Well, I dropped the ball my friends. My apologies to all for not getting this post up sooner and in light of today’s matchup between the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans. I am feverishly writing this on Turkey Day and I won’t take a single bite until this is up for your reading pleasure. With that, I want to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving weekend!
This week brings a full slate of NFC North football starting with the Thanksgiving day matchup. The Chicago Bears square off against the Minnesota Vikings for the first time this season and the Packers round off the weekend with the Sunday Night game at the New York football Giants.
Let’s look at the matchups a bit more closely and see what’s to come.
Houston Texans (10-1) at Detroit Lions (4-7)
Well, Houston pulled it out in another overtime thriller. I could have tried to pass myself off as a prophet and claim that I knew the Lions would take the 9-1 Texans to the brink, but all it takes is a glance at my record in the prediction posts. It’s clear that I don’t own a crystal ball. Or at least an accurate one. So on we go. . .
Minnesota Vikings (6-4) at Chicago Bears (7-3)
The big question in this game for the Bears is once again the health status of starting quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler has been cleared to practice in a limited capacity but still has not been cleared by an independent neurologist to resume full play.
Jason Campbell would start at quarterback if Cutler can’t play. Campbell has been barely decent in relief duty and when asked whether Cutler would be able to play this week, Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Tice was quoted as saying “God, I hope so”. Not a whole lot more needs to be said there. The Bears themselves know their best chance to win is with Cutler playing.
Minnesota’s tough defensive unit would theoretically pose a bigger problem to Campbell than Cutler. Chicago’s offensive line struggles continue and there have even been some rumblings that Chicago is less-than-thrilled with the play of 2nd year tackle and 2011 first round pick Gabe Carimi. This could become a big problem if the Vikings pass rush wins the battle up front and forces Campbell to make quick decisions and throws.
The Bears have been awfully good in this series lately. They have won the last four games overall and 10 of the last 11 games in Chicago. The Bears’ strength has been their superb defensive play and they have the league’s fifth-ranked defense coming into this contest. They have thrived on taking the ball away and carry an astonishing +18 give/take ratio back home to Chicago this week. However, they didn’t have one last week against San Francisco and that was the first game in which they didn’t force a turnover. They dropped to the 49ers 32-7 on Monday night.
The Vikings have stuck around and are still over .500 which is better than most of us would have expected. They have ridden the back of their star running back Adrian Peterson who has over 1,100 rushing yards on the season. His continued excellent play continues to help his case to be “Comeback Player of the Year”. They have struggled with consistency a bit lately after winning four of their first five games.
Minnesota had their bye last week and should come into Chicago well rested. They are still waiting to see if standout WR Percy Harvin will play in this game. He is listed as questionable and has not practiced all week. If he is not able to play, it will greatly hamper the Vikings’ chances of coming out of Chicago with a road win.
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has cooled off after starting off the season sure-handed. It took four games for Ponder to throw his first interception and has been more inconsistent since. He will have to secure the football against a gritty Bears defense this weekend if the Vikings are to have any chance to win.
Green Bay Packers (7-3) at New York Giants (6-4)
This one hardly needs an introduction. This is a game that Packers fans had circled on their schedules and calendars as soon as this year’s slate came out. In my opinion, this is the toughest game left on the schedule because it’s on the road and the Giants are still the Giants despite their two-game skid. Yes, the Bears game will be tough and have a lot riding on it but the Packers have fared well against Chicago recently and New York has been a postseason thorn in Green Bay’s side.
Sunday night’s game is the rematch of last year’s playoff debacle for the Packers. They rode a 15-1 record into the playoffs, had the bye and a home game and came out and got absolutely punked. It was eerily reminiscent of the playoff loss to the 2007 Giants team that also went on to win the Super Bowl.
There are quite a few constants between all of those Giants teams and this year’s. Tom Coughlin is head coach. Eli Manning is quarterback. Despite the two-game losing streak, their defense is solid and they run the ball well.
This is an important game for the Giants as they have an opportunity to pull ahead a bit in the NFC East. The second-place Dallas Cowboys fell to division rival Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving day and both of those teams are now tied for second place at 5-6. Should the Giants win on Sunday, they would have a full two-game lead with five remaining games. The key to winning the East is any chance at the playoffs as none of the wild card teams are likely to come out of that division.
The Packers stand to gain further evidence that they are a force to be reckoned with in the NFC. With their having staked a claim at the division lead, an upcoming game at Chicago and with Atlanta not playing their best football lately, the NFC crown is well within reach. While a loss wouldn’t completely hurt Green Bay’s playoff chances, they can ill-afford to fall behind the Bears if they want to keep their playoff hopes in their own hands.
During these last two losses for the Giants, Eli Manning is 39-70 with zero touchdowns and three interceptions. He has posted his worst two passer ratings of the season. Manning knows he will have to be at his best in order to beat the streaking Packers who have now won five straight.
They key in this one is simple. The team that gets more pressure on the opposing passer and wins the turnover battle will likely win this game. The Giants seemingly have the advantage with their “NASCAR” pass rush and with Green Bay’s offensive line struggling. But Aaron Rodgers has historically done well under pressure. Mike McCarthy will have to help out with the game plan and rely on shorter routes and sustained drives to keep the offense moving. Anything resembling a running game will surely help the Packers as well.
I already picked the Packers to win this one but it’s a road game and the Packers are still without a few key starters, especially linebacker Clay Matthews. In a close game, Mason Crosby will be called on to do what he has not been able to: make field goals. Hold onto your seats, it’s likely to be close all night and come down to the wire.
Enjoy the games!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: