Around the NFC North: Week 15

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Around the NFC North
Last week did little to clear up the NFC north divisional race

A snow-filled weekend brought about three very entertaining games in the NFC north.  The Detroit Lions visited the Philadelphia Eagles in a scene right out of any backyard in the Midwest or East Coast on a snowy day.  Just before game time, snow piled on Lincoln Financial Field.  The sidelines and yard markers had to be shoveled clean so players and officials could determine where the boundaries were.  Detroit seemed to have an early handle on how to play in the white stuff but in the end, the Eagles came back and pulled away for their fifth straight win.

The Minnesota Vikings went to Baltimore to face the Ravens in another snow globe game.  Vikings running back Adrian Peterson suffered what is being reported as a foot sprain early on, but Minnesota hung with Baltimore all day long.  The game saw five lead changes in the final two minutes, which is a new NFL league record.  In the end, the Ravens scored a game-winning touchdown on an acrobatic catch by Marlon Brown to seal the win.

The Green Bay Packers hosted the Atlanta Falcons and earned a 22-21 victory, sealed in the last seconds by an interception by Jarrett Bush.  Yes, you read that correctly, Jarrett Bush.  The Packers also benefited from the Falcons tripping over themselves as sure-handed receiver Harry Douglas dropped what would have been a first down conversion to help move Atlanta into realistic position to kick a game-winning field goal.  The win stopped a five-game winless streak.

Lastly, the Chicago Bears hosted the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night football, although they were not very gracious hosts.  Freezing temperatures coupled with a lights-out offensive output by the Bears led to an easy 48-25 win over Dallas.  The win evened Chicago with the Lions for first place in the north while the loss put the Cowboys one game behind the division-leading Eagles in the east.

Chicago Bears (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-9)

The Browns nearly defeated the New England Patriots in New England.  It would have been the first time the Browns beat the Patriots in New England since 1992.  The irony there is that the Browns head coach at the time was Bill Belichick, current Patriots head coach.  Cleveland fell to 4-9 and all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention, although they are still mathematically alive.

The Bears were inspired by the retirement of their former coach Mike Ditka’s #89 and did their best rendition of the ’85 Super Bowl championship team in beating up on the Cowboys on Monday night.  After losing to the Vikings last week, Chicago needed this win to stay alive in the race for the north.  Not only did they win, but the Bears looked better than they have all season, arguably.  And this all behind backup quarterback Josh McCown, who threw for four touchdowns and ran for another.  With all of the quarterback issues that the Packers have had, their fans have to be at least a bit envious of what the Bears have been able to accomplish behind McCown.

The story in Chicago remains the health of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.  Backup Josh McCown has helped keep the Bears in the hunt for the NFC north division title, but more thanks probably goes to the Lions for not closing it out when they could have.  The Bears next face road games against the Browns and Eagles, followed by their season finale at home against the Packers.  That week 17 matchup against Green Bay could have major playoff implications and many expect that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be back by then.  Bears head coach Marc Trestman reiterated that when Cutler is healthy, he will remain the starter.

As is always the case in NFC/AFC matchups, the opponents are unfamiliar with each other and some very entertaining games often result.  See yesterday’s game between the Vikings and Ravens.  The Browns are 3-4 at home this season and have hardly rolled over as many expected them to do before the season began.  While they may not have as much to play for, this past week’s near win against the Patriots makes it obvious that Cleveland is making the most of their role as spoilers.  The Bears can’t afford to take this game lightly.  This contest could feature two emerging receivers in that of Cleveland’s Josh Gordon and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery.  Both had big days this past week and appear ready to break out.

Philadelphia Eagles (8-5) at Minnesota Vikings (3-9)

The Eagles will continue their tour through the NFC north this week as they head to Minnesota.  So far, Philadelphia is 2-0 against the North with this week’s contest upcoming followed by a home game against the Bears in week 16.  The Eagles dispatched the visiting Lions with a 34-20 win on Sunday in come-from-behind fashion.

LeSean McCoy continues to be the dominant back that he has been in recent seasons, racking up over 200 yards against the Lions, including a 57-yard touchdown run.  The Eagles will continue to feed McCoy in the hopes that he can run them into the playoffs.  Without snow to slow him down and in a dome environment, I would expect McCoy to see between 20-25 touches in this one.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw for one score and ran for another as he continues to baffle defenses.  Foles did commit his first turnover of the season on an interception, but the fact that this is just now happening in week 14 says a lot.  Against a challenged Vikings pass defense, Foles could have a big day with his trio of receivers DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper along with tight end Brent Celek.

The Vikings started Matt Cassel against the Ravens after Christian Ponder was not medically cleared to return following a concussion the week prior against the Bears.  If he is cleared, Ponder should figure to start against the Eagles.  The Vikings are coming off of a roller coaster ride against the Ravens.  With five lead changes in the last two minutes, fans could ill-afford to turn away for even a moment.

The Vikings will be eagerly awaiting more news on Peterson’s foot injury this week.  As of Tuesday, it was being reported that the injury is a foot sprain and that there appears to be no ligament damage.  Petersons’s inability to play against Eagles would greatly diminish Minnesota’s chances of keeping up with the Eagles.  Emerging late in his rookie season, however, is receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who had another long catch and run for a score yesterday.  Patterson has become a legitimate threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball, both in the return game and as a receiver.  Philadelphia’s pass defense is average at best and this could be a matchup that the Vikings like this week.

With the Eagles a full game ahead and in first place in the NFC east, Dallas has to hope that the Vikings can somehow pull this one out.  It would help the Cowboys pull even with the streaking Eagles, who have won five in a row.  Dallas won the first matchup against Philadelphia and will face the Eagles in a week 17 matchup that seemingly has all kind of playoff implications.

Baltimore Ravens (7-6) at Detroit Lions (7-6)

This is next week’s Monday night football matchup.

The Ravens got up over .500 with their win over the Lions while the Lions continued to keep the NFC north race alive by losing to the Eagles.  The Vikings nearly bested the Ravens and may have taken some wind out of their sails heading into this matchup with the Lions, but Baltimore is very much alive in the wild card race and even has an outside chance of winning the AFC north.

The Lions had an early lead against the Eagles and despite two return touchdowns by former Packer Jeremy Ross, the snow eventually caught up with Detroit and they were unable to get a tough road win in Philadelphia.  They are now tied with the Bears for first place in the north, although the Lions own the tie-breaker after having swept the Bears this season.  With the Packers winning against Atlanta, the Lions’ division lead over them fell to just one-half game.

Both teams equally need to win this game to establish their positioning in their playoff push.  With this being a home game and on Monday night football, the Lions need to take advantage of the extra day off and home-field advantage.  Detroit still controls their own destiny and can lock up the north division title by winning out, regardless of what the Bears and Packers do.  After hosting the Ravens, the Lions will host the Giants and then head to Minnesota for their final trip to Mall of America Field.  On paper, that slate seems favorable, but these are the Lions we are talking about.

A win over Baltimore would move the Lions closer to their first division title since the early 1990’s, but the Lions are definitely stumbling towards the finish line with their inconsistent play over the last month.  The Ravens are currently fighting the Dolphins and Chargers for the final wild card spot, with the Kansas City Chiefs seemingly having the first locked up.

Besides always wanting to see a divisional opponent get beat, the Packers and Bears can be even more thankful that the Ravens beat the Vikings and have so much hope for this season.  With more motivation, the Ravens will come into Detroit confident and looking to compete and leave with just their second road win of the season.

Both the Packers and Bears will have a close eye on this game next week to see if their chances of leapfrogging the Lions is any better than before.  Slight advantage to the home team in this one but I saw some of that Super Bowl spirit from the Ravens against the Vikings.  The question is whether Baltimore brings that added mojo to Ford Field with them.

Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6)

If you have been a fan of the Packers since or before the 1990’s, this matchup should conjure up some incredible memories.  Every year from 1993 – 1998, it seemed that the Packers and Cowboys always met in the postseason or at critical points during the season.  Those Dallas teams bettered the Packers overall, but this is a new era.

The Packers have won the last two games against the Cowboys, both at Lambeau Field.  The last time these teams met in Dallas was in late November, 2007.  Back then, the Packers quarterback was Brett Favre and Green Bay had lost just one game leading into that game.  The Cowboys got the win, as has been the case in every matchup between these teams in Dallas since December 24, 1989.  For some perspective, that was Troy Aikman’s rookie season and Emmitt Smith (the NFL’s all-time leading rusher) was still in college.  The Packers, however, have a chance to keep that win streak from reaching the quarter-century mark with a win on Sunday.

Green Bay finally emerged victorious after five straight winless games.  Four of those games were losses with one tie against the Vikings two weeks back.  Despite the slide the Packers have been on since losing Rodgers, they are still very much in the thick of their divisional race.  With the Lions loss to Philadelphia, the Packers are just one-half game out of first place.

The questions remain, this week, about whether Rodgers will be medically cleared and allowed to play against Dallas.  While the win against Atlanta was encouraging, most of those connected to the Packers organization are hoping for good news on Rodgers this week.  Rodgers will practice with the team this week and as of Monday, was not yet scheduled for a scan of his collarbone.  Players were not made available to the media on Monday and all Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said was that in order to play, Rodgers would need to be medically cleared.

For the Cowboys, it’s a matter of keeping up with the Eagles for the NFC east division lead.  They did themselves no favors with a loss against the Bears on Monday night.  Dallas went up early and appeared to be moving the ball but their defense proved to be no match for Chicago’s methodical passing attack.

The Cowboys secondary looked very pedestrian against the big and physical Bears receivers.  The Packers don’t have that same size advantage but with top-tier talent at receiver, the Packers can make some noise and move the ball.  Another big question mark for Green Bay will be the health status of running back Eddie Lacy, who suffered an ankle sprain at the end of the first half against Atlanta.  Lacy returned but his status for this weekend is undetermined.  If he is not able to play, the Packers will turn to James Starks and Kahlil Bell at running back.

“Keys” will be up in its usual Sunday morning time slot and expect to see Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant’s name a time or two.  Bryant had only two catches against the Bears, although one was for a touchdown.  He has 10 on the season and while he was stifled in Chicago, this game is at home where Bryant has played some of his best ball.

As badly as they looked against the Bears, the Cowboys are perfectly capable of bouncing back and pridefully putting together a better showing a home.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.com

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  • Savage57

    Last week the Packers passed the pride test, Sunday in Dallas will be their litmus test. Are they acid or base? Whatever they have in the tank, when they walk off the field in Jerry’s dome the needle is going to need to be pinned on E to equate to a W.

    Then come home and refuel for the Steelers. Might even be able to get a tankful of that high-test AR stuff.

  • spin

    Seems like Detroit needs to win three games to lock up the division, no?

    • Dobber

      You are correct.

      • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

        That would theoretically be right. I started this prior to the Chicago/Dallas game and just updated it.

    • http://allgbp.com Charlie

      At least until Sunday.

  • Razer

    For my era, Dallas was the evil emperor. Perhaps the 49ers are the modern equivalent. This is one team that I want us to always beat no matter the circumstance or standings. Watching them on Monday Night tells me that they can be beat, even by these ragtag Packers. If Rodgers is behind center we should be able to outrun them, otherwise we will need Jarrett Bush to lead us again.

    Go Packers. 4 straight to win the division – the ugly cindarella story.

    • Dobber

      This is the reason why I dislike Jimmy Johnson (although he’s probably the best of the FOX pregame chuckleheads) and despise Troy Aikman.

      • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

        Aikman as a commentator probably does little to help you (or any of us):):)

        • Big O

          Agreed, he never has been neutral when Green Bay is playing anyone, and this week ,Dallas, Truth!!!

          • Barutan Seijin

            He’s only anti-Packer if you think he should be a Packer homer. When the Packers are doing something poorly, he might mention it. It’s just the truth. He does the same for the Cowboys.

            My only complaint with Aikman is that he’s paired with Joe Buck. A person with a voice like that should not talk so much.

      • http://MSN Mark

        Please FOX, no Aikman on GB broadcasts. Packers fans of the 90s HAVE to hate him. Packers fans of the 60s have to hate the Cowboys. Any time Aikman criticizes QB play, I seethe, thinking with Emmitt, Irvin, and that O-line many QB could have looked very good. Yes, he could put the ball where the receiver needed it, but after his first season he had all day in the pocket. Had we taken Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, Derrick Thomas, or even Steve Atwater instead of Mandrich……sob

  • JH9

    As long as the Cowboys market themselves as “America’s team,” I’ll root for them to lose. It pains me to say this, but I expect them to win on Sunday.

    However, maybe the our defense learned a lesson against the Falcons last Sunday. Maybe they learned that if they play better and shut down the opposing offense the Packers can win.

    Man, I hope they learned that lesson!

    • Dave D

      Not about learning a lesson, they don’t have enough talent to stop any decent offense. All they had to do was shut down Chicago on the dreadful Monday night game. They did not. Then shut down the Eagles, they did not. Shut down a hapless Giants team, they did not. Detroit mauled them, no pun intended. They just don’t have enough playmakers, not to mention, the DC is horrible.

      • Dobber

        The defense is no different than the one that seemed to be rounding into shape as the Packers climbed from 1-2 to 5-2. The problem is that the offense lacks the ability to string together drives and keep the D off the field in the absence of #12.

      • Razer

        You’re telling me there’s a chance…

      • Razer

        I thought that you were talking about the Cowboys. Look on the bright side. Dallas has very hope on defense and our arrow is pointing up.

