Week 11 brings about some intriguing plotlines around the NFC North. The Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers both lost their starting quarterbacks for portions of this past Sunday’s game. The Green Bay Packers finally see a divisional opponent in old foe the Detroit Lions. The Minnesota Vikings have their bye this week after beating the Lions to complete the sweep in that series. Here is a breakdown of the two matchups in the Black & Blue division this week.
Chicago Bears (7-2) at San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)
The storyline in this Monday Night Football contest is that in this past week’s game, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler were both knocked out with a concussion. Each missed the entire second half of their game. Both Smith and Cutler will go through the league-mandated concussion protocol and need to be cleared before resuming football activities.
As of Wednesday, it was being reported that Smith was cleared to resume play and is expected to start on Sunday. If Smith can’t go for some reason, he would be replaced by Colin Kaepernick. The Bears have not yet commented on their expectations for Cutler’s status this week. Cutler’s backup is Jason Campbell. In such a crucial matchup, this is a situation to monitor as the week goes on.
Before last Sunday’s game (and besides mop up duty), Campbell had appeared for just one snap in an October 22nd game against the Detroit Lions. Cutler was viciously taken down by Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh and came out for just one play before returning.
The San Francisco 49ers were involved in the first tie game since the 2008 season as they locked up with division rival St. Louis Rams. Tie games are always interesting when it comes to the standings and San Francisco is currently behind both the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears in the NFC.
San Francisco’s strength is their defense and superior play that they are getting from their front seven. Pro Bowler Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman lead one of the most disruptive linebacking units in the NFL along with defensive linemen Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. It was Aldon Smith’s sack late in the overtime period that kept the Rams out of field goal range and drained valuable clock.
Chicago is also thriving on defense. They added two more takeways, both on Tim Jennings interception. Jennings has eight on the season and leads the NFL. Coupled with Prow Bowl corner Charles Tillman, they are one of the top tandems in football. Entering this past game, the Bears defense had scored as many touchdowns as they had given up.
Unfortunately, the Bears also turned the ball over four times on two fumbles and two Cutler interceptions. Chicago wasn’t able to overcome the gaffes and fell to the Houston Texans for their second loss on the season. Entering this late stretch, Cutler’s health and consistent play will determine the Bears’ fate.
The 49ers defense will test Chicago’s sometimes-shaky offensive line. The Bears secondary will test the 49er ball carriers and try to continue the highway robbery they have imposed on opponents all season long. Simply stated, this one is a defensive battle and it’s about who protects the ball. Whether Cutler is cleared to play or not, I have to lean towards the 49ers at home in this one.
A Bears loss and a Packers victory Sunday against the Lions would hoist the Packers into first place in the NFC North by virtue of their win over Chicago earlier in the season.
Green Bay Packers (6-3) at Detroit Lions (4-5)
The Detroit Lions dropped their game to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday and are now 0-3 against NFC North opponents this year. The loss also dropped the Lions below .500 and ended a modest two-game winning streak. The Lions have struggled to maintain any sort of momentum this season. They have sprinkled their victories in amongst the losses and are not having the kind of success they enjoyed last season when they won their first five games and were a playoff team.
What may get lost in Detroit’s performance at Minnesota is that despite the loss, Lions receiver Calvin Johnson had over 200 yards receiving and a touchdown catch. While that may not seem very noteworthy based on his career averages, it was only Johnson’s second touchdown reception this season. He was targeted 13 times and caught 12, something that in the past was an ‘automatic’ but this season has been anything but.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford went over 300 passing yards and threw three touchdown passes. When Stafford can put up those type of numbers, the Lions usually have a good chance to win. The Packers are giving up just 266 passing yards/game this season and will be looking to shut down Stafford and the Detroit passing game.
Green Bay is coming off of their much-needed bye week having won four straight. Five of their last seven games will come against NFC North foes. This is just their second divisional game this year.
The big story out of Green Bay has been the team’s health. At least ten of the Packers’ regular contributors are currently hurt or out for the season. The team could see the return of running back John Kuhn as well as receiver Jordy Nelson for this game.
On the other hand, they will be without outside linebacker Clay Matthews who suffered a hamstring injury in their week nine game against the Cardinals. There is a big drop-off when Matthews isn’t in the lineup. Any lack of pressure on a quarterback like Stafford can make for a long day for an opposing defense.
Despite all of the injuries and shuffling of players, the biggest reason the Packers have continued to win is the play of their MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has 2,383 passing yards, 25 touchdown passes and just five interceptions at the break. He is on pace for just over 40 TD passes on the season. Detroit will have to contain Rodgers if they want any chance of beating the Pack.
The timing of this game may benefit the Packers as they will come into Detroit banged up, but rested. The Lions are dealing with injuries of their own in the secondary and that is one area they cannot afford to be under manned against the Green Bay passing attack. I see the Packers finding a way to get the “W” as they begin their push to challenge the Chicago Bears for the NFC North.
Minnesota Vikings (6-4) are on a bye——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: