Week 9 brings us to the start of the 2012 season’s second half. Quick trivia: Which is the NFL’s only division with three teams over .500? You’re correct if you guessed the NFC North. Let’s dive into the matchups around the division this week.
Chicago Bears (6-1) at Tennessee Titans (3-5)
The Bears are rolling, the Titans are not. About the only thing in Tennessee’s favor this week is that it’s a home game.
The Bears narrowly escaped with a home win over Carolina while Tennessee came up just short against the Indianapolis Colts in overtime. As the saying goes, good teams find a way to win and Chicago keeps doing it week after week. They find themselves alone in 1st place atop the NFC North.
Tennessee has had solid play from backup QB Matt Hasselbeck in place of injured Jake Locker. Hasselbeck will start Sunday against the Bears. Unfortunately, Hasselbeck is the only Titans player who has played well consistently and the team has not been able to string consecutive wins together.
Titans RB Chris Johnson has flashed some of his vintage self lately, but not enough to put the team on his back. The Bears are giving up a stingy 77 yards/game rushing and Johnson will be the focal point of their defensive game plan.
The big focus for the Titans and Hasselbeck is taking care of the football. Chicago has mustered 16 interceptions in 7 games this season and they lead the league in takeaways. They are also a top-scoring defense so they are making those turnovers count. Hasselbeck has thrown four interceptions compared to six touchdown passes. His task will not be an easy one this Sunday.
For the Bears, the game plan is simple: run to daylight. Tennessee is surrendering 140 yards/game on the ground and the Bears happen to have a guy named Forte on their side. I’m no fantasy football expert but I say: start Forte! If Chicago builds a solid lead, you’ll see a good dose of Michael Bush as well.
While the rest of the North needs the Bears to slow down a tick, it likely doesn’t happen this week.
Detroit Lions (3-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)
The Lions beat the Seattle Seahawks in dramatic fashion this past week and will look to get to .500 this week against the Jaguars. Jacksonville put up a good fight in Green Bay, but were unable to overcome a few mistakes and dropped to 1-6 with their loss to the Packers.
Detroit needs a win to keep pace in the tough North where the rest of their division foes are playing winning football. Jacksonville’s season has all but slipped away and they will likely turn to playing the role of spoiler in the season’s second half.
Jacksonville may be able to hold onto the sliver of hope that they might coral the Lions offense a bit after holding Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to just 238 yards. Detroit will air it out against a suspect Jaguars secondary and Lions QB Matthew Stafford will surely be looking for his top target in WR Calvin Johnson.
Jacksonville will try to do what they can to generate any semblance of a scoring attack. QB Blaine Gabbert had over 300 yards passing last week and will surely be called on to engineer more of the same against the Lions. He took a hit to his injured left shoulder on Sunday and didn’t miss a play. His toughness was on display and he will likely have to grit it out if he wants to continue to be the Jags’ field general.
I’m having a hard time getting a clear vision of how this one will play out. I can see Detroit airing it out and putting up a lot of points or it could be one of those weeks where the Jags put together their best overall game of the season and surprise the Lions. The team that starts fastest will likely control the tempo.
Jacksonville has proven that they cannot overcome mistakes so they can’t afford any. Detroit needs to avoid a repeat of their game at Tennessee and close it out strong if they are in the lead late in the contest.
Minnesota Vikings (5-3) at Seattle Seahawks (4-4)
Both of these teams come into this game after a loss that many thought would be a win. The Vikings dropped their Thursday night home game to the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Seahawks gave up a Lions touchdown with :20 left and dropped to 4-4 in Detroit.
Things won’t get any easier for the Vikings the rest of the way starting with this trip toSeattle. The Seahawks are 3-0 at home and it’s no secret that it’s one of the toughest venues to play in for a road team. This is a game that can turn Minnesota’s season in either direction. A win would silence some of the skeptics who still are not sold on them this year. A loss would seemingly bring them back to earth a bit as they gear up for division games against the Bears and Packers soon.
The Seahawks have cooled off since their hot start and have lost two in a row. There have been some rumblings about whether they should stick with QB Russell Wilson or give backup Matt Flynn a chance to establish some consistency.
These teams mirror each other in many ways.
Each team is solid defensively. The Seahawks rank 5th in total team defense while the Vikings are 11th. The pass rush has been effective for each team and whichever can have more success getting to the opposing QB will likely be in the driver’s seat Sunday.
Offensively, both teams have had their struggles. Each has a well-established running back whom their offense is centered around. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson had a nifty run for a score last week that showcased his ability to make tacklers miss in the open field. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch is one of the toughest backs to bring down and is a central part of Seattle’s offense.
Both teams have quarterbacks who have played well and not so well in spots this season. Minnesota’s Christian Ponder has thrown seven interceptions over the past four games after throwing none in the team’s first four. Seattle’s Wilson has been hot and cold so far with 10 TD’s and 8 INT’s on the year.
I expect a low-scoring defensive battle and if Minnesota can manage Seattle’s “8th man” they have an outside chance. Still I lean towards Seattle in this one as they likely snag 1 more turnover that is the difference.
Arizona Cardinals (4-4) at Green Bay Packers (5-3)
The Arizona Cardinals come to Green Bay on a short week after playing in a losing effort on Monday Night against division rival San Francisco 49ers. Arizona dropped to 4-4 on the year with the loss, their fourth straight after starting the season 4-0.
The Packers enter this game having won their third straight after dropping the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although the Packers were victorious, they seemingly fell short of the expectations as was evidenced by reactions from the players, fans and media alike following the game. During his Monday press conference, Head Coach Mike McCarthy described some of the players as “. . acting as though we lost a game”. Knowing that they need to play better is a good mentality to have as they prep for the much tougher Cardinals this week.
The Packers are still dinged up and anxious for their upcoming bye week to hopefully get some key players back and ready for the stretch run. Most notable this week is whether the Pack will get WR Jordy Nelson back after missing this last game with a hamstring issue. The Packers will also get mid-week injury updates on several of their injured players.
Arizona has also been dealing with injury issues, most notably QB Kevin Kolb who continues to recover from the injury to his ribs. Kolb is still questionable and if he is unable to play, John Skelton will be the Cardinals’ starting quarterback. The Cards are also without RB’s Beanie Wells (on temporary IR with turf toe) and Ryan Williams (on season-ending IR with a knee injury). Wells will not be active for this game.
While the bye week will surely do wonders for this Packer squad, they absolutely cannot afford to peek ahead and overlook the Cardinals. Arizona ranks 6th overall in team defense and much like the Packers, they are getting after the quarterback. The Cardinals and Packers are tied for the league lead with 26 sacks.
It’s also interesting to note that the Cardinals and Packers are surrendering more QB sacks than any other teams in the league. Each team’s pass rush is likely a big factor in this one.
Where Arizona holds the edge on defense, Green Bay has the advantage on offense. The Packers currently rank 21st, which is hard for many of us to believe. Regardless, the Packers quarterback is still Aaron Rodgers and he’s capable of putting up inhumane numbers at any time. In fact, two of his better games this season have come against the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears, both of whom rank in the top 10 defensively. If that is a motivating factor, Rodgers will have plenty with Arizona’s top ranked defense coming to town.
Both teams have had some big plays from their special teams. The Cardinals feature punt returner Patrick Peterson who has been very effective in that role over the past two seasons. The Packers counter with punter Tim Masthay who is having a solid year so far. The momentum can change in a hurry any time a team has success in this key area.
A team in Arizona’s position is desperate and hungry for a season-changing win. Beating the Packers in Green Bay where they haven’t won since they were the Chicago Cardinals (1947) would be just such a win. The Pack won’t get away with simply going through the motions and coming away with a victory like they did this past week. They need to be ready for a dog fight.
The Packers may also have some extra motivation in this one as those who were on the 2009 team recall that insane overtime playoff game in Arizona. Arizona won when they sacked Rodgers, causing a fumble that was returned for a score. If Rodgers truly plays better when he’s mad, he may want to watch footage from that game just before kickoff!
Enjoy the games!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: