Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC North [Print without images]

Friday, November 11, 2011
Final Word: NFC North

By Kevin Seifert

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

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 10:

1. Road/home-field advantage: It's true that the Chicago Bears have won 10 of their past 12 regular season divisional games at home. But from a national perspective, I wonder if everyone is aware of the Detroit Lions' recent road success. The Lions are 4-0 on the road this season and have won six consecutive games away from Ford Field after stopping a 26-game road losing streak last December. The Bears feel confident that playing at home will alleviate the issues they experienced in the teams' Week 5 matchup in Detroit, namely nine false start penalties. The experts seem to agree. The Bears have been steady three-point favorites this week and all 10 ESPN experts, human and otherwise, are predicting a Bears victory. Recent history, at least, suggests the call is not quite that clear-cut. A victory would give the Lions a 7-2 record for just the second time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

Jay Cutler
How the Bears choose to protect Jay Cutler will be a key to the rematch against Detroit.
2. Added protection: The Lions are tied for fourth in the NFL with 24 sacks, and until their Week 8 game against the Denver Broncos, they had almost exclusively used four-man rush packages. It will be interesting to see if they return to that four-man rush against a Bears team that has accepted it needs to keep in additional blockers to protect quarterback Jay Cutler. If the Lions rush four, will offensive coordinator Mike Martz be tempted to reduce his protection commitment? Cutler has been sacked only three times in three games since Martz made the adjustment, as we discussed Thursday.

3. Stretch run: Monday night will mark the first of a three-game, 11-day stretch for the Green Bay Packers. They'll play on Nov. 14 against the Minnesota Vikings, on Nov. 20 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then Nov. 24 for their Thanksgiving showdown with the Lions. It's not as difficult as it might seem. In 2009, you might remember, the Packers played three games in 12 days and won all three.

4. Smart pressure on Rodgers: Vikings defensive end Jared Allen has 11.5 sacks against the Packers in games that left tackle Chad Clifton hasn't played. Clifton (hamstring) has been ruled out of this game, to be replaced again by Marshall Newhouse, and the Vikings are hoping to get Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of his rhythm Monday night at Lambeau Field. But Allen brought up a good point this week. He noted Rodgers throws well when flushed out of the pocket and suggested that "we've got to get him to scramble where we want him to scramble." Allen wasn't specific about where that might be, but here are the facts: Rodgers has thrown 38 passes from outside of the pocket this season. He's averaging 14.5 yards per attempt (not completion) on those throws, the best in the NFL by a long shot. No other quarterback is averaging more than 8.5 yards per attempt outside of the pocket with a minimum of 20 attempts.

5. Slowing Peterson: Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson has eclipsed 100 yards in two of his past three games at Lambeau Field and had 175 yards against the Packers in the teams' meeting at the Metrodome last month. Of that 175-yard performance, 89 yards came after first contact. That was the third-highest total in an NFL game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Peterson has saved some of the hardest running of his career for games against the Packers, and he is the Vikings' best chance for a victory Monday night. Quarterback Christian Ponder has displayed poise in his first two starts, but it's helped that Peterson has gained 258 yards in those games.