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Tuesday, October 18, 2011
NFC North Stock Watch

By Kevin Seifert

NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Donovan McNabb, Minnesota Vikings quarterback: We've noted many times that McNabb deserves only partial blame for the Vikings' woes this season. The lockout, an imbalanced roster and some uninspired work from offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave have all contributed. Regardless, you have to wonder if McNabb has made the final start of his NFL career. Coach Leslie Frazier officially is still mulling his starter for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers, but it doesn't usually bode well for an incumbent when the coach doesn't immediately express support. If Christian Ponder assumes the job and stays healthy for the remainder of the season, what options would McNabb have in 2012? He would have been benched in consecutive years by two different organizations. I'm not sure if another team would offer him its starting job. Earlier this month, Sports Illustrated reported McNabb will strongly consider retirement if that scenario plays out.

2. Perspective on postgame handshakes: I promise this will be my final comment on Sunday's postgame fracas at Ford Field. I've been surprised at how many people think this incident has been overblown. Rarely, if ever, in the modern history of the NFL has one head coach been restrained from going after another, regardless of provocation. To find even a similar example, the Pro Football Hall of Fame went back to a Chicago Bears-Los Angeles Rams game -- in 1947. After the game, a dirty affair from another era that featured five ejections and 16 penalties, a Bears player chased Rams coach Bob Snyder into the locker room and sparked a brawl. And this list of coaching confrontations, compiled by Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, hardly compares to what we saw Sunday. What exactly was Schwartz going to do Sunday if he reached Harbaugh? Were they going to fight right there on the field? When something so out of the ordinary occurs relative to history, it is by definition a significant event.

3. Vikings pass defense: The Vikings have gotten decent push from defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison this season, but they were largely stymied Sunday night by a Chicago Bears offense that held back extra blockers in pass protection. Robbed of the protection usually afforded by Allen and Robison, the Vikings' secondary was revealed as an undermanned group that doesn't have an anchor as long as veteran is Antoine Winfield (neck) sidelined. The Vikings rank No. 24 overall in NFL pass defense. They continue to run a rotation at safety between Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford, and cornerback Cedric Griffin is gamely fighting through his second return from an ACL tear in as many seasons. All secondaries are better when they have a pass rush, but the Vikings' is a real liability if Allen and Robison can't get consistent pressure.

RISING

James Jones
James Jones celebrates his 35-yard touchdown catch against the Rams with the fans.
1. James Jones, Packers receiver: Jones wasn't happy with his playing time early in the season. But after agreeing to sit tight and wait his turn, Jones has caught a touchdown pass in each of the Packers' last three games. In fact, three of his last seven receptions have gone for touchdowns. Over that stretch, Jones has pulled himself even with the slew of receivers the Packers have behind Greg Jennings. Jordy Nelson has 20 receptions this season. Jones has 15. Donald Driver has 12 and Randall Cobb has nine.

2. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears quarterback: We'll get to this in more detail later Tuesday, but Cutler has put together his best two games of the season over the past two weeks. He's completed 71 percent of his passes over that stretch with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He's even made a believer of Total Quarterback Rating, which gave him a season-high 91.4 score after Sunday's victory over the Vikings. It's interesting that Cutler has a better sense for what the Bears offense can do, and not do, than coordinator Mike Martz.

3. Desmond Bishop, Packers linebacker: Tackles are an unofficial statistic, but I usually prefer to use the set based on review from each team's coaches. Based on that film review, Bishop had a stunning 20 tackles in Sunday's victory over the St. Louis Rams. That unofficially gives Bishop a team-high 72 tackles through six games. He also has three sacks and a forced fumble. Consider that at this time last season, Bishop was only two games into his replacement of injured starter Nick Barnett. He has now blossomed into a key ingredient of a championship defense.