The Green Bay Packers continued their winning ways, easily rolling past the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field. This sets up a Sunday night matchup on the road against the New Orleans Saints this week. The Saints were the Lions’ latest victim after a late pass interference call against New Orleans gave Detroit new life near the goal line. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford found Corey Fuller in the back of the end zone for the winning score. The win keeps Detroit ahead of Green Bay based on a head-to-head win earlier this season. The Lions head to Atlanta and will face the Falcons.
In not-so-great news for the rest of the division, the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings both lost. The Bears lost their fourth-straight home game and third this season, falling to the Miami Dolphins. This loss may prove to be the tipping point for the team’s frustrations as several players expressed extreme frustration in the locker room following the loss. Chicago is now 3-4 and heads to New England to face the Patriots. The good news for the Bears is that they’re on the road, where they have won three times this season. The bad news is that it’s against the Patriots, and they’re pretty darn good. Minnesota had a late lead, only to squander it to the Buffalo Bills, who are now 3-0 against the NFC North. Minnesota will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in what promises not to be the highest-rated game on the NFL’s schedule this season.
With that, let’s take a closer look at each of these match ups.
Chicago Bears (3-4) at New England Patriots (5-2)
The Bears haven’t made things easy on themselves so far this season and now they head to New England, where the Patriots will be coming off of a mini-bye week after having beaten the New York Jets this past Thursday night. The Patriots have won three straight and have not lost at home this season. The Bears have to hope their good fortunes on the road can give them a boost this week. They’re also hoping they might see the return of veteran linebacker Lance Briggs, who has missed the last two games with a rib injury.
The wild card for the Bears, however, is and has been quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler has thrown six touchdowns and five interceptions in his last four games. Bears receiver Brandon Marshall seemed to call Cutler out after the loss to the Dolphins on Sunday. Cutler has faced criticism before from his own teammates so this is nothing new, but he and Marshall have had, until this point, a fairly solid relationship. The Bears need to respond to whatever can right the ship and they need to do it fast. Bears running back Matt Forte has found the end zone four times in the last two games so Chicago may want to try get the ball in his hands. New England ranks 24th in rushing defense, giving up 124 yards per game and they will be without defensive end Chandler Jones, who suffered a hip injury against the Jets.
The Patriots continue to roll and quarterback Tom Brady has 10 touchdown passes and zero interceptions over his last three games. The Bears are going to need to generate a turnover or two in order to win this game. They’re simply not as good as the Patriots are to begin with and Chicago is not playing good football right now. In terms of coaching, there’s Chicago’s Marc Trestman, who is trying to rein in his team and keep them cohesive against Bill Belichick, whose players would seemingly take a bullet for.
Anything is possible and after we saw these Bears take down the San Francisco 49ers at home earlier this year, we can’t discount any chance the Bears might have to pull off the upset. But don’t bet on it.
Minnesota Vikings (2-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-5)
The Vikings keep inventing new ways to lose a game. Despite forcing four turnovers, Minnesota wasn’t able to score enough points to prevent a touchdown pass from Bills quarterback Kyle Orton to rookie wide out Sammy Watkins to give the Bills the win. If things are rough in Chicago, they’re worse in Minnesota, where the team lost running back Adrian Peterson earlier this season and for an undisclosed amount of time.
Tampa Bay is coming off of their bye week and are at home, so they’ve had time to prepare for this one. The Bucs are winless at home this season and are in the cellar of the NFC South, which has proven to be one of the weaker divisions in the league in 2014.
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has one touchdown pass to five interceptions in his last two games. Minnesota’s offensive line hasn’t been playing well and it all spells not enough on the scoreboard to win most games. Tampa, who could very well be 0-6 if not for a late win in Pittsburgh, may finally get one for the home crowd and as badly as they’ve played, it would give them one more home win than the Bears (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Not much else to say about this one other than it’s a good things this one wasn’t scheduled in prime time.
Detroit Lions (5-2) at Atlanta Falcons (2-5)
This one will be played in London.
The Lions continue to dazzle during the early part of the season, and pulled out a late victory against the Saints. New Orleans was leading and seemed to have broken up a fourth down pass to secure the win but were flagged for pass interference, giving the Lions another chance to snatch the win, and they did. The question is, how long will this run by the Lions last?
The Atlanta Falcons have a lot in common with the Vikings, in that they forced three turnovers against the Baltimore Ravens, but did nothing with them. Atlanta didn’t score until the fourth quarter and then promptly gave up a safety and another touchdown. We know the Falcons aren’t a great road team, but they’re really bad this year at 0-4. Falcons head coach Mike Smith’s seat seems to get hotter and hotter every week and he gets no break with the Lions coming to town. Detroit hasn’t typically played well on the road, but it’s really a road game for both teams so that negates most of any home or away trends by either team.
Detroit remarkably still has the league’s top defense and the second-ranked rushing defense. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has only thrown one of his seven interceptions at home this season. Unfortunately, as previously stated, this one acts as a road game for both teams and Detroit has to hope that’s the case when it comes to Ryan. The Lions will test that ball security this week if they can gain an early lead and force Atlanta to throw. Adding to the Falcons’ troubles could be the return of Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Johnson has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Johnson hasn’t officially been ruled out, but in a game against a team that Lions head coach Jim Caldwell feels he can win, they may opt to hold Johnson out and give him extra time to heal.
Green Bay Packers (5-2) at New Orleans Saints (2-4)
Packers fans, don’t let New Orleans’ record fool you. The Packers haven’t beaten the Saints in New Orleans since 1995. Green Bay has, however, won their last two match ups against New Orleans. If there is a scenario that is ripe for the Packers to finally win a big road game against the Saints, it’s this week on Sunday Night Football.
New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham returned from a sprained shoulder, but was held without a catch against the Lions. Graham saw around 30 snaps in the loss. Ben Watson is the Saints’ other tight end and his veteran savvy could become a problem for Green Bay’s defensive middle, especially if he’s being covered by a linebacker.
Green Bay rolled over the Panthers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers was, again, a huge reason why. Rodgers tied Tom Brady’s record of four straight games with at least three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Rodgers has also tied Bart Starr’s record of six straight games without an interception. Needless to say, it’s been a long time since that has been a possibility in Green Bay. If he continues playing at his present clip, the Packers are going to win a lot of games and give a lot of opposing defenses heartburn.
The Saints haven’t started off the way they wanted to this season, but in the NFC South, where .500 might just win the division, they have plenty to play for. New Orleans likely sees an opportunity to get their run game going against the 31st-ranked rushing defense in the league. Additionally, the Packers are dealing with some injuries to their secondary, as cornerback Sam Shields still has a knee injury that may keep him out another week and cornerback Davon House suffered a dislocated finger on Sunday. House expects to play this week, according to early reports. He filled in nicely for Shields and had a pass break up in the end zone.
New Orleans is giving up 270 passing yards per game this season. They’ve been a bit better against the run, giving up just over 100 yards each game. Crowd noise will be somewhat of an issue for the Packers, but the way their offense has been playing, they might as well be in a vacuum. Receiver Jordy Nelson leads the NFL with 712 receiving yards, just one more than Indianapolis’s T.Y. Hilton. Randall Cobb has eight touchdown catches, just one less than Denver’s Julius Thomas.
The running games will be key. Eddie Lacy and James Starks were able to get some better production against Carolina and should have their chances against the Saints. Starks suffered a knee injury in Sunday’s game but if he is available against New Orleans, he can be especially effective if the Packers ever decide to utilize their screen game. For the Saints, it’s the Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram show, as they lost Pierre Thomas to a shoulder injury and he is expected to miss two or three games. Thomas has had some good efforts against the Packers in the past and despite his fall down the depth chart, the Saints will especially miss his receiving ability out of the backfield.
This one comes down to time of possession and keeping the defense rested. It will likely come down to who has the ball last and which defense can hold on late.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: