The Green Bay Packers put up over 50 points on their second-straight opponent to send the previously 7-2 Philadelphia Eagles back to Phily licking their wounds. The Packers have outscored opponents 100-9 in the first half of their last three home games. Green Bay is on a roll after their bye week and are gaining a lot of momentum in the discussions about the NFC’s best teams. Green Bay will face the Minnesota Vikings this week in the first outdoor regular season game since before the old Metrodome became their home. All eyes are on the arbitration hearing of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Due to some scheduling this week, I’m having to write this on Monday so it may have already taken place and been resolved. The question is whether Peterson will be reinstated and available to play this upcoming week against the Packers.
The Vikings fell to the Chicago Bears giving the Bears their first win at Soldier Field this season. It’s likely been a very long time since the Bears’ first home win didn’t come until mid-November. With the win, the Bears climbed out of last place in the North and will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week. In one of this week’s primetime match up’s, the Detroit Lions faced the Arizona Cardinals in a snooze fest that saw Arizona improve to a league-best 9-1 while the Lions now have the same 7-3 record that the Packers do. Detroit owns a head-to-head tie breaker, but will face a stiff challenge in traveling to New England to face the Patriots this week. A Packers win and a Lions loss leaves Green Bay alone atop the division. And isn’t it a bit ironic that the Lions fell victim to back up quarterback Drew Stanton when it was Stanton who started in relief and beat the Packers in 2010? Wonder what Lions fans’ excuses are now. . .
Let’s take a look at the three games across the North.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8) at Chicago Bears (4-6)
The Bears desperately needed a win to stop the bleeding that has been their season so far. They got it. Winning can help fix a lot of issues, although the Bears have plenty to go around and one win won’t make much of a dent. Enter the Bucs, who came into last week with just one win on the season. They handled the Washington Redskins at home to earn their second road victory of the season. Tampa has only won on the road and until Sunday, the Bears hadn’t won at home. It’s also the return of Tampa head coach Lovie Smith to Chicago, where he led the Bears for nine seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance. And there’s your storyline.
This is a game between two teams who have struggled and are looking to build on a recent win. Tampa resides in the NFC South, where the 4-6 Atlanta Falcons are now in first place in that division. Needless to say, the South is struggling this year and could be the rebirth of the NFC West in 2010 where the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks not only won their division, but won a playoff game. As bad as those teams are, someone has to be in last place and it’s the Bucs. Smith hasn’t been able to establish much in his first season at the helm in Tampa. In looking at the offensive and defensive rankings in most categories, Tampa is at the bottom. They were without running back Doug Martin, who is dealing with an ankle injury. Tampa also inserted Josh McCown in as their starting quarterback over youngster Mike Glennon. With the Bucs earning the win in Washington, expect McCown to remain the starter for the foreseeable future.
The Bears outplayed the Vikings and were able to overcome an early 10-point deficit to get the win. Chicago took advantage of the mismatch of Chicago’s receivers against Minnesota’s smaller cornerbacks. Brandon Marshall had a touchdown reception and there shouldn’t be any tirades in the Bears’ locker room this week. Chicago is now just two games under .500 and with the added juice of wanting to play well against their former coach, they may benefit from some late-season scheduling. Tampa’s pass defense is ranked 30th and could be just what the Bears ordered to salvage their season. It will probably feel different for the Bears to see that “where did I leave my keys?” look on Lovie’s face during Sunday’s game.
Detroit Lions (7-3) at New England Patriots (8-2)
The Lions and their top-ranked run defense will be challenged by. . Jonas Gray? The Patriots back burst onto the fantasy football scene with 199 yards and four touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football. The Patriots would be foolish not to ride the hot hand and feed Gray, but he may find the going a bit tougher this week against Detroit’s front. Since starting the season 1-2, the Patriots hold the league’s second-best mark at 8-2 and have won six straight. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has 24 touchdown passes to just five interceptions on the season and has been as good as can be. Brady’s Patriots face the Packers and Aaron Rodgers in two weeks in what will surely be billed as two of the game’s best going at it.
The Lions couldn’t pull out any late magic and fell to the Cardinals. Detroit had won their previous three games after trailing with two minutes left but that recipe doesn’t feed for long. Despite a top defense that doesn’t allow many points, the Lions need to find ways to score if they want to hang onto their division lead and continue their winning ways. They also need to find a running game. Currently, Detroit averages just under 80 yards per game. Against better passing defenses, the Lions will be challenged to move the ball through the air if there’s little threat of the run. Detroit currently ranks 12th in passing offense but for those colder outdoor games, this being one, they’ll have to find more balance.
The Lions are catching two buzz saws back to back and the Patriots are as hot as can be. They also don’t lose many home games. The last regular season loss at Foxborough was in December of 2012. For either team, this is a quality win. These aren’t the same hapless Lions who often started hot and faded out around this time every season. At least not yet. A Lions win in New England would stamp and solidify their ability to play with and beat any team on any given day. It’s too early to say it would define the 2014 Lions, but it surely would answer a lot of questions.
Green Bay Packers (7-3) at Minnesota Vikings (4-6)
The Packers get the last-place Vikings sandwiched in between their games with the Eagles and Patriots. Can you say “trap game”? Laugh all you want and comment about it twice. Divisional games don’t conform to the usual rules of engagement between two teams of obvious disparity. The Vikings are still trying to figure out who they are and survive this season in a rented home. The Packers are ascending and becoming a team that few others want to see walk through the door on game day. That said, there still is a game day and four quarters to be played.
The biggest story line out of Minnesota is the NFL’s suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, which is currently set to last the duration of this season. Peterson filed a grievance through the NFLPA indicating that he was given the impression, by the NFL and in writing, that he would be reinstated. The NFL’s statement indicated the Peterson would remain on the commissioner’s exempt list with full pay until his criminal charges were settled. Apparently Peterson interpreted that as also meaning he would be immediately reinstated at that point as well. The NFL argued to the contrary. An arbitrator heard the facts and ruled in the NFL’s favor so we will not be seeing Peterson on the field this weekend. It’s ironic that Peterson feels that he is being treated unjustly in this case. I wonder how his son felt after his meeting with the switch from the backyard? It’s the first full season that the Packers haven’t faced Peterson since 2006 and I’m sure they’re not too overly upset about it. I know I’m not. I don’t normally take such a hard and opinionated stance so please forgive my digression.
Green Bay has been raining points over the last two weeks. Those were home games, however and the Vikings fans are always riled up when Rodgers comes to town. The key for the Packers is another early lead to derail Minnesota’s game plan. The Vikings secondary is very average against one of the best sets of receivers in the league and there should be some early chances to get the ball down field. As is always the case, the offense needs to find a way to take advantage of what the defense gives while also giving the defense a rest. Aaron Rodgers against any defense is a mismatch lately but you have to like the match up against the Vikings defense.
The Vikes likely want to mix in some run with some pistol and rollout plays for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater was out when these teams first met earlier this season so this will be Green Bay’s first look at his skill set. Bridgewater standing in the pocket is a good thing for the Packers. Bridgetwater on the run is not as good of a thing. Green Bay added four more turnovers on Sunday against the Eagles and are among the league leaders in takeaways and they’ll look to use Bridgewater’s lack of familiarity to their advantage.
This is a game the Packers should win but it’s all about the first quarter. Will Rodgers get the fourth quarter off for the first time on the road this season?
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: