titans player who has played well consistently and the team has not been able to string consecutive wins together.

Titans RB Chris Johnson has flashed some of his vintage self lately, but not enough to put the team on his back.  The Bears are giving up a stingy 77 yards/game rushing and Johnson will be the focal point of their defensive game plan.

The big focus for the Titans and Hasselbeck is taking care of the football.  Chicago has mustered 16 interceptions in 7 games this season and they lead the league in takeaways.  They are also a top-scoring defense so they are making those turnovers count.  Hasselbeck has thrown four interceptions compared to six touchdown passes.  His task will not be an easy one this Sunday.

For the Bears, the game plan is simple:  run to daylight.  Tennessee is surrendering 140 yards/game on the ground and the Bears happen to have a guy named Forte on their side.  I’m no fantasy football expert but I say: start Forte!  If Chicago builds a solid lead, you’ll see a good dose of Michael Bush as well.

While the rest of the North needs the Bears to slow down a tick, it likely doesn’t happen this week.

25

October

Around the NFC North in Week 8

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 8

Week 8 is upon us which means the season is almost half over!  Let’s take a look around the NFC North and at the matchups to come.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-2)

This game kicks off NFL’s week 8 as the Thursday night matchup.  It’s a rare meeting between these two teams since the Bucs left the old NFC Central and became part of the NFC South.  Tampa has won the last three with the most recent being last season.

Minnesota comes in a surprising 5-2.   They beat the Arizona Cardinals behind a good defensive performance and with the continued contribution of RB Adrian Peterson.  Tampa had seemingly pulled off a last-second TD by QB Josh Freeman for the win over the New Orleans Saints but the catch was later ruled invalid.  Tampa dropped to 2-4.

Anytime a team is working on a short week, it adds an additional challenge for teams to prepare and for players to get past the bumps and bruises from the week prior.  Both teams are fortunate that they are not dealing with many health issues at the moment.

The Vikings have been winning with defense this season.  They had nine sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown this past Sunday by their top rookie S Harrison Smith.  And having struggled offensively over the past few weeks, Minnesota was able to muster two scores on a vintage run by Peterson and a Christian Ponder pass to Percy Harvin.  Harvin leads the NFL with 53 catches.  The Vikings lethargic offense may get a jumpstart this week as they face a Tampa defense that ranks 25th overall.

Tampa has had a hard time keeping up with their opposition this year, largely due to the 329 passing yards they are giving up each week.  If Minnesota’s struggles in the passing game continue and they go heavy in the run game, it may benefit the Tampa defense as they are surrendering just 76 yards/game on the ground.  Of course, they are facing the elite Adrian Peterson and a Vikings ground attack that is averaging just over 130 yards/game.  How Tampa counters the Viking rush attack will be a key in this game.

The Vikings are winning games and are at home on a short week.  I give them the edge.

29

September

Week 4: Around the NFC North

Christian Ponder

QB Christian Ponder has led the surprising Vikings to a 2-1 record

It’s hard to believe we’re already talking about week 4 and the NFL season will be a quarter done after this coming Monday Night game.  It’s a busy week in the NFC North with some very good matchups to look forward to.

For the Green Bay Packers, week 4 is a very welcome sight.  Need I even explain the who, what, when, where and why?  They are eager to get that putrid taste out of their mouths after a very controversial loss on the final play in Monday Night’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.  They return home and host the 0-3 New Orleans Saints led by QB Drew Brees.

The Minnesota Vikings ride high into Detroit to face the Lions after having knocked off the previously undefeated and heavily favored San Francisco 49ers in Minnesota this past weekend.  It is the first divisional game for both the Vikes and Lions this season.  The Lions come into this game licking the wounds of a brutal overtime loss at Tennessee after scoring twice in the final :18 seconds to force the OT.

The Bears cap off the week with a Monday Night matchup in Dallas against the Cowboys.  Both teams are coming off wins and strong performances in week 3.  The winner of this one makes a strong statement as to their standing as a contender in the NFC.

And lastly, it must be mentioned that everyone is relieved (well at least everyone not in Seattle) and very happy to welcome back the union referees who agreed, this week, to a new CBA with the league.  They officiated the Thursday night matchup between the Ravens and Browns and will be on hand for the full slate of NFL games this weekend.

Minnesota Vikings (2-1) at Detroit Lions (1-2)

The Vikings have thrown a few surprises at us all so far in this young season.  Adrian Peterson did in fact return in time for the season opener and he is already having a productive season.  He has 230 yards on 58 carries and 2 TD’s.  Riding that production, the Vikes find themselves in first place in the NFC North for the first time since the end of the 2009 season.  They stunned the San Francisco 49ers this past weekend and handed them their first loss of the year.  The Vikes will be a team to watch having found some early success after entering the season as heavy favorites to finish last in the division.

10

July

Packers Fans Begrudging Respect: NFC North Players You Hate To Love

hate/LoveWhen the news broke about the arrest of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson this past weekend, it got me thinking about some things.

Despite not knowing most of the facts about the situation, many fans greeted the news of his arrest with jeers and snickers.  I get it, it’s what fans do.  Whenever a member of a rival team (especially a hated rival team like the Vikings) does something stupid and gets in trouble, it’s natural for fans of the other team or teams to poke fun at the situation.

Look at all the trouble members of the Detroit Lions have been in.  It was obvious Jim Schwartz was leading a team that had many clowns on it last year after the Suh stomping incident, but this offseason has just confirmed it.   It’s despicable and a sign of a bad culture inside that locker room.  The criticism Schwartz and the Lions have been receiving is deserved.

However, Peterson’s incident (which at the moment sounds incredibly sketchy) deserves no such wrath of fans.  Despite playing for “the purple team,” Peterson has been an upright citizen since coming into the NFL and has done nothing wrong previously to earn such scorn from fans.

The only “wrong” he has done is that he made the Packers defense look foolish multiple times and that’s obviously why Packer fans greeted the news with such venom.  That reason however is not an excuse to celebrate a guy going to jail who has previously been squeaky clean.

If it sounds like I actually like and respect Adrian Peterson, it’s because I do.  As I told Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee on Twitter Sunday, as much as I love the Packers I also love the game of football and respect those who have played and currently play it, regardless of what color uniform they wear.

So yes I enjoy watching Peterson play….in those other 14 games in the regular season just like I enjoyed watching not let the color blindness that is team loyalty cloud our sight or our judgment.

In that theme, I present to you, in no particular order, five NFC North (non-Packer) players I hate to love.

Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota Vikings

Before you rip me a new one, please keep in mind I mean in the other 14 games when these teams are not playing the Green Bay Packers.

29

May

NFC North: Jim Schwartz’s Seat Should Be Heating Up

Lions coach Jim Schwartz

Schwartz's antics should be raising some eyebrows in the Motor CIty

If you took a poll of 100 NFL fans and asked them which of the four head coaches in the NFC North was on the hottest seat entering the 2012 season, a majority very likely would choose Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith who survived a mediocre season which was followed by a major shakeup in the Bears’ front office.

In this case, the majority would be wrong. Or at least they should be.

As of late I would argue that Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has caught Smith and perhaps even passed him as the NFC North coach in the most hot water.

To many, this seems like a preposterous line of thought. Schwartz has been a key player in turning the Lions from an 0-16 laughing stock to a team that just qualified for the playoffs for the first time in forever. He has one of the league’s best quarterback/receiver tandems in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and has a formidable defense to boot. Firing Schwartz seems utterly insane.

If you only looked at the on field product, it would be. Throw in events off the field, and things become a little more sketchy. With Lions defensive end Nick Fairley recently being arrested for the second time in nearly two months on top of Ndamukong Suh’s temptation to get stomping mad plus Schwartz’s handshake skills and the happy story of the Lions’ turnaround quickly takes a detour down a dark path.

In the name of fairness to Schwartz, I am not laying the poor decisions made by Fairley and others at the feet of the head coach. The poor choices were made by the players and the players alone.

However, Schwartz’s growing reputation around the league as a class A jerk is surely minimizing the amount of sympathy points he is getting from his peers.

To think Schwartz is being given the short end of the stick is too nearsighted. Take a look at Marvin Lewis with the Cincinnati Bengals. That team became a punchline around the league thanks to what seemed like a Bengal being arrested every single day. The Bengals were more notable for off the field debauchery than they were for on the field success.

29

March

Around the NFC North: Offseason Moves and Views on the Vikings, Bears and Lions

Vikings stadium

An artists's rendering of the proposed new Vikings stadium. Yes, it's another crappy dome.

What have the teams in the NFC North not named the Green Bay Packers been up to this offseason? Read on and find out.

Minnesota Vikings

Players Released: G Steve Hutchinson, G Anthony Herrera, CB Cedric Griffin, NT Remi Ayodele, TE Jim Kleinsasser (retired)

Free Agents Signed: TE John Carlson, FB Jerome Felton, RB Lex Hilliard, OL Geoff Schwartz, CB Zack Bowman

Re-Signings: DT Fred Evans, QB Sage Rosenfels, DL Letroy Guion, WR Devin Aromashodu

Holes on Roster: CB, S, LT, LG and WR

The Vikings ditched the Triangle of Authority and named Rick Spielman sole general manager not long after their 2011 season (mercifully) ended. Naturally, many Vikings fans expected Spielman to start signing free agents as soon as possible, anything to erase the memories of a 3-13 season that saw the Vikings take several steps backward while the Packers, Lions and Bears got better.

Those marquee free-agent signings never came. Instead, Spielman appears to be doing his best Ted Thompson impersonation by signing no-name free agents and talking about building through the draft. The one exception was signing TE John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million deal.

The Vikings are in a weird spot. They have a young QB that may or may not be a long-term solution. Their best offensive player tore his ACL at the end of last season. Their coach has no personality and is unproven. And their defense keeps getting older.

They’re not only rebuilding, they’re in the infant stages of rebuilding.

On top of all that, owner Zygi Wilf is in the fight of his life trying to get taxpayer funding to build a new stadium. I suppose there is a chance that 2012 may be the last season the Packers play the Vikings, the Minnesota Vikings, anyway. If had to take an educated guess, though, I’d say that Wilf eventually gets his stadium and the Vikings will blow their horns in Minnesota for many years to come.

But a new stadium might be the only good news for Vikings fans in the near future. This team is rebuilding, and it’s going to take a while before they contend in the NFC North again.

Chicago Bears

Players Released: DT Anthony Adams, OL Frank Omiyale, RB Marion Barber (retired)

Free Agents Signed: KR-PR Eric Weems, RB Michael Bush, OB Jason Campbell, LB Blake Costanzo, QB Josh McCown,

5

January

Who Do We Want? Ranking The Green Bay Packers’ Potential Playoff Opponents

As the wise philosopher Homer Simpson once declared, “The waiting game sucks! Let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippos!”

That’s the dilemma facing the Green Bay Packers this week as they wait out their first round bye and for their opponent in the divisional round to be determined.  While it’s doubtful the Packers are playing children’s board games in the locker room (well, maybe), we fans can play the wishing game and debate for hours on end who we want to see the Packers play in their first home playoff game since the 2007-2008 season.

(Be sure to cast your vote in the Poll at the end of this post)

The Packers can face one of three teams: the New York Giants, the Detroit Lions or the Atlanta Falcons.  Should Detroit upset the New Orleans Saints the Lions come to Lambeau.  Should the Saints hold on, the winner of Falcons/Giants would get the defending champions next.

So who would be the best matchup for the Packers? Honestly, an argument could be made for all three.  The Packers played (and beat) all three during the regular season, and defeated the Lions twice.  So familiarity with the opponent will be an advantage regardless.

I’ve decided to rank the three from the best matchup to the worst.  This is by no means a rock solid list.  I tossed all sorts of different variations in my head but I finally settled on the order below.

1.       Atlanta Falcons They’re number one for a couple reasons.  First, they are a dome team.  So are the Lions, yes, but at least Detroit’s climate is very similar to Green Bay’s.  Atlanta’s meanwhile, despite the occasional snow storm, is a much warmer climate. Even though they play indoors, they still don’t commute to work and live in this weather like the Packers, Lions and Giants do.

 A second reason is that for whatever reason, the Packers seem to have the Falcons’ number.  After beating the Packers at home during the 2010 regular season, the Falcons got spanked by the same team in the divisional round last year.  This year, again at the Georgia Dome, the Packers beat Atlanta again 25-14 after the Falcons blew a 14-3 lead.