Chicago Bears: Norv Turner

Final Word: NFC North

December, 23, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 16:

Busted rivalry: When the NFL released its schedule this spring, many of us had high expectations for a late-December matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Instead, an injury-devastated Bears team will limp north as a (deserved) 13-point underdog. It's possible the Packers will have clinched home-field advantage even before taking the field Sunday night, if the San Francisco 49ers lose Saturday at the Seattle Seahawks. If not, the Packers will attempt to secure it against a team playing without quarterback Jay Cutler, running backs Matt Forte and Marion Barber, and receiver Johnny Knox. Third-string running back Kahlil Bell is expected to start, pairing with third-string quarterback Josh McCown -- who has a history of helping the Packers' playoff positioning. (See: Noooooooooooooooo!) One other interesting bit of history: The Packers are one of five teams in NFL history to open a season 13-0 and then lose in their 14th game. All four of the other teams lost their 15th game, too. That list includes the 2009 and 2005 Indianapolis Colts, the 2009 New Orleans Saints and the 1998 Denver Broncos.

[+] EnlargeJames Starks
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireGreen Bay's James Starks is expected to play Sunday against the Bears.
Packers' run game: For several reasons, Sunday night's game would be an obvious target for the Packers to try to enhance their running game. James Starks (ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion) are expected to return. The Packers will start a makeshift offensive line that likely will include T.J. Lang at right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard; the best way for offensive linemen to get comfortable is via run blocking. And it's also worth repeating that the Bears historically have done a good job limiting Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' downfield opportunities. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers has completed only five of 26 attempts on throws against the Bears that traveled in the air 21 yards or more. He's thrown for one touchdown, a game-winner to receiver Greg Jennings in 2009, and two interceptions on those passes.

Detroit's challenge: The Detroit Lions will clinch a playoff spot Saturday if they beat the San Diego Chargers in what will likely be a raucous atmosphere at Ford Field. (There are also several scenarios to clinch this weekend even if they lose. They're noted in this post.) Hopefully everyone knows the Chargers are on one of their annual December rolls. They've won three consecutive games after a six-game losing streak. Since Norv Turner took the head coaching job in 2007, the Chargers are 20-2 in December. This will be no cakewalk.

Big targets: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers struggled earlier this season, but he has been the NFL's most efficient quarterback over the past three weeks based on Total Quarterback Rating. Rivers has hit a groove with a pair of 6-foot-5 receivers that will pose significant matchup problems for the Lions. Malcom Floyd has 11 receptions for 233 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games, while Vincent Jackson has caught 12 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. Jackson has been sidelined in practice this week by a groin injury. Lions cornerback Chris Houston (knee) clearly wasn't 100 percent last week against the Oakland Raiders, and the team re-signed Brandon McDonald this week for extra depth. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) also remains sidelined, and backup Chris Harris was cleared Thursday to practice following a concussion.

Make it stop: If you're a big-picture observer, you see ample motivation for the Minnesota Vikings to lose Sunday at the Washington Redskins. One more victory by the Indianapolis Colts, in conjunction with two more Vikings defeats, would give the Vikings an excellent chance to secure the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft. A loss to the Redskins would extend the Vikings' losing streak to seven games, tying a franchise record set in their expansion season of 1961. But I'm not sure what would be worse: tying that record or extending their NFL record of games without an interception, which stands at nine. Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman has thrown at least one interception in his past 10 starts, and he is tied for the second-most interceptions in the NFL (18) despite missing three games this season. Something's got to give.

Nuts & Bolts: Bears vs. Chargers

November, 19, 2011
When: 3:15 p.m., Sunday | TV: CBS | RADIO:780 AM, WBBM & 105.9 FM

Major WrightAP Photo/Denis PoroyThe Bears have faced the Chargers only once in the regular season -- a 14-3 loss in 2007 -- during Lovie Smith's tenure.

BEARS (6-3)

Coach: Lovie Smith | Record including playoffs: 72-55 | Last week:Defeated the Detroit Lions 37-13.

Career head-to-head record (including playoffs) vs. Norv Turner:0-1

Career record (including playoffs) vs. Chargers: 0-1

Key stat: The Bears have forced nine interceptions over the past three games, including two outings in which they intercepted four passes. When the Bears finish on the positive side of the turnover margin, they’re 10-1 over the past two seasons.

[+] EnlargeEarl Bennett
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesEarl Bennett has been Jay Cutler's favorite target since returning from an injury.
Offense rank: 17th (327.8 ypg) | Defense rank: 25th (376.3 ypg)

Offensive leader: Since returning to the lineup on Nov. 7, receiver Earl Bennett has caught 12 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown in two games, which registers as the best back-to-back performances of his career. Look for Bennett to use his chemistry with Jay Cutler to build on that. The expectation is that the Bears will continue to utilize more and more plays designed to get the ball into Bennett’s hands.

Defensive leader: If there’s anything “old” about CB Charles Tillman, it’s only the fact he makes plays virtually every week, and can constantly be counted on to lock down the opposition’s best receiver. Tillman has 28 interceptions over his career. In addition Tillman has forced 26 fumbles, which is the most by a defensive back since 2003, and seventh overall.


• The Bears have never lost a game against the San Diego Chargers at Soldier Field.
• The Bears remain undefeated this season (3-0) when the defense scores a touchdown. Since 2004, the Bears are 14-1 when the defense scores a TD.
• The Bears have posted four interceptions in two of their last three outings.


Coach: Norv Turner | Record: 107-114 | Career head-to-head record vs. Smith: 1-0

Career record against Bears: 4-0 | Last week: Lost 24-17 to the Raiders

Key stat: With Turner at the controls, the Chargers have a 28-9 record after Nov. 1 and they’ve won eight of their last 10 November games.

Offense rank:7th (396.7 ypg) | Defense rank: 9th (331.3 ypg)

[+] EnlargeEric Weddle
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesEric Weddle could be a thorn in Jay Cutler's side come Sunday.
Offensive leader: Although Phillip Rivers has thrown 13 interceptions, he’s also tossed 149 touchdown passes. Rivers needs only one more TD to become the third player in Chargers history and 75th player in NFL history to reach 150. The quarterback is also on pace for another 4,000-yard passing season which would put him with Peyton manning and Drew Brees as the only players in history to produce four consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.
Defensive leader: San Diego’s third-leading tackler (44 tackles), safety Eric Weddle also leads the Chargers in interceptions (5) which ties for the NFL lead. Weddle needs five more interceptions to tie the team record for single-season interceptions (10) set in 2007 by Antonio Cromartie.


• San Diego has dropped four consecutive games after starting the season 4-1, making this skid the club’s longest since losing nine in a row from 2002-03.
• The Chargers have won two of their last three outings against NFC opponents.
• Chargers linebacker Antwan Barnes has four sacks in the past three games. If Barnes produces a sack against the Bears, it will be his fourth consecutive game with at least one sack.