NFC North: audibles NFC 16
Earlier this week, we noted the Saints' historic willingness to bail out teams buried deep in the oh-fer column, but current-day statistics suggest this is another bad matchup for the Lions.
Detroit's beleaguered defense has given up an NFL-high 444 points this season, an astounding average of 31.7 per game. The Lions, in fact, are on pace to give up the second-most points for a season in NFL history. (The 1981 Colts gave up 533, the only figure higher than the Lions' projected total of 503.)
And which team happens to have the league's highest-scoring offense this season? Why, yes, you guessed it. The Saints, naturally, are averaging 27.9 points per game -- a full 4.6 points more per game than the next-closest offense.
Could the Lions get in the win column Sunday? It's conceivable, considering New Orleans is 1-6 away from the Superdome this season. But playing inside opponent-friendly Ford Field, it seems more likely the Saints will go for 50.
Discussion of all things quarterback -- namely: Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte and Matt Ryan -- have overshadowed the most important element in this game. Which team will control the ball better with its running game?
This is what December football is all about (sans the Metrodome): Two powerful tailbacks squaring off to determine playoff fate. Will Minnesota's Adrian Peterson keep Atlanta's Michael Turner off the field? Or vice versa?
The wild-card factor will be how well the Vikings compensate after losing run-stopping nose tackle Pat Williams to a fractured scapula. Minnesota still has some strong defensive pieces, most notably defensive tackle Kevin Williams, but there's little doubt the Falcons will test the Vikings' interior defense at the outset. Or at least, they should.
It will be interesting to see if this game falls in line with the recent history of this rivalry.
In this decade, 70 percent of the games (12 of 17) have been decided by double digits. Since Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy took over in 2006, the average margin of victory in the matchup has been 22.8 points. Chicago has won three of the five games over that span, but the most recent was a 37-3 Packers victory at Lambeau Field last month.
As of Friday, the Bears have far more incentive to win this installment. If everything falls their way, they will still be alive for both the NFC North title and a wild-card spot. (The reverse is also true; they could be eliminated from both races before they take the field.)
The Packers steamrolled the Bears for 200 rushing yards in last month's meeting, making at least one thing certain: On a night in which temperatures are expected to dip into the single digits, the Bears shouldn't be surprised if the Packers test their run defense once again.
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