The back half of the 2013 NFL schedule is officially underway. In the NFC North, there is currently a three-way tie for first place with the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers all knotted up at 5-3. The Minnesota Vikings still have only one win to seven losses.
The big news out of the division was the Bears’ 27-20 win over the Packers on Monday night. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was hurt early in that game and did not return. On Monday, it was confirmed that Rodgers has a broken collarbone, but will not require surgery. He will miss some time and that exact timetable is unknown. Normally one player’s injury isn’t as noteworthy, but this is one that could very well shift power within the division.
Green Bay appeared to be in the driver’s seat to win the North with upcoming games against the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Detroit Lions. Now, they just need to find a way to survive and hope that Rodgers misses minimal time. The Packers aren’t the same team without Rodgers, regardless of who is backing him up. With Seneca Wallace, their offense didn’t even resemble a shell of itself on Monday night.
Let’s take a look at this week’s games, which features another good divisional matchup between the Lions and Bears.
Washington Redskins (3-5) at Minnesota Vikings (1-7)
This is a tale of two playoff teams from a year ago who are disappointing this year. The Vikings have managed just one win all season and that was a “home” game in London. Their own fans still have not enjoyed a win in what will be the last season at Mall of America Field (Metrodome). This one is the Thursday night matchup and will be Minnesota’s second primetime game in their last three.
During Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Vikings lost tight end Kyle Rudolph, who will miss time with a broken foot. Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was already struggling and will now be without one of his favorite targets. John Carlson will assume the tight end duties, but expect some drop-off there.
The Redskins are coming off of an overtime win against the San Diego Chargers. Just when Washington’s season was hanging in the balance, they find themselves just one game behind division-leading Dallas. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III continues to get his “football legs” under him and has Washington’s offense looking more like the 2012 version that won them the NFC East.
The Vikings season is all but over. Head coach Leslie Frazier has quite a task in keeping this team committed and focused. One such step was sticking with Ponder at quarterback. While it’s probably too late for the Vikings to become relevant this season, a string of one or two wins can help carry some positive momentum into the back half of their schedule.
Still, getting that first win after a string of losses is a tough task and it won’t be easy for Minnesota. Will the Vikings pull Ponder if he struggles and in favor of Josh Freeman? What about Matt Cassel, who led them to their sole victory this season? While Frazier says Ponder is the starter, it will be interesting to see who is still under center come late December.
Washington really can’t afford a loss this week, as they have another road game at Philadelphia followed by home games against the San Francisco 49ers and Giants after this week’s game.
Detroit Lions (5-3) at Chicago Bears (5-3)
The Lions are coming off of their bye week and are tied atop the North with the Bears and Packers. Detroit entered their bye with a thrilling win on a last-second touchdown run by quarterback Matthew Stafford to beat the Cowboys.
The Bears are on a short week following their road win against the Packers. By virtue of the head-to-head win over Green Bay, the Bears are technically in first place. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler say he plans to start and play this week following a three-week absence due to a groin tear against the Redskins.
With the length of Aaron Rodgers’ injury still unknown, both of these teams have to feel good about their chance to win the North. The significance of this game just jumped and expect both teams to battle hard.
Chicago found some success in getting to the quarterback against the Packers, something that the Bears has not been able to do consistently prior to that game. Pressure on Stafford is a key to slowing Detroit’s offense. With an average offensive line, the Lions can’t really lean on their running game to pick up the slack so they have to find success through the air.
Chicago’s pass defense is not as formidable as it has been in past years and so look for the Lions to feed receiver Calvin Johnson. Tight end Joseph Fauria has also been a big target and no pun intended, as he stands 6’7″. Detroit boasts big and physical receivers who can also get upfield. Fortunately for the Bears, the Packers were never a threat to throw deep with Rodgers out and safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte were able to keep most everything in front of them. It will be a different story this weekend.
Bears running back Matt Forte had a solid outing against the Packers and the Lions are giving up just over 100 yards rushing per game. Forte is also a pass-catching threat and the Lions will need to account for him this week.
The Lions have not played consistently well on the road and have not won in Chicago since 2007. If Detroit wants to stay in contention for a division title and with a Thanksgiving day game coming up against the Packers, they need to find a way to leave Chicago with a win on Sunday. A Bears win would put Chicago a solid game up on Detroit and, depending on the Packers result against the Eagles, a step ahead of Green Bay as well.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) at Green Bay Packers (5-3)
The quarterback carousel will continue this weekend in Green Bay as the Packers host the Eagles. We know that Seneca Wallace is likely to start for Green Bay in place of the injured Rodgers. For the Eagles and as of Tuesday afternoon, Michael Vick was still listed as the starter with Nick Foles as backup.
Vick suffered a hamstring injury in early October and had missed a few weeks before trying to play against the Giants and having to leave that game early. Last week, Foles led the Eagles to a convincing win over the Oakland Raiders and tossed a NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes. The Eagles won’t be required to release an injury report until Wednesday and likely after this publishes. The popular thought is that Foles will get the start.
Still, the Eagles have to feel better about their chances in this week’s game and in facing Wallace (or possibly other?) over Rodgers, who has played well against the Eagles. The last time these teams met was in the wild card round of the 2011 playoffs in which the Packers edged the Eagles enroute to winning Super Bowl XLV.
Since then, the Eagles have moved on from head coach Andy Reid who is living the good life in Kansas City as the NFL’s last remaining unbeaten team. Philadelphia brought in Chip Kelly from his long-time post as head coach at the University of Oregon. Kelly brought in high expectations among Eagles fans of a high-flying offense and a more competitive team than in recent year. Injuries to Vick and a subpar defense have somewhat derailed those plans.
Still, the Eagles are capable of putting up points and against a Green Bay offense that will likely struggle to score as they had been earlier this season, this becomes a more intriguing matchup.
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy remains one of the league’s best, averaging just over 86 yards/game on the ground. The Eagles average just shy of 150 yards/game as a team, but 50 of those yards go to Vick, who is questionable to play this week. The Packers gave up an uncharacteristic 125 rushing yards to Bears running back Matt Forte this past week and will need to regain their run-stopping mojo this week if they want to get off the field and force longer down and distance.
The Packers also feature a solid running attack with backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The resurgence of the Packers run game has helped to ease some of the pressure in the passing game. The problem last week was that Wallace hadn’t played in a regular season game in over two years and came in cold in relief of Rodgers. Will a full week of practice with the starters and the knowledge that he is playing a full game help? That’s the million dollar question, but he needs to be much better than he was against the Bears if the Packers hope to keep afloat in hopes that Rodgers is back sooner than later.
The Packers are facing a major gut-check this week and with a second straight home game. Every game is important but the Packers need to find a way to win this game and prove to themselves that they can without #12 on the field. With a seemingly manageable game against the Giants coming up the week following, the Packers can do themselves a huge favor by taking another step forward this week.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: