27

December

Around the NFC North in Week 17

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 17

In week 17, The NFL is getting what it always hopes for when they create the schedule each spring.  Each of this week’s NFC North matchups have playoff implications and there is another NFL record in jeopardy.

After the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yardage record last week, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has the single-season rushing record in his sights.  Peterson needs just 208 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105 yards.

Peterson’s Vikings host the Green Bay Packers and that game has been flexed by the NFL to the 3pm CDT time slot.  It is setting up to be one of the better matchups around the league.  Green Bay can secure the second seed with a victory or both a San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks loss.  For the Vikings, it’s simple:  win and they’re in.

The Chicago Bears are still alive in the wild card race after beating the Arizona Cardinals.  Chicago travels to Detroit and must win to keep any hopes alive of securing the last wild card spot.  The Bears also are in the precarious position of having to cheer for their arch enemy Packers.  Should Bears win and the Packers beat the Vikings, the Bears would claim the sixth and final seed in the NFC.

Let’s look at the matchups and playoff scenarios a bit more closely.

Chicago Bears (9-6) at Detroit Lions (4-11)

The Lions got pounded by the Atlanta Falcons this past Saturday to make official what we already knew:  Detroit is horrible.  The only bright spot in the game, and really their entire season, was Johnson  surpassing Rice’s previous total.  Rice established the record of 1,848 yards with the San Francisco 49ers in 1995.

Johnson and the Lions can deliver a huge jab to the gut of Chicago by pulling off the upset this week.  A Chicago loss would eliminate the Bears from playoff contention.  While it’s not likely given the recently level of play by both teams, crazy things have happened this season and Detroit has at least an outside shot of pulling off the win.

16

December

Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears Key Matchups

Brandon Marshall

Well, here we are.  It’s Bears week and the Green Bay Packers have a chance to clinch another NFC North divisional title with a win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.  These are the types of matchups that the schedule makers and NFL hope for this late in the season.

When earlier this year it seemed that the Packers would be facing seemingly insurmountable odds to surpass the Bears in the North, all of the chips have started to fall into place.  The Bears have lost four of their last five games and are staring at a good possibility that their playoff chances will be reduced to a wild card chase.

Should the Bears lose Sunday, the Packers could clinch the division win and that is the only way Chicago can get into the postseason.  Should the Bears win, the Packers can still control their own destiny and win the division by simply winning their last two games.

There has been some jarring in the media between both teams with some subtle and some not-so-subtle barbs.  Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall acted like he didn’t know how to pronounce Packers cornerback Tramon Williams’ name and said that none of the Green Bay defenders should take any credit for severely limiting him in the teams’ first matchup.  Packers tight end Jermichael Finley commented that the Bears defense may be better off without the “slow” and future Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is out with a hamstring injury.

But all of that is nothing but entertainment leading up to another huge game between these long-time rivals.  Let’s hone in on the key matchups that will play a big role in the outcome.

Bears Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall vs. Packers Secondary

As was the case in the first matchup, this is probably the most key matchup in the game.  Marshall is, by far, Chicago’s biggest offensive threat and he is currently the second leading receiver in the NFL in terms of yardage.  He’s a big body who is a tough tackle and can pick up some yards after the catch.  He has the speed to stretch out the defense and run the deep route too.

13

December

Around the NFC North in Week 15

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 15

It’s already the NFL’s week 15 and let’s cut to the chase in the NFC North.  This is a week that most Packers fans had circled on the schedule as soon as it came out.  Is there a more intense week in the Packers universe than “Bears week”?

The Green Bay Packers travel to Chicago to take on the Bears in this highly-anticipated game that will be the marquis matchup not just in the NFC North, but in the NFL.

The Packers can clinch their second straight North division title with a win.  The Bears would re-enter the divisional race as a strong contender should they emerge victorious.  The early line this week favors Green Bay by three.

The Minnesota Vikings will travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams.  This ends up being an interesting game because neither of these teams wants to go away quietly this year.

The week is rounded off by the Detroit Lions visiting the Arizona Cardinals in the “futility bowl”.  Nothing more than pride is on the line in that contest.

Let’s dive into the matchups and the storylines alike.

Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5)

Because of the major playoff implications, I’m leading off with this matchup and will go more in depth with this game.

This game has changed shape immensely in the past month.  What was being billed as possibly one of the biggest game on the NFL schedule this season has turned into somewhat of a last stand for the Bears.

After starting the season 7-1, the Bears have lost four of their last five games including two in a row since the return of quarterback Jay Cutler.  After suffering a concussion during a loss to the Houtson Texans, Cutler was forced to miss a key game against the San Francisco 49ers.  The 9ers beat the Bears handily for a second straight loss.  They beat the Vikings but then suffered a tough overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks and followed that up with this past week’s loss in the rematch with Minnesota on the road.

Chicago will be without defensive playmakers Brian Urlacher who may end up on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, and cornerback Tim Jennings who leads the NFL in interceptions with eight.  Jennings dislocated his shoulder late in the loss to the Seattle and is currently doubtful for this week’s game.

7

December

Around the NFC North in Week 14

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 14

For the first time this season, there are two divisional matchups in the NFC North.  The Chicago Bears travel to Minnesota to round out their season series against the Vikings.  Both of those teams are coming off of tough losses last week and cannot afford another in this game.

The Detroit Lions come to Lambeau Field where they haven’t logged a victory in over 20 years to take on the Green Bay Packers in the Sunday night football matchup.  Detroit suffered a gut-wrenching and last-second defeat at the hands of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.  The Packers were the only victorious team in the North this past week.  The win helped them reclaim sole possession of first place in the divsion.

Here’s a sneak peak at each matchup and some storylines heading into the games.

Chicago Bears (8-4) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

The Bears are starting to feel the effects of their hard-fought season.  They learned that they will be without long-time veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher for at least the next three weeks due to a hamstring injury.  While Urlacher has been hampered by some bumps and bruises this season, there is no question the Bears defense is better with him on the field.

Chicago’s starting cornerback Tim Jennings was also injured in last week’s game vs. the Seattle Seahawks when he collided with another player and hurt his shoulder.  As of Tuesday, it was still not known how serious the injury was and more tests were expected later in the week to determine if there is any structural damage.  Any such news would mean Jennings will miss some time which would be a huge blow to the Bears’ secondary.  Jennings has been the team’s top defender this season and leads the team with eight interceptions.

The Vikings are also awaiting some news on the health of one of their star players, wide receiver Percy Harvin.  Harvin has missed the team’s last four games with an ankle injury and has battled health issues since coming into the league as a rookie in 2009.

Minnesota and Chicago are both in need of a win to make a strong run at the postseason.  The Bears and Packers have the same record at 8-4 but Green Bay holds the tie-breaker, having beaten Chicago head-to-head earlier this season.  The Vikings dropped to .500 and are trying to stay alive in the Wild Card race with an outside chance at a division win.

15

November

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.