  • Dobber

    I don’t have good vibes for this Packer/Dallas game. Even though this is posted before we hear about ARod’s chances of playing this week, I think it’s sizing up for him to miss another game. While Dallas has been very good at times on offense, and very poor at times, I suspect they’ll bounce back with a strong game on Sunday. Dez Bryant has been pedestrian since hurting his back, but Witten and Murray could have big games. Romo (as I predicted *pats self on back*) came up small against the Bears on MNF, but I think he’ll be better on Sunday.
    Dallas 37
    Packers 24
    …assuming no ARod.

    While Baltimore hasn’t looked great this season, there’s only one game (@Denver) that they’ve not really had a chance to win late. They’ve been in every game…including road games. The strength of the Detroit D has been stopping the run, and–frankly–Baltimore hasn’t relied on the run. They’ll attack Detroit over the top with Smith/Jones/Brown and underneath with Dennis Pitta. If the Ravens can protect Flacco, they’ll have a chance to win. Detroit is starting to have that “here we go again” look. They have all the tools offensively, but no killer instinct (despite what they showed on Thanksgiving). Still, I think they’re better suited to win on a fast track, even if Bush doesn’t play.
    Detroit 27
    Baltimore 21
    …and Jim Schwartz douses some of the fires for another week.

    What will the weather be like in Cleveland on Sunday? I think they’re projecting this storm to move through prior to the KO of the early games, but lousy weather will make a big difference here if it nullifies the Chicago pass game and forces their porous D to try grind one out. Cleveland is in most games, too, on the basis of a stout defense, shutdown corner, and big plays from Josh Gordon.
    Bears 24
    Browns 17
    …assuming decent playing conditions.

    I don’t see any way that Minnesota keeps up with Philly…probably not even if AP was able to play.
    Philly 37
    Minnesota 11

  • Bearmeat

    Bears win big

    Baltimore squeaks by Detroit

    GB sans ARod loses to Dallas big.

    Season over. :(

    • Bearmeat

      Oh, and Vikes lose big too.

  • http://www.fincognito.com Doug In Sandpoint

    You know, in that “draft and develop” strategy, Jared Bush is developing into one fine defensive back. By 2034 he should be all pro.

    • Dave D

      How is the D&D strategy working for the Pack so far? Way to go TT!

      • Dobber

        To the tune of 99-60-1 (0.619) since taking the team over in 2005, including a “rebuild” that saw the Packers return to the SB in 2010, since you’re asking.

        • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

          This “Draft & Develop” argument takes on the same life as where the Packers are at when it’s being had. In 2010, many got on board with it and realized that it can work. Now, everyone questions it when there aren’t enough impact players to go around. My best example of that was how many starters I saw playing on special teams this past Sunday.

          I’m not trying to make excuses or by no means do I think those who ARE out there are playing to their potential, but the health issue is just that, a huge issue.

          I imagine that Thompson’s methodology will get some more analysis and criticism leading up to this next offseason and draft.

          • Cow42

            “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”
            “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”
            “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”
            “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”
            “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”
            “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”

        • Dave D

          there aren’t enough impact players to go around”
          “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”
          “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”
          “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”
          “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”
          “there aren’t enough impact players to go around”

        • Dave D

          One play maker on Defense, how is that working for ya?

  • Big O

    Well, the Victory Sun. was a showing of the defence coming back to life and now we have to wonder if there are enough players left to pull off the rest of the year,AR is said to have taken first team reps but will they gamble?? I know that injuries are part of it but it’s knowing that if we were healthy we’d be most likely blowing through our divition like a hot knife through butter that gets me all wired up!!!!! Go Pack!!

  • GBPDAN

    As muched as i hope Rodgers would be back by now, he will not play Sunday. Yesterday was the first time the news was released that he had pain throwing the ball last week. Plus his scan wasn’t positive. I don’t think he’s ready. This means the Packers will play hard with Flynn, but will come up short at Dallas. I just don’t see our DBs doing enough to keep the score down.

    The Bears will beat Cleveland no matter what the Weather is like. Chicago is a cold weather team and won in the cold Monday night. If Cle plays itsbest game at home, with Campbell at QB, they have a chance to win, but, they lack overall talent and are to inconsistent.

    Minnesota will lose, but who cares if they win? I don’t want them getting to good of a draft pick, they may land a QB

    The Lions should win at home this week, Baltimore isn’t that good on the road. I think the best chance of the Lions losing in the next 3 games is at Minnesota, but AP needs to be 100%. Dont get me wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Detroit loses this week. But if I had to bet on the game straight up, I’d take Detroit at home.

    So thats Packers and Minnesota lose, Bears and Lions win….damn I hope im completely wrong

    I hate the Cowboys, Bears and Lions

    • Steve Cheez

      Three of the more hateworthy teams…