Week 8 is upon us which means the season is almost half over! Let’s take a look around the NFC North and at the matchups to come.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
This game kicks off NFL’s week 8 as the Thursday night matchup. It’s a rare meeting between these two teams since the Bucs left the old NFC Central and became part of the NFC South. Tampa has won the last three with the most recent being last season.
Minnesota comes in a surprising 5-2. They beat the Arizona Cardinals behind a good defensive performance and with the continued contribution of RB Adrian Peterson. Tampa had seemingly pulled off a last-second TD by QB Josh Freeman for the win over the New Orleans Saints but the catch was later ruled invalid. Tampa dropped to 2-4.
Anytime a team is working on a short week, it adds an additional challenge for teams to prepare and for players to get past the bumps and bruises from the week prior. Both teams are fortunate that they are not dealing with many health issues at the moment.
The Vikings have been winning with defense this season. They had nine sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown this past Sunday by their top rookie S Harrison Smith. And having struggled offensively over the past few weeks, Minnesota was able to muster two scores on a vintage run by Peterson and a Christian Ponder pass to Percy Harvin. Harvin leads the NFL with 53 catches. The Vikings lethargic offense may get a jumpstart this week as they face a Tampa defense that ranks 25th overall.
Tampa has had a hard time keeping up with their opposition this year, largely due to the 329 passing yards they are giving up each week. If Minnesota’s struggles in the passing game continue and they go heavy in the run game, it may benefit the Tampa defense as they are surrendering just 76 yards/game on the ground. Of course, they are facing the elite Adrian Peterson and a Vikings ground attack that is averaging just over 130 yards/game. How Tampa counters the Viking rush attack will be a key in this game.
The Vikings are winning games and are at home on a short week. I give them the edge.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) at Green Bay Packers (4-3)
These are two teams headed in opposite directions. The Packers continued to “right the ship” with a convincing win at St. Louis while the Jags lost in overtime at Oakland and dropped to 1-5. On paper, this appears to be a mismatch with the Packers returning home and playing well. But this is the season of parity in the NFL and we need only look back to week 5 when the Packers should have left Indianapolis with a win and did not. The Jags have won the last two matchups with the Pack dating back to December 2004.
Jacksonville lost starting QB Blaine Gabbert to a shoulder injury and star RB Maurice Jones-Drew to a foot injury in yesterday’s game. Gabbert will have an MRI this week and seemingly has a good chance to go on Sunday as the injury was to his non-throwing shoulder. MJD has already been ruled out this week with a foot injury. For Green Bay, some surprising news emerged Monday that the Pack will be without one of their top veteran defenders and leaders in S Charles Woodson. Woodson has a collarbone injury that will sideline him at last six weeks.
This past Sunday the Packers won consecutive games for the first time this season and offensively, they appear to look more like the unit that we saw in 2011. QB Aaron Rodgers was brilliant and surpassed the 150 TD mark for his career. He will face the Jags 28th ranked defense this week and could continue to have success through the air if the O-line can protect. Rodgers has been sacked 26 times this season and protection is a recurring theme each week. Jacksonville has just 5 sacks this season so any emergence by their pass rush on Sunday would be a further alarm for the Packers’ offensive line issues.
The only area where Jacksonville has the edge in is the running game. With MJD out, that may not be the case this week. On the defensive side, Jacksonville is allowing a gaudy 147 yards/game on the ground. While I doubt that Packers RB Alex Green will torch the Jags defense for that total, this could be an opportunity for the Packer ground game to gain some confidence.
The Pack benefit from timing in their schedule as they will see a banged up Jags squad. Green Bay should win this game and convincingly. It would help them continue the positive momentum heading into the midpoint of the season. On the other hand, a loss by the Jags would surely send them reeling to another dismal and disappointing season.
Carolina Panthers (1-5) at Chicago Bears (5-1)
The Carolina Panthers are coming off their fourth consecutive loss. In the wake of this past Sunday’s gloomy postgame press conference by Panthers QB Cam Newton, the team dismissed their GM Marty Hurney.
The Bears emerge still in sole possession of 1st place in the NFC North with their Monday night victory over the Lions.
This, much like the Packers/Jags game, appears to be a mismatch for the home team. The Bears are statistically better than Carolina in almost every offensive category and on defense. Chicago is ranked 4th in team defense and is allowing just over 65 rushing yards/game. Carolina’s top rusher this season is Newton who has almost 100 more yards than RB DeAngelo Williams on nearly as many carries. It’s always interesting when an offense’s best running threat is also its top passer and the Bears will surely key on Newton all game long.
The Bears racked up three more turnovers against the Lions and increased their league leading total to 20. They are taking the ball away almost at will and that is a big reason for the early success this year. Carolina has turned the ball over 13 times this season. Only Philadelphia has more in the NFC (17). Ball security is a must if Carolina wants even a remote chance in this game.
As well as the Bear defense is playing, QB Jay Cutler isn’t having to be deadly accurate or even great for them to win. In fact, he completed just over half of his passes on Monday night and had just 150 passing yards and 1 TD in the win. With just 5 interceptions on the year, Carolina will need to bring their nose for the football on Sunday. Forcing a few turnovers is likely their best bet to remaining competitive. That’s not even mentioning the 120 yards/game Carolina is giving up on the ground and how they plan to stop Bears RB’s Matt Forte and Michael Bush.
Advantage Bears as their offense is likely too much for Carolina. Chicago continues to catch opposing teams at the right time, are playing solid defense and protecting the ball on offense.
Seattle Seahawks (4-3) at Detroit Lions (2-4)
The Seahawks dropped to the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night football but are above .500 and needing to establish some consistency. The Lions are coming off a shutout loss to the Bears on Monday night. Both teams need a win with Detroit in a more desperate situation than Seattle.
The Lions return home losers of four of their last five games. They struggled offensively almost the entire game in Chicago which is a cause for some concern for a team that came into Monday night’s game ranked 2nd overall in the NFL. Yes, they faced a very tough Bears defense and were outdoors but a high-powered offense should still find ways to make plays and score points. Detroit is in the top 10 in both total offense and defense. It just shows that the stats aren’t always an accurate forecast of what is to come.
The Seahawks benefit from some extra rest and preparation but are traveling to the East Coast for this game. Seattle QB Russell Wilson has been good in flashes but needs to solidify himself as the team’s starter. There were some cries for backup QB Matt Flynn as Wilson struggled against the 9ers just a week after leading the Seahawks to an impressive victory over the New England Patriots. Wilson can help himself by taking a page out of the Bears playbook this week. Jay Cutler was able to find some running lanes against the Lions defense and Wilson should look for these opportunities as well to extend drives and make plays with his feet.
This one will ultimately, however, come down to defense. Seattle is ranked 6th overall while Detroit is 9th. In RB Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks have a very tough back and solid ground game that is averaging 127 yards/game. Detroit is giving up just over 96 yards/game. Detroit, led by QB Matthew Stafford, is getting 333 yards/game through the air while Seattle is giving up just 212 yards/game. In this chess match, may the best D win.
Seattle needs the W to keep up with San Francisco and stay with Arizona in the NFC West. Detroit needs a win to try and turn their season around and get out of last place in the North. A 5th loss heading into the season’s midpoint would likely create a deficit that may be too much to overcome with the Bears playing very well and the Packers coming on strong as of late. I have to give the edge to Seattle on the road more on a hunch than anything as neither of these teams has really taken hold of the 2012 season yet.
Enjoy the games!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: