A convincing victory over the Vikings has the Bears (8-3) alone in the NFC North lead once again after the Packers fell hard against the Giants in front of a prime-time audience. The Vikings' defeat leaves them teetering on the edge of playoff contention at 6-5. Meanwhile, the Lions (4-7) are hanging by a thread after a crushing loss to the Texans on Thanksgiving.
What we learned: The Bears might be feeling the effects of Sunday’s win for a while. They lost five starters (OLG Chris Spencer, ORG Lance Louis, WR Devin Hester, CB Charles Tillman and RB Matt Forté) to new injuries in their 28-10 win over the Vikings. WLB Lance Briggs reportedly left the stadium in a walking boot after the game. This came after WR Alshon Jeffery underwent knee surgery that will keep him out for at least one more game and OLG Chilo Rachal briefly left the team and might not play again this season. We will be learning more about the severity of the injuries in the days to come, though Louis was placed on I.R. on Monday. It’s a concern, though, any time that many players are on the postgame report.
What’s in store next: The Bears will host the Seahawks on Sunday. Reports say Seattle's starting cornerbacks — Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner — are facing four-game suspensions for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Sherman was on PFW’s Midseason All-Pro team and Browner made the Pro Bowl last season. It’s not clear when the suspensions might begin, and both players intend to appeal, so there is a chance both could play vs. Chicago. Either way, the Seahawks — who are currently the sixth seed in the NFC and would make the playoffs as the final wild-card team if the season ended today — are in need of a win coming off their loss to the Dolphins.
What the heck? Jay Cutler has to play smarter than he did in the first quarter Sunday, when he tossed the ball at Vikings CB A.J. Jefferson after a five-yard run. He was flagged for a taunting penalty and it pushed the Bears to 2nd-and-20 when they would have otherwise had 2nd-and-5. The Bears had to settle for a field goal on the drive after starting it with great field position (their own 46-yard line).
What we learned: There are numerous ways to look at the Lions’ 34-31 OT loss to Houston. If you are completely into silver linings, you would say that Detroit again showed it has the talent to play with any club in the league. You could chalk the loss up to horrid luck. How else to explain officials not ruling Texans RB Justin Forsett down on an 81-yard TD run — and then being unable to review the play because head coach Jim Schwartz challenged the ruling on the field? How do you explain steady PK Jason Hanson missing a potential game-winning 47-yard field-goal attempt in overtime? Well, if you aren’t into silver linings, you say the obvious: for the second consecutive game, the Lions couldn’t hold a fourth-quarter lead against a good team, and they missed numerous chances to secure the game. However you see the loss, the Lions (4-7) need a big rally to have any playoff hopes.
What's in store next: The Lions’ three-game homestand concludes with a meeting with 7-4 Indianapolis. The Colts currently hold the No. 5 seed in the AFC on the strength of their offense led by star rookie QB Andrew Luck. Their defense isn’t especially stout, but it did hold Buffalo to 304 yards and one TD in a 20-13 Colts win on Sunday. The Lions’ potent offense and pass rush look to be two Detroit edges in a game the Lions desperately need.
What the heck? Schwartz needs to know he cannot challenge a scoring play. The rule is perhaps overly punitive, but it’s on the books. Also, the NFL will investigate Lions DT Ndamukong Suh’s kick to Texans QB Matt Schaub’s groin area, USA Today reported. Suh has not publicly addressed the incident, so his explanation for the incident is unknown. Meanwhile, the video has been replayed countless times, and Schaub has taken multiple strong public stances against Suh’s kick. Suh is likely looking at a sizable fine.
What we learned: The only consolation in the thorough 38-10 whipping on both sides of the ball by the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants on a national stage was that all of the NFC’s other primary challengers for wild-card spots also took it on the chin on Sunday. Clearly, the Packers took a big step back, looking very much like the team that lost to Eli Manning and the Giants in the playoffs last season. The Giants’ well-rested defense did a number on the Packers’ offense, especially up front, where Green Bay’s offensive line was manhandled to the tune of five sacks (eight allowed in last two games). As for the defense, the injured Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson can’t come to the rescue soon enough after a shaky effort, especially against the run (147 yards allowed).
What’s in store next: The Packers will be entertaining the Vikings, another team that got its clock cleaned Sunday in a lackluster 28-10 loss to the Bears. The Vikes will be in desperation mode with their playoff hopes fading, but not totally shattered. The Packers' offense could get a welcome downfield boost from WR Greg Jennings, who is finally expected to be good to go after missing the last seven games with a groin injury. Matthews (hamstring), though, is probably another week away from returning to action. Vikings star RB Adrian Peterson, a legitimate league MVP candidate, had his fifth consecutive 100-yard game last week against the Bears, but he was limited to 7-25 rushing in the first half and had a costly lost fumble.
What the heck? PK Mason Crosby (eight misses in his last 15 FG attempts) has become too easy of a target. Let’s just concentrate on poking holes in what head coach Mike McCarthy admitted was a poor game plan. When WRs James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb combine for only six catches on 11 targets — with Jones, the team leader in receiving TDs, not even being targeted the entire evening — you know something is really wrong. And let’s not forget the two easy interceptions dropped by rookie CB Casey Hayward and SS Morgan Burnett.
What we learned: This team is not equipped to come back from 22-point deficits — or to try to do so without Percy Harvin. The Vikings could not take advantage of an early Bears fumble, falling behind 25-3 because the defense could not get off the field on third down. The Vikings played their safeties deep nearly the entire game and forced the Bears to go short. The Bears obliged and connected with 12 passes to Brandon Marshall, who helped chew up the clock even with Matt Forté out of the game. The Vikings turned the ball over (an Adrian Peterson fumble and a Christian Ponder fumble and interception), couldn’t convert on third downs (Ponder struggled) and made some questionable coaching decisions.
What's in store next: The Vikings must get their act together quickly. The Packers loom in a win-or-bust kind of game in Green Bay as far as the playoffs are concerned. With the Packers losing, they’ll be highly motivated to get back on track a game down in the NFC North. The Vikings, meanwhile, will be battling for their wild-card lives. Ponder has to improve; Peterson will get a boost if Harvin returns, but he can’t be the only one who makes a difference. The defense hasn’t had a monster performance in a while.
What the heck? Speaking of the non-Harvin receivers, they were not good against the Bears. Jerome Simpson dropped three passes, including a key third-down opportunity after a Bears turnover. “I played a terrible game,” he said afterward. WR Stephen Burton dropped a pass that almost was intercepted (replays overturned it). TE John Carlson also missed a catchable pass. Although TE Kyle Rudolph had a big game, he was being tested for a concussion. He was seen dressing in the locker room after the game, but league rules prohibited him from talking after the concussion test. Someone from the group has to step up. Harvin adds a lot, but he can’t be the only one who makes plays.