Let’s take a look at the matchups at hand in week 7 and around the NFC North.
Detroit Lions (2-3) at Chicago Bears (4-1)
The Chicago Bears come off their bye week and host the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. The Bears will have had 15 days rest and since their last live action. Chicago has not lost at home this season and have won two of the last three matchups vs. the Lions.
The Lions are coming off an overtime win at Philadelphia in which they tied the game late in the 4th quarter to force the extra frame. The win ended a three-game losing streak.
This game has the makings of a good heavyweight fight. The Lions bring in the 2nd ranked offense to face the Bears and their 3rd ranked defense. The Lions have the NFL’s 2nd most potent passing attack, averaging 319 yards/game while the Bears are giving up 225 passing yards/game. The Bears are surrendering just over 65 rushing yards/game while the Lions offense averages just over 99 yards/game on the ground.
If the Bears plan to shut down the run and force Lions QB Matthew Stafford to throw it, they will need to get pressure on Stafford and try to bait him into throwing a few up for grabs. They should have their chances. In a single game this season, Stafford has attempted as many as 51 passes with his fewest being 32. As many attempts as he has had, Stafford is not finding the end zone with much consistency. He has zero multi-TD games this season.
Offensively, Chicago will try to sustain drives and control the clock. They should look to get the ball in RB Matt Forte’s hands to set up manageable down-and-distance in the passing game. That’s where Bears QB Jay Cutler looks for WR Brandon Marshall to beat his man to the ball and convert to keep drives alive.
Noteworthy is that the Lions may be without starting CB Bill Bentley after he re-injured his shoulder in Sunday’s game. With the Lions a bit dinged up in the secondary and the Bears at home on a three game winning streak, I give the edge to the Chicago.
Arizona Cardinals (4-2) at Minnesota Vikings (4-2)
The Minnesota Vikings return home after a tough loss to the Washington Redskins to host the Arizona Cardinals. This marks the 5th season in a row that the two teams have met and the 3rd straight season they will meet in the Metrodome. The Vikings have won three of the last four meetings.
The Cardinals are 4-2 and in 1st place in the NFC West despite bringing in an offense ranked 31st in the league (28thin both passing and rushing). Many of the recent issues fall on an offensive line that has surrendered 22 sacks in the last three games. Expect Vikings DE Jared Allen to be very active in this one. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald is returning home to Minnesota and will likely have to carry the load for the Cards offense.
Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb left last week’s game with a few minutes left to play after injuring his ribs. X-rays taken Monday showed no fracture but Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt wouldn’t say if Kolb would start Sunday. John Skelton, who began the season as the Cards’ starting QB, came in to finish and completed two of his ten pass attempts. Skelton was replaced by Kolb late in the week 1 game after suffering an ankle injury.
Arizona has been getting it done largely with defense and special teams. They feature one of the best punt returners in the game in Patrick Peterson. Peterson also leads the Cardinals defense with three interceptions on the year. The Cards will face the challenge of trying to contain Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson. He is averaging just over 83 yards/game while Arizona is giving up just over 113 yards/game.
Minnesota’s story is much like Arizona’s in that their defense and special teams have been their strength. LB Chad Greenway has emerged as the team’s best defensive player and leads the team in tackles. CB Antoine Winfield has returned to form after a few lackluster seasons. Percy Harvin already has a kickoff return for a TD this year and remains a threat to break one every time he gets a chance.
Despite not being a high-powered offense, the Vikings are finding ways to win. QB Christian Ponder has taken care of the ball for the most part, and their best offensive weapon has been Harvin. Harvin is averaging 11 yards/catch.
Both teams will work their pass rush to try and force some mistakes. I expect a low-scoring game with defense being the theme on both sides. Slight edge to the home team and with Arizona ’s QB situation still unknown.
Green Bay Packers (3-3) at St. Louis Rams (3-3)
The Rams return home after a loss at Miami and host the Green Bay Packers who got back to .500 with an emphatic win at Houston over the Texans. The Packers have won the last three meetings vs. the Rams, the latest contest being last season.
Aaron Rodgers comes off his best game of the season after throwing a Packers’ team record 6 TD passes last week. Jordy Nelson returned to the form that defined him in 2011, hauling in three TD passes. James Jones continued his tear with two more TD catches to bring his season total to a team-high seven.
The Packer offensive line seemed to bounce back against a good Texans pass rush as Rodgers was sacked just two times on Sunday. They will have their hands full with a Rams pass rush that has had success getting to the passer as evidenced by their nine-sack performance in week five against the Cardinals.
St. Louis QB Sam Bradford has thrown for just six TD passes and averages just 7.6 yards/pass. He has been under pressure this season, having been sacked 18 times. The Rams have dealt with a few injuries to their offensive line and are in need of consistency there. They face a Packers team that leads the league in sacks with 21.
Rams Pro Bowl RB Steven Jackson is averaging 3.6 yards/carry and is the team’s leading rusher although he has yet to find the end zone this season. Keeping Jackson contained and forcing Bradford to produce via the air will likely pay great dividends for Green Bay.
The Rams have the NFL’s 7th ranked defense and feature leading tackler and LB James Laurinaitis along with newcomer CB Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan has improved the Rams pass defense and leads the team with three interceptions and seven passes defensed. Rodgers will need to spread the ball around with Finnegan almost certain to line up on Nelson most of the day.
The Pack are down a man on defense, having lost starting LB DJ Smith to a season-ending knee injury last week. He will likely be replaced by Brad Jones who filled in after Smith left the game. Green Bay may also be without starting CB Sam Shields who has a shin injury. Rookie CB Casey Hayward would fill in for Shields if he can’t go. Hayward leads the Packers with three interceptions on the season.
The teams are fairly evenly matched on paper but the Packers bring in plenty of momentum and need a win to keep pace in the North. They are currently in 3rd place behind the Bears and Vikings. After watching Rodgers and the offense click against Houston, I lean towards the Packers getting above .500 for the first time this season.
Enjoy the games!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: