NFC North Spin cycle: Packers roll, Vikes control fate

Posted Dec. 24, 2012 @ 10:52 a.m.
Posted By PFW staff

The Packers might have wrapped up the North, but the Vikings' huge victory Sunday means that they — and not the Bears — control their fate in Week 17. Imagine that: the Bears rooting for Green Bay next Sunday. Check out how it all happened in a wrap-up of the division for Week 16:

BEARS

What we learned: They didn’t forget how to beat bad teams. The Bears had not done much winning of late — they had lost five of their last six games (with each loss coming against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today) heading into Sunday’s meeting with the Cardinals. However, they won comfortably (28-13) at Arizona, which has lost 10 of its last 11 games. Chicago’s defense returned to its early-season form. It forced three turnovers and CBs Charles Tillman and CB Zack Bowman each scored touchdowns. Aside from RB Matt Forté, the offense was predictably sluggish. It was not a pretty performance, and perhaps the biggest takeaway from Sunday was the updated playoff scenario for the Bears — with a win over the Lions and a Packers win over the Vikings in Week 17, the Bears will advance to the postseason. However, if the Vikings win, the Bears are out. The Bears have no choice but to root for the hated Packers on Sunday.

What’s in store next: A must-win-and-hope-for-help game in Detroit against the 4-11 Lions and, if the Bears defeat the Lions, they will then turn their attention to Minnesota, where the Vikings will host the Packers. The Bears play at 1 p.m. ET and the Green Bay-Minnesota game has been moved to 4:25 p.m. ET, so the Bears will have to wait to learn their fate if they prevail against the Lions, who own the league’s longest losing streak (seven games) and are desperate to end the season on a positive note. The Bears lost at Detroit in a Monday night game last season, but that is the only time the Lions have defeated the Bears since the start of the 2008 season (Chicago has won 8-of-9 games in the series over that span).

What the heck? Against a defense that is one of the league’s lowest-ranked units vs. the run and one of the league’s stingiest units vs. the pass, the Bears ran passing plays on three of their first four first downs and were able to get a grand total of minus-one yard out of those three pass plays. It was an odd approach given the strengths and weaknesses of Arizona’s defense, and it didn’t work. QB Jay Cutler didn’t even complete a pass in the first quarter. It was another slow and strange start for Chicago’s offense, which just has not made progress this season.

Dan Parr

LIONS

What we learned: It’s a one-man show in Detroit, and the show is worth the price of admission, even as the Lions continue their deep slide. WR Calvin Johnson shattered Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yardage record in the Lions’ 31-18 loss to Atlanta on Saturday night, and now Johnson is in range of 2,000 receiving yards. Johnson, who caught 11 passes for 225 yards in Week 16, is 108 yards away from 2,000, and considering the way he’s playing and the Lions’ lack of other consistent targets because of injuries, he stands a good shot at reaching that standard, too. QB Matthew Stafford is also closing in on some NFL history of his own; with 305 passing yards Sunday vs. Chicago, he will reach 5,000, making him the first player ever to reach that plateau in consecutive seasons. That said, there’s no comparing Stafford’s inconsistent 2012 season to his sparkling ’11 campaign.

What's in store next: The Lions, who have now lost seven in a row, close their season against Chicago, which is fighting for a playoff spot. The Bears ground out a 13-7 win vs. Detroit on Oct. 22, a game marked by missed opportunities for the Lions, who committed four turnovers, including three inside the Chicago 20. In some ways, the Bears’ offense is like Detroit’s; the Bears have one go-to wideout in the passing game (Brandon Marshall) and not much else. However, the Lions, even with their pass-catching corps thinned, have far more playmaking punch than the Bears. If the Lions avoid mistakes, they can give the Bears a game.

