NFC North News and Notes: December 24

Posted Dec 24, 2013

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


Last Week: 23-20 OT loss to the Giants

While the Lions were enjoying their bye week during Week 9, they were sitting with a 5-3 record, were relatively healthy, and oh by the way Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone that week, which would knock him out of action for at least three weeks according to reports that surfaced after that game.

So, combine that with the fact that Jay Cutler was also on the shelf with an injury for the Bears, at it certainly appeared as though the division was there for the taking for Detroit.

As we all know by now, the Lions have gone 2-5 over the last seven weeks, with the cherry on top there being the back-to-back home losses to the Ravens and Giants over the last two weeks.

The Lions held a late lead during Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the Giants, but a Matthew Stafford pass was picked off by Giants S Will Hill and returned for a score to knot things up at 20-20. Neither team scored on their first possession of overtime, and on the Giants third drive, they were facing a third and 13 near midfield but Eli Manning completed back-to-back pieces to keep the drive alive, and Josh Brown ended up nailing a 45-yard field goal to eliminate the Lions from playoff contention.

Turnovers have been a huge issue for the Lions all year, and they turned the ball over three times on Sunday. Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush – Detroit’s three best offensive players – all struggled on Sunday: Stafford threw for zero touchdown, two picks, and had a 53.9 rating, Bush had 14 touches for 44 yards, while Johnson had three catches for 43 yards.

This Week: Lions at Vikings, Noon on Sunday

The Lions will play out the string on Sunday by taking on the Vikings in the final game at Mall of America Field. While the Vikings have been out of the race for a while, with the deflating way the Lions season has gone down the last two weeks, it will be interesting to see what their interest-level is come this Sunday.


Last Week: 54-11 loss to the Eagles

This game was over almost before it even started for the Bears, who found themselves down 21-0 after running just six offensive plays. Obviously things didn’t get any better for the duration of the night, as the Eagles cruised to a 54-11 win to setup their own “win and in” game next Sunday night against the Cowboys in Dallas.

The Eagles ran for 289 yards on the night, which certainly didn’t help Chicago’s season average of allowing 161.5 rushing yards per game. That is 26.3 yards more than the next worse team is allowing per game.  Looking ahead to next week, it won’t get any easier with Eddie Lacy, who gouged them in the previous meeting (a win by the Bears) for 150 yards and a touchdown.

You kind of knew the Eagles would put up points on the Bears, but what’s strange is Chicago’s inability to do anything on offense. Wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall have been running wild over the second half of the season but were unable to get anything going against an Eagles defense that was torched by the Vikings a week ago.

Jay Cutler wasn’t very good on the night, but again, when you’re down 20-plus points and it’s still in the 1st quarter, it of course makes the offense very one-dimensional and essentially took away the threat of Matt Forte.

Cutler will start again this Sunday vs. the Packers, but one has to wonder if Head Coach Marc Trestman might look to backup Josh McCown if things start going south.

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

Chicago will need to put the Eagles beat-down behind them ASAP and refocus on the task at hand: beating the Packers and locking up the NFC North crown. Given their troubles on defense, you have to figure that Cutler and Co. will need to put up 30-plus points if the Bears are going to advance to the playoffs and host a Wild Card game next weekend at Soldier Field.


Last Week: 38-31 loss to the Steelers

Despite the fact that Aaron Rodgers was again not medically cleared to go, the Green Bay offense put up more than enough points to get a win on Sunday at home against the Steelers. However, Pittsburgh rang up nearly 40 points on the Packers en route to a 38-31 to keep their own slim playoff hopes alive in the process.

Green Bay led 14-10 at the half, but the Steelers used a 21-point 3rd quarter to take a 10-point lead going into the 4th quarter, which is when things got crazy at Lambeau.  Mason Crosby hit a 22-yard field goal and then on their next drive, John Kuhn punched it in from a yard out to draw Green Bay even with Pittsburgh at 31-31.

Pittsburgh was forced to punt but they did pin the Packers inside their own 10. However, Troy Polamalu hit Matt Flynn and forced a fumble that the Steelers recovered, setting the Steelers up to take the lead. Green Bay stopped Pittsburgh on the next three plays, using all three of its timeouts in the process. But then on the short field goal attempt on 4th down, Nick Pretty was flagged for encroachment, giving the Steelers a 1st down at the Green Bay 5-yard line.

The Steelers proceeded to score a touchdown to, you’d like, ice the game. But Micah Hyde returned the ball deep into Steelers territory to give the Packers one final shot, but Flynn’s final pass to Jarrett Boykin fell short, ending the game and leaving the Packers sitting at 7-7-1.

On Monday Head Coach Mike McCarthy said this week would follow a similar path to the last several in regards to Rodgers, who has still not been cleared by the team physicians though he also added that they’d like to make the call on if Rodgers will play or note earlier in the week than what they’ve been doing for the last two weeks.

Also of note, McCarthy didn’t sound too optimistic that Clay Matthews, who left the Steelers game after re-aggravating the thumb injury that sidelined him earlier this season, would be okay for this final game vs. the Bears. Eddie Lacy was also banged up on Sunday, so his status is another to keep an eye on heading into Sunday.

This Week: Packers at Bears, Sunday at 3:25 PM 

So the NFC North will come down to Sunday’s game in Chicago between the Packers and the Bears, with both teams coming off tough losses. Should Rodgers return you’d have to make Green Bay the heavy favorite despite having to go on the road given how poor Chicago’s defense has been playing as of late.