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NFC North News and Notes: December 17

Posted Dec 17, 2013

We take a look around the NFC North to see what the Vikings closest competition has going on…

Vikings

Last Week: 18-16 loss to the Ravens

This season has for sure been a step in the right direction for the Lions, who won just four games in 2012 and ended the season on an eight-game losing streak. But at times this year the two main things that have plagued Lions teams in the recent past – penalties and turnovers – have dragged them down, and that certainly was the case on Monday night as Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions in a heartbreaking 18-16 loss to the Ravens.

With the loss, the Lions now sit in third place in the NFC North and need some serious help if they are going to make a return to the playoffs, as Green Bay and Chicago both control their own playoff destiny though the two teams play each other in week 17 in Chicago.

Monday game vs. the Ravens was a total grind for both teams until very late in the contest. The Ravens used four Justin Tucker field goals to take a 12-10 lead into the 4th quarter. Tucker nailed a 53-yarder to give the Ravens a late lead, but the Lions answered with a 14-yard Joseph Fauria touchdown catch to take the lead. 

As most people then saw, the Ravens completed a third and long to get info “field goal range,” which for Tucker apparently means being in the same zip code as the goal posts since he hit a 61-yarder to put the Ravens in front for good. Detroit got the ball back but Stafford proceeded to throw his second interception of the 4th quarter to end any hopes of a comeback win.

In addition to the three turnovers, the Lions had eight penalties and several drops, including by Calvin Johnson, which is the last thing you’d expect out of one of the game’s all-time greats. But in the end the Lions were in a primetime spot where they could have put themselves in position to win the division, and they came up short.

The good news is that the team’s defense played very well all night, not allowing a touchdown of course but also holding the Ravens ground game in check and limiting Joe Flacco to just 222 yards passing and a 70.3 quarterback rating.

This Week: Lions vs. Giants, Sunday at 3:05 PM

Despite the last two weeks the Lions still have a decent shot at winning their final two games, starting this week by playing host to the 5-9 New York Giants at Ford Field. The Giants are the only team in the NFC that’s managed to turn the ball over more than the Lions, so despite whatever issues the Lions may have, the Giants have more and Detroit should pick up its eighth win of the season.


Vikings

Last Week: 38-31 win over the Browns

Though his final stat line looks pretty decent, things were far from easy for Jay Cutler on Sunday as he made his return to the lineup after missing roughly a month with an ankle injury. Cutler threw a pair of early interceptions that had some Bears fans yearning for Josh McCown to take over again under center, but Cutler shook the rust off and played a great second half en route to a 38-31 Bears win over the Browns in Cleveland.

The game was tied 10-10 at halftime but the Bears took their first lead of the day thanks to a 43-yard interception return touchdown by Zach Bowman.  However, the Browns answered back with two touchdowns of their own to take a seven-point lead heading into the 4th quarter. But that’s when Cutler and Co. turned it on.

Alshon Jeffery made his weekly “holy crap” catch, out-jumping a pair of Browns for a 45-yard touchdown catch to make it 24-24 early in the final quarter. After Cleveland’s second three-and-out of the quarter, a nice Devin Hester punt return set the Bears up in Browns territory and Matt Forte, who had 127 yards rushing on the day, got the Bears down to near the goal line before Cutler hit Earl Bennett for a four-yard score. Michael Bush then put the final nail in the coffin with a 40-yard touchdown run.

Chicago’s defense only gave up 93 yards rushing, which is about half of what they’ve been giving up on a weekly basis over the last two months. The unit is set to get LB Lance Briggs back this Sunday as well which should be a nice shot in the arm for the downtrodden group.  Another feather in their cap this week was holding WR Josh Gordon, who had 200 yards receiving each of the last two weeks, to just three catches for 67 yards.

With the Lions losing, the Bears moved into first place in the NFC North all be themselves this week, with Chicago controlling its own destiny: win out and they are in the playoffs hosting a game in round one as the division champions.

This Week: Bears at Eagles, Sunday Night at 7:30

In what is maybe the biggest game of the weekend, the Bears head to Philadelphia in a battle of two 8-6 teams that both sit atop their divisions and face the team currently in second place (Packers for the Bears, Cowboys for the Eagles) in week 17, meaning that the loser of this one is far from out of it, but whoever wins will be in great shape to qualify as a playoff team.


Vikings

Last Week: 37-36 win over the Cowboys

The NFC North has had its fair share of crazy games over the last few weeks, but last Sunday’s 37-36 Packers win over the Cowboys takes the cake for the most insane of them all, with Green Bay coming back from a 26-3 deficit at the half to get their second win in the “no Aaron Rodgers” era.

Much of the credit for this comeback has to be placed on the shoulders’ of Dallas’ abysmal defense, which allowed Matt Flynn to resemble Rodgers for much of the game. He finished with a quarterback rating of 113.1 in throwing for 299 yards and four touchdowns. Eddie Lacy had another monster game after a few quiet weeks, running for 141 yards and a score on 23 carries.

The Green Bay defense picked up the slack after a terrible first half by having a “more them” second half: still gave up some yards and some points but forced turnovers, namely two late ones by Tony Romo. Those allowed Lacy to score the go-ahead touchdown and then the second one effectively ended the game, as the Packers ran the clock out to pick up their seventh win of the year.

With two games to go, the Packers are in position to win out and then host a playoff game at Lambeau Field. It’s safe to say not too many Green Bay fans would have thought that could be possible when Scott Tolzien was throwing ducks all over the field in a tie against the Vikings back in mid-November, but give big-time credit to Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff for finding a way to get wins these last two weeks … and to the Bears and Lions for failing to take advantage of Green Bay’s winless month of November.

This Week: Packers vs. Steelers, Sunday at 3:25 PM

As has been the case for the last few weeks, this week’s narrative surrounding the Packers will be whether or not Aaron Rodgers is able to return to the lineup. The Steelers handed it to the Bengals on Sunday night and are 6-4 in their last ten games after an 0-4 start, so should Flynn be the guy for Green Bay again, it doesn’t figure to be too easy of a task to take down the Steelers.