What the heck? The Lions had too many of these moments on Saturday. For starters, head coach Jim Schwartz elected to try a field goal with Detroit facing a 4th-and-goal from the Atlanta 2 trailing 21-13 early in the fourth quarter. The Lions converted the field goal, but not much had changed, really — they still were going to need a touchdown at some point. As it turned out, the Lions would never get any closer than five points. The Falcons scored a TD on their next drive (an 11-play, 78-yard drive that ate up 6:14 off the clock). Then, Stafford made a big mistake, forcing a pass for Johnson that was intercepted. The Falcons capitalized, adding a field goal to take a 31-16 lead with 3:09 left. The final head-scratching instance came when RS Stefan Logan fielded a free kick after a safety and took a knee at the Detroit 4.

Mike Wilkening

PACKERS

What we learned: The Packers kept rolling in a dominating 55-7 cakewalk over the Titans, but their fourth consecutive win could turn out to be very hollow if the ankle injury suffered by jack-of-all-trades Randall Cobb early in the third quarter turns out to be serious. While the Packers have managed to persevere despite injuries this season on a par with the injury-plagued 2010 Super Bowl champs, the loss of Cobb, who has become the offense’s most productive overall weapon, would be a costly blow indeed. The Packers had this game well in hand by the time Cobb limped off the field, as Aaron Rodgers had an MVP-caliber game (three TD passes to three different receivers and a TD run), and the defense limited the Titans to only 180 yards and sacked a helpless Jake Locker seven times.   

What’s in store next: Still hoping to wrestle away the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed from the 49ers, the Packers finish out the regular season with a visit to Minnesota, where the Vikings, winners of three in a row, will be hoping to assure a playoff berth. The last time the Vikings lost was in Week 13, when the Packers prevailed 23-14 at Lambeau Field, despite a 21-210-1 rushing performance by Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (25-86 rushing vs. Houston). Green Bay’s run defense, which wasn’t challenged much by a Titans offense that fell way behind early in and was forced into mostly passing situations, definitely figures to be challenged by Peterson, who needs 102 yards rushing to reach 2,000 yards and 208 yards rushing to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season league record (2,105).  

What the heck? You would not be alone in wondering what the heck Cobb was even doing in a game that was in effect wrapped up by halftime when he awkwardly turned his ankle on a punt return. Head coach Mike McCarthy also played with fire by risking unnecessary injury to Rodgers, who kept playing early into the fourth quarter when he really didn’t have to. You can be excused for covering your eyes every time Rodgers decided to run or got hit after a pass in the second half, especially after he got floored by Titans rookie LB Zach Brown not long after Cobb was hurt. 

Dan Arkush

VIKINGS

What we learned: The Vikings can dominate on the road. Perhaps even more impressive than the Week Three victory over the 49ers at home was the Vikings’ thorough domination of the Texans in Houston in Week 16, especially on defense where they held the home team to a mere 187 yards, 11 first downs and 1-of-11 conversions on third downs. Although Adrian Peterson was held in check by his standards (25-86-0 rushing), the Vikings did enough offensively (thanks to PK Blair Walsh) to set up a big game in Week 17.

What’s in store next: Biggest game in franchise history since the 2009 NFC championship game? Yeah, probably. The Vikings are playing for a chance to enter the postseason, which had looked dicey at about three or four stops along the road over the past two months. A win over the Packers in Green Bay — now shifted to the late-afternoon slot on FOX — puts them in. There’s also a little individual glory on the line as Peterson finds himself 102 rushing yards shy of 2,000 and 208 short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s 1984 record, which looks a little more safe now.

What the heck? Is this new defense for real? Dating back to the first matchup against the Packers in Week 13, the Vikings have allowed 45 points in the last 13 quarters, and 15 of those came with a 26-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Rams. The big plays were everywhere Sunday: Sacks by Antoine Winfield and Fred Evans (the latter on a huge goal-line stand), Jasper Binkley stripping Arian Foster, a deflection by Harrison Smith and many more. In a game in which CB Chris Cook had a limited snap count in his return and DE Brian Robison was out with a shoulder injury, the Vikings turned in their finest defensive performance of the season.

Eric Edholm