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Friday, December 26, 2008
Audibles: NFC North Week 17 preview

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Chicago Bears (9-6) at Houston Texans (7-8), 1 p.m. ET

Let's get this out of the way from the start: No team in NFL history has won three consecutive overtime games. So after overtime victories against New Orleans and Green Bay, the Bears will be pushing their luck if they head into sudden death Sunday at Reliant Stadium.

The Bears have won three consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFC. But they shouldn't expect an easy game in Houston. The Texans' connection between quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson poses significant matchup problems for the Bears, who have lost safety Mike Brown for the season and might have to start rookie Craig Steltz at the position.

The Bears' offense has performed well in spurts over the past few weeks, especially when it has used tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen. But it is not equipped to match the Texans in a score-fest. The Bears' defense must keep this game manageable, especially early.

Detroit Lions (0-15) at Green Bay Packers (5-10), 1 p.m. ET

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy swears the only time he has mentioned 0-15 -- or 0-16, for that matter -- was during a team meeting to discuss media topics for the week. It goes without saying the Packers want to steer clear of history Sunday at Lambeau Field.

So if history is any indication, the Packers will win Sunday and Detroit will finish the season 0-16. The Lions haven't won in Wisconsin since 1991, and there's no reason to believe they'll start now. Their last game, a 42-7 loss to New Orleans, suggests they have all but packed it in for the season. Green Bay, despite losses in its last five games, should have its way with the Lions' defense all afternoon.

About the only thing Detroit can hope for is to stay within reach for most of the game and hope the Packers find another way to lose a close game in the fourth quarter. But it'll take a fluke, the kind of luck Detroit hasn't seen all season.

Minnesota Vikings (9-6) vs. New York Giants (12-3), 1 p.m. ET

Here's a little-remembered fact: In two career games against him, Minnesota safety Darren Sharper has intercepted New York quarterback Eli Manning four times and returned two for touchdowns. Amid all the talk about the Giants resting their starters, it seemed as if the Vikings would be better off with Manning playing the entire game.

"I have enjoyed playing against him," Sharper said. "But I've had my good times against him. I know he'll come and try to go against that and have good times against me. We'll see how much he plays."

That's one of many subplots the Vikings find themselves facing on the final weekend of the regular season. A victory, or a Chicago loss, gives them the division title. But the way things have been going lately, the Vikings are hardly expecting any luck to come their way. Which means you won't see much of Manning on Sunday.

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