Final Word: NFC North

September, 24, 2010
9/24/10
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Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Monday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears has been billed as a battle of coaching gurus, and for good reason. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is spinning a scheme that hardly resembles its 3-4 title, while Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has already displayed a willingness to move away from his traditional seven-step drop passes to help quarterback Jay Cutler. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, the Packers have used their base 3-4 set on 15 of their 114 defensive snaps this season. Most of the others have featured a form of the nickel or dime package with extra defensive backs. That trend poses an interesting decision for Monday night. Cutler has a 105.5 passer rating this season against nickel defenses, but he threw five interceptions in two games against the Packers' nickel last season.

[+] EnlargeCharles Woodson
AP Photo/David StlukaCharles Woodson and the Packers' defense have played in their base 3-4 set only 13 percent of the time.
The numbers suggest the Packers should be judicious with their running game Monday night. With tailback Ryan Grant (ankle) out for the season, the Packers don't have a runner who can stretch the field. Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn and Dimitri Nance have combined for a 2.7-yard per carry average outside of the tackles since the start of 2009, according to ESPN's Stats & Information. And the Bears' defense has been especially stingy on outside runs this season, holding opponents to 2.2 yards per carry in those instances. Realistically, the Packers should focus on grinding some hard inside yards and then working their play-action game with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Whom do you trust more? A rookie first-round draft choice making his first NFL start? Or a middling veteran who has never started at the position? That's one of the key issues in Packers-Bears I, especially if the Packers start rookie Bryan Bulaga at left tackle (in place of the ailing Chad Clifton) and the Bears slide over right tackle Frank Omiyale to replace Chris Williams (hamstring). The significance of those possibilities can't be understated with two of the NFL's top pass-rushers on the field in Chicago's Julius Peppers and Green Bay's Clay Matthews. Even if Clifton and/or Williams manage to start, you're talking about two players who are injured enough to have missed significant portions of practice this week.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre said he didn't want to "raise red flags" this week in discussing the state of confusion within the team's offense. But if the Vikings lose Sunday to the Detroit Lions, he won't have to. They'll go up on their own. Only three 0-3 teams have made the playoffs since 1990. In truth, Favre will pose an interesting test for a Lions defense built on the belief that a fierce front four can compensate for deficiencies in the back end. If defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh can disrupt the Vikings' passing offense, they'll have a good chance for an upset. But even with a deficient group of receivers, Favre should be able to pick apart the Lions' secondary if he has time.

We have no choice but to update our annual "the last time the Lions won in X situation" statistic. As they prepare for Sunday's game at the Metrodome, the Lions have lost 21 consecutive road games. They have lost 16 consecutive road games within the division, one shy of tying the post-merger NFL record set by the Oakland Raiders from 2004-07. Finally, the Lions haven't won in Minnesota since 1997. That 12-game stretch is the second-longest active road losing streak in the NFL, behind only the Lions' 18-game losing streak in Wisconsin.

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22