<
>

Final Word: NFC North

11/27/2009

» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

In case you forgot, Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen welcomed Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler to the division with these words: “Twice a year, I'm going to peel the back of his head off the turf. I love the guy, but business is business." In all seriousness, Allen does tend to save his best games for division opponents. Of his 10.5 sacks this season, 8.5 have come in four NFC North contests. You would think he has another favorable matchup Sunday afternoon against the Bears’ declining left tackle, Orlando Pace. Plus, Allen came up big in both games against Chicago last season, with two sacks in the teams’ first matchup and 2.5 in the second. This is the type of game where Allen usually makes his presence known.

Of all the ways Chicago’s defense has been maligned this season, it still has managed to minimize big passing plays. Opponents have 23 completions of 20 or more yards this season, the sixth-lowest figure in the NFL. We should find out Sunday if that’s a legitimate statistic or not. Minnesota has 35 completions of at least 20 yards this year and 10 of more than 40 yards. Both marks rank among the NFL’s top 10. Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has the NFL’s highest passer rating on passes of 21 or more yards (130.2), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Bears won’t have a chance Sunday if they can’t stop the Vikings’ big passing plays.

With all that said, we’re only doing our duty by acknowledging this statistic: Favre has thrown two touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in his past six games against the Bears. Three of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns. The Bears were 5-1 in those games, all of which came against Green Bay. Every year stands on its own merits, but history is history.

Given the anger and optimism in Chicago and Minnesota, respectively, few people probably think this game could come down to field goal kicking. But if it does, we’ll have two of the NFL’s best this season. The Vikings’ Ryan Longwell ranks fourth in the NFL with a 94-percent conversion rate this season (16 of 17). Chicago’s Robbie Gould isn’t much behind, having converted 84 percent (16 of 19). Longwell’s only miss was a block. Gould? Of his three failures, two were blocked and the other was from 53 yards. If you’re a fan of rock-solid kicking, be sure to tune in.

Green Bay has a mini-bye week after getting through Thursday’s game at Detroit. The Packers have a full 10 days between games and won’t take the field again until Dec. 7 for a Monday night matchup against Baltimore. Who knows what the playoff scenarios will be at that point, but as of now the Packers are sitting in pretty good position. The New York Giants’ Thanksgiving loss at Denver leaves the Packers as the only 7-victory team among the NFC’s top wild-card contenders. Philadelphia could join that group Sunday with a victory over Washington. Regardless, the Packers have a nice stretch here to rest up for the final playoff run.