Friday, December 4, 2009
Final Word: NFC North
By Kevin Seifert ESPN.com
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:
We should have a better picture of the NFC wild-card picture by the time Green Bay takes the field Monday night against Baltimore. At 7-4, the Packers and Philadelphia are leading the conference’s wild-card standings. But the Eagles will travel Sunday to face at Atlanta, which is one game back at 6-5. The conference’s other 6-5 team, the New York Giants, face a tough matchup at home Sunday against Dallas. So one way or the other, it’s very possible the Packers will have an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the wild-card field with a victory over the Ravens.
Ray Rice has become one of the Ravens' top weapon in the passing game.
Baltimore running back Ray Rice will test Green Bay’s tackling skills Monday night. Rice leads the NFL with 593 yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and has become arguably the Ravens’ top weapon in the passing game. Although the Packers miss the veteran leadership of linebacker Aaron Kampman, his replacements might have a better chance to contain Rice. Rookie Brad Jones and veteran Brady Poppinga are more comfortable making open-field tackles. On the other side, we’ll find out how far rookie Clay Matthews has come. This is one of the primary reasons the Packers traded up in the draft for Matthews: To combine speed and tackling ability on the outside.
Minnesota is expecting a heavy dose of three-step drops and max protection Sunday night from Arizona’s offense, whether or not Kurt Warner starts at quarterback. Warner and backup Matt Leinart were hammered in last season’s matchup between the teams, a 35-14 Vikings victory, taking four sacks and being hit on six other occasions. This season, the Vikings enter the game with an NFL-high 40 sacks, and teams are starting to make adjustments. “We ended up getting a lot of three-step drops from the team we just played [Chicago],” said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. “I wouldn’t doubt that will be the case this week.”
It will be a doozy of a matchup Sunday at Soldier Field, where the Bears will try to avoid the embarrassment of a home loss to St. Louis (1-10). There’s nothing on paper to suggest the Rams have the capacity to win Sunday, but the Bears haven’t shown much of that themselves lately. If you want an in-game focus, watch where the Rams line up pass rusher Leonard Little. He’s technically listed as the Rams’ left end, meaning he would line up over the right tackle. Normally, that would be 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams. But it’s likely that Williams will make his first career start at left tackle. Will the Rams move Little to that side to take advantage of Williams? Or will they like the matchup better against new right tackle Kevin Shaffer? Tune in to find out. Or not.
To say that Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocinco is licking his chops is an understatement. Ochocinco couldn’t even bring himself to talk his usual trash about Detroit’s pass defense. During a conference call with Detroit-area reporters, Ochocinco said the Lions’ secondary is “beautiful.” Presumably, he’s referring to its capacity to give up a monster game. The Bengals have relied on their running game this season, but that could change when they realize that opponents are completing an incredible 70.5 percent of their passes against the Lions this season. Opposing quarterbacks also have a 111.8 passer rating against them, having thrown 27 touchdowns against only six interceptions.