Friday, December 2, 2011
Final Word: NFC North
By Kevin Seifert
Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 13:
Closing in: The Green Bay Packers have a great chance to clinch a playoff spot Sunday, regardless of what happens in their game at the New York Giants. (It can happen with a Packers victory, or a loss by one of the following teams: the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions or the Atlanta Falcons.) The Packers can also clinch the NFC North with a victory combined with a Lions loss to the New Orleans Saints. Even if they lose to the Giants, losses by the Lions and Bears this weekend would hand the division to the Packers. And then the real fun begins. The Packers' next goal would be to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and, possibly, a 16-0 regular season.
History: The Giants have lost three consecutive games and aren't expected to have defensive end Osi Umenyiora (ankle/knee) for this game. The Packers, meanwhile, have won 17 consecutive games, including the playoffs. But optimism in New York for an upset has centered, in part, on the Giants' history in such situations. On three occasions, the Giants have snapped an opponent's winning streak of 18 or more games. They beat the New England Patriots in 2004, the Denver Broncos in 1998 and the Chicago Bears in 1934. With that said, nothing has happened lately to suggest that these Giants are in position to make it a fourth time -- other than the fact that previous incarnations of their teams have pulled it off.
Must win: Let's be blunt: If the Bears want to participate in the 2011 postseason, they'll need to beat the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field. The Chiefs have lost four consecutive games and are expected to start quarterback Tyler Palko, who has thrown six interceptions in the Chiefs' past two games. The other alternative is former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton, who has spent a week with the team. The Bears are 5-1 and are averaging 31.3 points per game at home this season, their only loss coming in Week 3 to the Packers. There is a general assumption that quarterback Caleb Hanie will settle down for his second NFL start, but the Chiefs' poor perimeter run defense could help tailback Matt Forte gobble up yards outside the tackles. (The Chiefs are allowing 5.7 yards per rush outside the tackles.) No matter how it happens, the Bears can't afford a loss Sunday.
Tough to win: As we noted earlier Friday, the Lions will have their work cut out for them Sunday night in stopping the New Orleans Saints' offense, which is particularly explosive at the Superdome. To be fair, it's worth noting that the Lions have a decent opportunity to score against the Saints' risk-taking defense. The Saints are giving up the sixth-most passing yards per game in the NFL this season (253.7) and have only six interceptions, tied for the second-lowest in the league. The fractured right index finger of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has healed, and the Lions at least have the capacity to exchange blows in a shootout.
Defending Tebow: The Minnesota Vikings' beleaguered secondary will get something of a break this week against Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. The Vikings will be without four of the top five defensive backs they opened the season with, and on Sunday rookie Mistral Raymond will make his first NFL start. But the Broncos rarely throw downfield with Tebow and instead focus on their option running game. The Vikings will need to pay particular attention when Tebow is in the spread formation; the Broncos are averaging 6.5 yards per rush and have five rushing touchdowns when Tebow is in the shotgun.