Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:
As Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. points out, Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers would be wise to make Charles Woodson the Packers’ version of Troy Polamalu. We all know Woodson is a great cover man. But as the Packers move away from the bump-and-run, “Cover 1” they have used in the past, Woodson can be freed up to make big plays all over the field. He’s an especially instinctive blitzer and has the experience to really confuse San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith, who has never played with much savvy in the games I’ve seen him. If Woodson can get into Smith’s head, the Packers shouldn’t have any trouble stopping the 49ers' offense.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers grew up a 49ers fan and once was deeply disappointed not to have been drafted to play for his hometown team. Sometimes you see players especially motivated to face teams that passed over them in the draft, but I don’t sense that from Rodgers. The primary people who made the decision to draft Smith over Rodgers in 2005, namely former coach Mike Nolan, are no longer with the organization. (Another was current Packers coach Mike McCarthy, then the 49ers offensive coordinator, but we’ll leave that for another day.) By the way, I wouldn’t expect a lot of blitzing Sunday from the 49ers. They’re sending added pressure on only 28.8 percent of their snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's the ninth-lowest total in the NFL.
If Minnesota beats Seattle on Sunday at the Metrodome, it would mark the seventh time in franchise history that the team would have made it through 10 games with one loss or fewer. Three of those previous seasons resulted in a Super Bowl appearance and a fourth in the NFC Championship Game. More important, it could leave the Vikings one week away from clinching the NFC North title this season. In order for that to happen, the Vikings would need to defeat Chicago on Nov. 29 and have Green Bay lose once during the next two weeks.
This is a bad week for Chicago to need its running game. You could make an argument for the Bears backing off their reliance on quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw five interceptions in his last game and has performed horridly in night games this season. But after nine games of brick walls, it’s hard to imagine tailback Matt Forte suddenly finding wide-open lanes here in Week 11. Philadelphia has done a pretty good job stopping the run this season anyway, ranking No. 8 overall in the NFL, and the Bears are still trying to settle the left side of their offensive line. But if/when they turn to Cutler, be advised of these figures calculated by Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune: Cutler is 4-9 in 13 career night games. He’s thrown an interception every 20.3 passes at night, compared to one for every 34.6 passes in day games.
Sunday’s game at Ford Field could be the NFL’s worst matchup since, well, St. Louis played there three weeks ago. About 40,000 fans are expected. The game is blacked out locally. Worst of all, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information, this is only the fifth matchup between 1-8 teams in the past 25 years. How bad are the Browns? The Lions are getting 3 1/2 points in the betting columns, and that might be a little stingy. Cleveland doesn’t have the offensive firepower to capitalize against the Lions’ undermanned defense. In case you’ve missed it, the Browns have only five offensive touchdowns in their past 15 regular season games. That’s the worst 15-game stretch for any NFL offense since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.