Friday, November 30, 2012
Final Word: NFC North
By Kevin Seifert
Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 13:
Non-Favre dominance: Over the past six years, the only time the Minnesota Vikings have won at Lambeau Field was when Brett Favre was their quarterback. All told, the Green Bay Packers have won five of the past six games between the teams there. In his career, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has 19 touchdown passes and three interceptions against the Vikings. The Packers have been vulnerable this season to teams with strong frontline pass-rushers, and it's worth noting that Vikings defensive end Jared Allen has sacked Rodgers 12.5 times in eight career games. But Allen doesn't have a sack in his past three games this season and is tied for No. 19 in the NFL with seven sacks on the year. The return of Packers receiver Greg Jennings (abdomen) will give Rodgers another outlet if he does find himself under pressure.
The Vikings have given Adrian Peterson the ball on just 20 percent of third- and fourth-down plays in which they need three yards or less.
Using Peterson: You would think the Vikings' offense will need to score more than its 2012 average of 22.5 points per game to win Sunday. Converting third (and fourth) downs is the key to sustaining scoring drives, of course, and you wonder if that will necessitate a change in the way the Vikings have used tailback Adrian Peterson this season. Last Sunday at Soldier Field, Peterson touched the ball only once on seven plays the Vikings ran when they faced third- or fourth-down and 3 yards or less. Overall this season, Peterson is getting the ball on 20 percent of those occasions, significantly less than his career average of 33.3 percent. Perhaps it's no surprise that the Vikings have the NFL's second-worst conversion percentage of third downs with 3 or fewer yards to go.
Power of Soldier Field: The Seattle Seahawks have continued riding their home-road roller-coaster this season, the most obvious reason all but two of ESPN's experts have picked them to lose Sunday to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The Seahawks did beat the (Jay Cutler-less) Bears on the road last season, but in 2012 they are 1-5 away from CenturyLink Field and have now had a losing record on the road in six consecutive seasons. The Bears are 5-1 at home this season, their only loss against the 10-1 Houston Texans when Cutler was knocked out of the game just before halftime. The Bears' rebuilt offensive line will have its hands full with a Seahawks pass rush that has 29 sacks, tied for the ninth-most in the NFL. But recent history suggests the Bears should win this game.
Tight coverage: There was a moment earlier in the week when it appeared the Seahawks wouldn't have either of their starting cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, who are awaiting an appeal hearing to avoid four-game NFL suspensions. They remain eligible for this game and will provide formidable opponents for Bears receiver Brandon Marshall. With Sherman and Browner in the lineup, the Seahawks have the NFL's second-best defense on passes thrown outside the numbers and more than 10 yards downfield. Basically, that means it's really difficult to hit deep sideline routes against them. The Bears, however, have hardly focused their offense on such throws and figure to do so even less with Devin Hester (concussion) sidelined. Cutler has directed almost two-thirds of his throws (177 of 286) over the middle, as defined by the receiver catching the ball inside the numbers.
Shootout at Ford Field: We will see a matchup of two gunslinging former No. 1 overall draft picks who each has one of the NFL's most productive receivers at his disposal. The Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck has thrown 125 downfield passes (15-plus yards past the line of scrimmage), more than any other quarterback. The Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford ranks second with 106. Lions receiver Calvin Johnson leads the NFL with 1,257 receiving yards, while the Colts' Reggie Wayne ranks second with 1,105 yards. Luck has not played nearly as well on the road as he has at home this season, having thrown four touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in five games. The Lions, meanwhile, have lost three of their past four home games to see their playoff hopes all but eliminated. If nothing else, this should be a fun game. All but two of ESPN's experts picked the Lions to win.
(Statistics courtesy ESPN Stats & Information unless otherwise noted.)