Around the NFC North: Week 13

Around the NFC North

The Bears and Lions remain in first place with Detroit hosting the Packers on Thanksgiving.

The NFC North had a lackluster showing in week 12 with none of the four teams winning their respective games.  As such, the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears remained tied atop the division with matching 6-5 records.

The Green Bay Packers moved to within a half game of the division lead with a tie against the Minnesota Vikings.  And the Vikings?  Their biggest remaining question mark is how badly they want to finish this season and in preparation for next year’s draft.

The Packers and Vikings tie was Green Bay’s first such result since 1987.  If nothing else, it ended the Packers’ three-game losing streak and also gave the Vikings a moral victory.  Win-win, right?  Not really, but just trying to find some good in it all.

I am not a fan of a tie game and wish the NFL would allow teams to play until there is a winner.  But I digress.

This week, there are two divisional matchups to look at, starting the Thanksgiving Day matchup between the Packers and Lions.

Green Bay Packers (5-5-1) at Detroit Lions (6-5)

I have long wondered how I would react to a Packers tie game.  I can now cross that off of my “life’s mysteries” list and gladly so.  Green Bay was able to mount a comeback against the Vikings after entering the fourth quarter down 23-7.  The Packers, looking for a spark, benched starting quarterback Scott Tolzien in favor of backup Matt Flynn.  Many had been clamoring for Flynn after watching Tolzien struggle to move the ball most of the day.

It was Flynn’s first action since returning to the Packers two weeks ago.  In his last appearance at Lambeau Field in 2011, Flynn started a week 17 game against the Lions and set a Packers franchise record with 480 passing yards and six touchdown passes.  While Flynn’s performance against the Vikings fell way short of those totals, he was able to rally Green Bay to even up the game and with a chance to win.



Lions at Packers: Keys to the Game

Lions RB Reggie Bush

Bush has jump-started the Lions offense this season and will factor heavily in Sunday’s outcome

The bye week is over and the Green Bay Packers have been preparing to get back on a winning track after their week three debacle in Cincinnati.

The good news for the Packers is that they are getting back many of those who were dealing with injury.  Clay Matthews, Jermichael Finley, Morgan Burnett, John Kuhn, Eddie Lacy and Jarrett Bush all returned to practice this week and have a good chance to play this Sunday.  Cornerback Casey Hayward did participate in some drills, but he has already been ruled out this week.  Backup offensive lineman Greg Van Roten suffered a foot sprain in Monday’s practice and he likely will not suit up this weekend either.

Green Bay needs all hands on deck now and after starting the season 1-2.  While they always have a good chance of playing a divisional opponent tough, these games are some of the most grueling on the schedule due to each team’s familiarity with each other.

While Detroit has lost 22 straight games at Lambeau Field, they are growing increasingly weary of hearing about “the streak”.  The Lions come in with a revamped offense and attitude.  Running back Reggie Bush has been phenomenal for Detroit so far this season and if he can stay healthy (he has already missed a game due to a knee injury), he will prove very valuable.  Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is benefitting from having another solid weapon to detract some of the attention from his All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson.  Speaking of Johnson, he was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report, with a knee issue but popular opinion is that he will play this week.

Let’s look at the keys that will likely factor heavily into the outcome in Sunday’s contest at Lambeau Field.

Reeeeggie, Reeeeggie, Reeeeggie

This was once a battle cry that rang from the stands at Lambeau Field during the 1990′s and in hopes that former Packer Reggie White would destroy the opposing quarterback and impose his will on their team.  The Packers could benefit from channeling a bit of their inner-Reggie White this week and hopefully that same chant is ringing from the meeting room of every defensive position group this week.  This Reggie, however, is Reggie Bush.



Around the NFC North in Week 11

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 11

Week 11 brings about some intriguing plotlines around the NFC North.  The Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers both lost their starting quarterbacks for portions of this past Sunday’s game.  The Green Bay Packers finally see a divisional opponent in old foe the Detroit Lions.  The Minnesota Vikings have their bye this week after beating the Lions to complete the sweep in that series.  Here is a breakdown of the two matchups in the Black & Blue division this week.

Chicago Bears (7-2) at San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)

The storyline in this Monday Night Football contest is that in this past week’s game, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler were both knocked out with a concussion.  Each missed the entire second half of their game.  Both Smith and Cutler will go through the league-mandated concussion protocol and need to be cleared before resuming football activities.

As of Wednesday, it was being reported that Smith was cleared to resume play and is expected to start on Sunday.  If Smith can’t go for some reason, he would be replaced by Colin Kaepernick.  The Bears have not yet commented on their expectations for Cutler’s status this week.  Cutler’s backup is Jason Campbell.  In such a crucial matchup, this is a situation to monitor as the week goes on.

Before last Sunday’s game (and besides mop up duty), Campbell had appeared for just one snap in an October 22nd game against the Detroit Lions.  Cutler was viciously taken down by Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh and came out for just one play before returning.

The San Francisco 49ers were involved in the first tie game since the 2008 season as they locked up with division rival St. Louis Rams.  Tie games are always interesting when it comes to the standings and San Francisco is currently behind both the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears in the NFC.

San Francisco’s strength is their defense and superior play that they are getting from their front seven.  Pro Bowler Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman lead one of the most disruptive linebacking units in the NFL along with defensive linemen Justin Smith and Aldon Smith.  It was Aldon Smith’s sack late in the overtime period that kept the Rams out of field goal range and drained valuable clock.