With just five weeks remaining in the 2012 NFL season, we take a look around the NFC North at the matchups and storylines.
In week 13, a bit of Luck visits the Detroit Lions in the form of the Indianapolis Colts while the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears tangle for the third time in as many straight seasons. The Green Bay Packers come home to host their neighbors to the west, the Minnesota Vikings for the first time in 2012.
This divisional race is starting to take shape with the Bears in first place and the Packers breathing down their necks, a close second. The Vikings are still alive, to the surprise of many, while the Detroit Lions have made their road to a repeat playoff appearance very difficult.
Here’s the breakdown:
Indianapolis Colts (7-4) at Detroit Lions (4-7)
The surprising Indianapolis Colts come into Detroit to face the struggling Lions. The Colts find themselves in the thick of the AFC Wild Card race. While many knew Andrew Luck would eventually turn into a solid NFL quarterback, few would have foreseen the success that this team has had so far in 2012.
With that said, let’s also consider that only one of Indianapolis’ wins have come against a team that would currently be in this year’s playoffs (Packers in week 5). But they are taking steps in the right direction after having won only two games last season. At least they’re beating the teams that are struggling (Detroit falls into this category) or just plain bad.
While the Lions took the Houston Texans to overtime last week, they were unable to get the elusive Thanksgiving Day win and fell to 4-7.
Detroit’s biggest advantage in this game is that it’s at home. While much has been made of Detroit’s offensive output this season, Indianapolis isn’t far behind. The Lions rank 2nd in total yards while the Colts are 5th. I expect this game to be a shootout. An indoor game featuring two top offenses and two good quarterbacks.
Each team has had their issues on defense that have prevented them from winning some of their close games. Both teams also have negative give/take ratios heading into this one. Detroit is at (-7) while Indianapolis is at (-14).
The difference in this contest could come down to special teams. Detroit ranks last in the league in return yardage and while Indianapolis ranks a very modest 22nd, they did just get a punt return for a score last week. Detroit has given up some big returns this season so this could be an opportunity for the Colts.
With all three of their NFC North foes above .500,Detroit now faces a tough road to try and remain in contention for a playoff spot. In their final five games, the Lions will face the Colts, Packers in Green Bay, at Arizona Cardinals, home versus the Atlanta Falcons and end off by hosting the Chicago Bears.
With a virtual need to win out to have any sort of hope of reaching the playoffs, it’s more likely that the Lions will be playing the role of spoiler over the last part of their schedule.
Seattle Seahawks (6-5) at Chicago Bears (8-3)
This is a rematch of the 2010 Divisional round playoffs in which the Bears defeated the Seahawks to advance to the NFC Championship game. The two teams did face each other last season in Chicago and with Seattle exacting some revenge, but it should be noted that Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler did not play due to injury. They’re back in Chicago for this one and the Bears will be extremely tough to knock off.
The latest news out of Seattle is that both Seahawk cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have been suspended for testing positive for a banned substance thought to be a performance enhancing drug. Both are appealing the ruling and, as a result, will be active for Sunday’s game.
Sherman’s status is especially important as he will be a key factor in containing Chicago’s standout wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
The Bears await injury updates on running back Matt Forte (ankle), wide receiver Devin Hester (head/concussion) and cornerback Charles Tillman (foot). As of Tuesday, no official updates had been announced although it was thought that at least Tillman has a chance to play this week. Losing Forte would be significant for the Bears in this matchup.
Chicago had come into this past week’s game against the Vikings after a tough loss the previous Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers. Despite not having their starting quarterback Jay Cutler, it was the Bears defense that grabbed the headlines as they were unable to keep them in that game. It left Bears fans temporarily up in arms as to what was wrong with the team.
The Bears silenced quite a few of those doubters by defeating the Vikings in grand fashion and they made a statement that they will be formidable for the remainder of this season.
Both Seattle and Chicago are playoff contenders and need this crucial win to maintain the advantage in any potential tie-breaker. Chicago wants to stay ahead of division rival Green Bay, who have already beaten them head-to-head once this season and with another matchup coming soon.
A loss wouldn’t necessarily be as costly for the Bears as it would the Seahawks. Seattle is relegated to chasing a wild card berth with NFC West division leader San Francisco having a firm hold on the division lead. Any loss but especially a conference loss, will be very costly from this point forward.
This game will be a defensive battle with the Bears ranked 3rd overall and Seahawks ranked 5th. While close in rankings, there appears to be quite a disparity between the two defenses.
The story in most of Chicago’s games this season has been their defense’s ability to create turnovers. The Bears lead the NFL with 33 takeaway’s, a plethora of which have been returned for scores, and a +13 takeaway ratio.
Seattle has forced 17 turnovers on the season. While the Bears have a very favorable ratio, it’s more a product of the amount of takeaways they have generated. Chicago has coughed it up quite a bit too this season. Cutler has 11 interceptions in 10 games. If Seattle can stifle the Bears running attack and force Chicago to throw more than they want to, the Seahawks will have their chances to take the ball away.
Chicago seems to have the easiest road to the end of the season compared to their other NFC North counterparts. They face the Seahawks, at Vikings, home versus the Packers, at Arizona Cardinals, and end at the Detroit Lions.
Minnesota Vikings (6-5) at Green Bay Packers (7-4)
Both the Packers and the Vikings suffered losses last week and fell a game behind division leader Chicago. This is the first meeting between the two this season and they will face each other again in week 17.
The Vikings weren’t able to keep up with the Bears offense this past Sunday and the game got so lopsided early on that FOX TV switched to covering another game just before halftime. Minnesota eventually lost and dropped to 6-5.
The Packers suffered their worst loss in four years at New York after having won five straight. The loss created many questions about Green Bay’s ability to remain an elite team and contend for another Super Bowl. As they did against the Texans following a loss to the Colts, the Packers will look to erase any of that doubt with a convincing win over Minnesota.
The Vikings are trying to stay alive in the divisional and wild card race. At 6-5 and having lost to Chicago, they are a full two games behind the division lead and one game behind the Packers. Divisional wins have not come easy for the Vikings over the past two seasons. Head coach Leslie Frazier earned his first-ever win against a North foe when the Vikings beat the Lions earlier in the season.
Green Bay has to be concerned about the performance of their offensive line after Sunday night’s game. The rest of their schedule brings about some of the top pass rushing teams in the league. Protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers and giving him time to throw are going to be key to the Packers’ success.
Minnesota has amassed 27 sacks this season and Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen has had his share of big days against the Packers. On the other side, Brian Robison continues to fill the void left when Ray Edwards departed in free agency two seasons ago. Robison will line up on Green Bay’s TJ Lang who is filling in at right tackle. You may recall last season when Robison reacted after a play and gave Lang a foot-shove in a, shall we say, sensitive spot. Might this one appear in “Key Matchups”?
On the injury front, the Packers will get an update on injured defensive end CJ Wilson later this week. He left the Giants game and did not return. They will also likely be without linebacker Clay Matthews. What else is new in Green Bay, right? However, a bright spot exists in that wide receiver Greg Jennings is likely to return this week after missing the last eight weeks.
The Vikings are waiting to see if they will have standout wide receiver Percy Harvin available to them on Sunday. Harvin suffered an ankle injury and has missed the last two games. If he is unable to play, that could greatly hamper the Vikings’ ability in the passing game as he is their greatest pass-catching threat by far.
This game is simply stated: it’s Aaron Rodgers at home and needing to redeem himself after last week against Christian Ponder and a less-talented Viking team. The Packers should win this one going away. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding season Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is having. Peterson will likely be the biggest obstacle to Green Bay’s getting a win. He’s capable of single-handedly being that big of a factor. He may get his yards on Sunday, but I don’t think there’s enough else to overtake a determined Packer squad.
Enjoy the games!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: