NFC North: Husain Abdullah

OTL: Husain Abdullah's pilgrimage

September, 30, 2012
You might be aware that former Minnesota Vikings safety Husain Abdullah has taken the 2012 season off to connect with Muslims across the county and also make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Abdullah is making the trip with two of his brothers, including former Arizona Cardinals safety Hamza Abdullah. They've already spent 30 days visiting 30 mosques around the country and will head to Mecca in late October. They are hoping to catch on with NFL teams at the end of the season. ESPN's Bob Holtzman told the story Sunday morning on ESPN's "Outside the Lines."
I realize most of Minnesota, and a good portion of the NFC North, is focused on Monday's scheduled debate and vote on the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill. But I'm told by sources close to the situation that the Vikings held a three-day rookie minicamp over the weekend, and while it's dangerous to read much of anything into what happens at such events, two items jumped out to me in reviewing accounts of the weekend.

First, the Vikings will start off fifth-round choice Robert Blanton at safety rather than cornerback, immediately escalating his chances of making the team and seeing the field in 2012. As coach Leslie Frazier told reporters, the Vikings finished 2011 without an established starter at either safety position. "We want an open competition," Frazier said.

The Vikings have not yet re-signed 2011 starter Husain Abdullah, who struggled with concussions last season. That leaves Blanton to compete with Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond for the spot opposite the one likely to be held by first-round draft choice Harrison Smith.

Second, there was no mistaking that the Vikings drafted Georgia place-kicker Blair Walsh to mount a serious threat at incumbent Ryan Longwell, who only a year ago signed a multiyear contract that included a $3.5 million signing bonus.

Over the weekend, Ben of Chicago wondered if the Vikings wanted to use Walsh as a kickoff specialist, one who would justify his roster spot by limiting the number of coverage specialists the Vikings might need to keep. Frazier said that scenario is "possible" but made clear "it's not in the game plan right now."

As we discussed over draft weekend, teams don't use draft picks on place-kickers without a significant purpose. In recent history, it's usually been either to unseat an incumbent or to fill an obvious hole.

In the five drafts between 2007 and 2011, NFL teams drafted eight place-kickers. Seven of them appeared on their team's roster at some point during their rookie season, although one of them -- David Buehler of the Dallas Cowboys -- was strictly a kickoff specialist.

Longwell will turn 38 in August, but I wouldn't consider replacing him to be atop the Vikings' list of needs. Still, Frazier said "we are obviously going to take a close look" at Walsh this summer in training camp. Stay tuned on that one.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- By the looks of it, those of you who are disappointed about the Minnesota Vikings' offseason thus far can be categorized in two ways: Those who wanted to see the Vikings pursue a starting-caliber wide receiver and those who thought they needed to prioritize a depleted secondary that contributed to one of the worst pass defenses in NFL history last season.

[+] EnlargeChris Cook
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesChris Cook has missed significant playing time the past two seasons.
I think the former is mitigated a bit by the addition of tight end John Carlson, who has been a slick pass-catcher when healthy in his NFL career. But I do think it's fair to question how the Vikings intend to improve their pass defense without a talent influx, and that was on the top of my mind Sunday when Vikings general manager Rick Spielman stopped to speak with reporters here at the NFL owners meetings.

Spielman defended his approach, saying: "I just really believe in doing the due diligence and being patient." He added "there's no hurry for anything" and pointed out that veteran cornerbacks Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield should form a decent foundation for the Vikings' 2012 secondary.

In the end, however, it seems clear that Spielman has targeted the draft for difference-makers in the secondary, whether they are cornerbacks or safeties.

"There's a pretty good crop of corners in this year's draft," he said, "and we know if we do go that route, the coaches will have to step in and do a great job developing them."

Speaking generally, Spielman said his approach to building the roster is that free agency is a time to "get a lot of value" from players, but the draft is "hopefully we're going to get our top of the line, blue-chip players."

I appreciate Spielman standing in on a number of questions on the subject. I understand where he's coming from but think it's only fair to point out a number of facts:

  • Both of the cornerbacks he's counting on have had trouble staying on the field in recent years.
  • Cook missed 10 games in 2010 because of knee injuries and another 10 in 2011 after he was arrested in a domestic incident that he was ultimately acquitted for.
  • Winfield, meanwhile, missed 11 games last season, six in 2009 and will turn 35 in August.
  • One of their 2011 starting safeties, Husain Abdullah, has a history of concussions and has yet to re-sign.
  • Candidates under contract to start at safety include Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford, both of whom got chances in 2011.

How many starting defensive backs can you get in a single draft? Maybe one if you do a good job and two or three if you have a great draft. Sitting out the opening days of free agency prevents paying elite money to above-average players, but it also leaves a team in the predicament the Vikings are in now: Hoping to recycle some players with question marks near their names.

It doesn't mean the Vikings can't fill all of their needs. It just means they won't do it all at once, or even in one year.

"It's funny," Spielman said. "People think you have this need and you have to fill it now. There's no order that you have to fill your needs in. Not the last time I looked."
We're Black and Blue All Over:

We noted Monday that the Green Bay Packers were on the interest list of veteran free-agent center Jeff Saturday. Jason Wilde of confirms the next step in that process: Saturday actually visited the Packers on Monday, the first business day after incumbent Scott Wells signed with the St. Louis Rams.

Saturday has at least one more visit scheduled, to the Tennessee Titans, and there is wide speculation that he ultimately will join quarterback Peyton Manning with the Denver Broncos. But the Packers rarely go so far as to entertain a notable free agent on a visit, let alone sign one, so we know they are serious about combing every possibility to replace Wells.

Other free-agent possibilities include Dan Koppen and Samson Satele.

Continuing around the NFC North:

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

Leading Questions: NFC North

February, 13, 2012
With the offseason in full swing, let's take a look at one major question facing each NFC North team as it begins preparations for the 2012 season:


In last year's version of Leading Questions, we wondered when the Bears would address the depth behind their aging defensive stars. That issue is still on the table, but of greater 2012 importance is this: How will the Bears manage their transition to new offensive coordinator Mike Tice?

Tice will retain much of the terminology and some of the philosophy from former coordinator Mike Martz. But Tice has his own spin on the "three-digit offense," and the Bears will need to realign behind a power running game and a passing approach that emphasizes downfield throws.

Tight end and receiver are two positions the Bears need to focus on this offseason, either by developing their existing players like Kellen Davis and/or acquiring a legitimate downfield threat. New general manager Phil Emery should have more than $20 million in cap space to work with, and the free-agent market should be deep with receivers.

But to make Tice's offense work, Emery will also need to ensure the return of free-agent tailback Matt Forte and find him a reliable backup as well.


In a tight salary-cap situation, can the Lions keep their nucleus together and add where needed?

Years of high draft positioning made the Lions a talented team but also one facing a cap crunch in 2012. Preliminary cap reconciliation leaves the Lions with $122 million in cap commitments, about $2 million above the estimated $120 million cap. And that total doesn't include three defensive starters who are pending free agents: defensive end Cliff Avril, middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

The Lions will need to find ways to shave from that total, whether it's borrowing from future caps -- a tool now available in the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) -- or reducing the cap figures in existing contracts.

As we've discussed, receiver Calvin Johnson should be the first target for a cap-reducing contract extension. He's projected to account for about $22 million against the cap in the final year of his rookie deal. Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch are estimated to account for nearly half of the Lions' total cap allotment.

What does all this mean? We are all figuring out the NFL's new salary-cap rules together, but it's clear the Lions must make some difficult short-term decisions and weigh them against long-term prosperity.


What can the Packers do to improve a pass defense that gave up more passing yards than any team in NFL history?

The easiest answer is to address the pass rush, which weakened in 2011 when the Packers couldn't find a suitable replacement for departed free agent Cullen Jenkins. The rush could come from the defensive end position, where the Packers have waited two years for the highly touted Mike Neal to make an impact, or through acquiring a pass-rushing outside linebacker.

General manager Ted Thompson has been reluctant in recent years to utilize veteran free agency, and the truth is that few teams allow a legitimate pass-rusher to depart without compensation. But the situation was serious enough in 2011 that Thompson will at least need to consider every avenue available for a substantial and fast-acting solution. The Packers had 29 sacks in 2011, tied for the third-worst total in the NFL.

Parallel to that issue, however, Thompson will also have to monitor a situation at safety that contributed to the Packers' defensive problems in 2011. Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins will find out in March whether he can continue his career or if he must retire because of a serious neck injury. The Packers missed his leadership and instincts in center field and would need to acquire a long-term replacement if he retires.


The development of quarterback Christian Ponder will dominate many of the Vikings' offseason headlines, but there is an equally important question hovering over the team: How fast can it upgrade its historically poor pass defense?

Vikings opponents finished the season with a 107.6 passer rating, the third-highest figure in NFL history. Their eight interceptions tied for the league's lowest total in 2011 and only one player among the back seven who started the majority of games in 2011 -- linebacker Chad Greenway -- is assured a starting job in 2012.

It's difficult to replace six starters in one offseason, but the Vikings have already begun their defensive overhaul by hiring new defensive coordinator Alan Williams, bringing back Brendan Daly as their defensive line coach and making former coordinator, Fred Pagac, their primary linebackers coach.

The personnel situation is most dire in the secondary, where two of the Vikings' primary safeties -- Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson -- are free agents. Talented cornerback Chris Cook, suspended for the final 10 games of the season following a domestic-violence incident, remains in limbo. Cook's trial date is tentatively scheduled for March 5. The future of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield must be addressed as well; Winfield turns 35 in June.
Titus YoungTim Fuller/US PresswireThe Vikings have struggled in pass coverage this season, giving up huge plays including a 56-yard touchdown to Lions receiver Titus Young last Sunday.
After taking permanent control of the Minnesota Vikings' coaching job, Leslie Frazier laid out a traditional and conventional vision for winning football games. His teams would run the ball and stop the run, a time-honored approach that sounds good in the locker room but is as outdated as the single wing.

If there were ever a season that could crush that theory, it's the one the Vikings are enduring in 2011. They rank among the NFL's top 10 in rushing yards and rush defense, but their punchless passing attack and tattered pass defense has driven the worst 13-game start in franchise history. At 2-11, the Vikings are obviously and glaringly swimming upstream in the pass-happy NFL.

Speaking generally last week, Frazier said he has reminded himself that this season is "a journey" and "part of what we have to go through to get to where we want eventually." He said he doesn't "foresee us forever being in this situation" and added: "I really believe that we will look back on it in time and say, 'OK, this is what happened in 2011 and this is why we are better in 2012, because of what happened in 2011.'"

Quite frankly, that will take some adjustment in vision.

Frazier built his hopes on offense around tailback Adrian Peterson, who averaged 94 yards and more than one touchdown per game before suffering an ankle injury in Week 11. Development from quarterback Christian Ponder would lead to a more balanced offense over time, but the Vikings' 2011 plan was either deeply flawed or a gross example of misplaced priorities. Both the quarterback (Donovan McNabb) and No. 1 receiver (Bernard Berrian) they opened the season with have already been waived. Neither has signed with a new team.

Their failures, and other reasons, have left Vikings quarterbacks with a combined 77.0 passer rating this season, ranking them in the bottom third of the NFL.

Peterson's presence, not to mention a $100 million contract extension, demands a strong commitment to the running game. So I don't think the Vikings need, say, the Packers' passing offense to be championship contenders. But there is no reasonable explanation to justify how the Vikings organized and executed a pass defense that is on pace to produce one of the worst seasons in NFL history.

Defensive end Jared Allen leads the NFL with 17.5 sacks, but even with his presence, the Vikings have allowed opponents to compile a 107.1 passer rating this season. As the first chart shows, that puts them on pace for one of the five-worst pass defenses -- based on opponent's passer rating -- since at least the 1970 merger. As the second chart shows, the Vikings have allowed more touchdown passes, intercepted the fewest passes and allowed the second-highest completion percentage in the NFL this season. Last Sunday, the Vikings did limit the yardage piled up by Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. But even though he threw for a modest 229 yards, Stafford still completed 69 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and didn't have a turnover.

Their inability to slow down opposing pass offenses has all but negated a relatively strong run defense that ranks No. 9 overall in total yards allowed. And it's not as if teams aren't trying to run against the Vikings. Opponents have 352 rushing attempts against them, good for No. 17 in the NFL.

As with their pass offense, the Vikings didn't appear to make their pass defense a high priority entering the season. Their only starting-level addition was nose tackle Remi Ayodele, a run-stopper. And it's possible that none of the defensive backs considered starters in Week 1 will return in 2012.

Frazier has already admitted that cornerback Cedric Griffin wouldn't be playing if he had any better options. Fellow cornerback Antoine Winfield will be 35 in 2012, just had a playing-time clause reduce his salary by more than 50 percent and might not be a full-time player anymore. The careers of cornerback Chris Cook (off-field) and free safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) are in doubt, and a season-long rotation of strong safeties Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson revealed neither is up for the job.

Did the Vikings think they could cover themselves with their run defense? I hope not. These days, the best gauge for measuring the top teams is the differential between their passer rating (or QBR) and the passer rating (or QBR) allowed by their defenses.

Here are the teams with the top five QBR differentials through 13 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information:

  1. Green Bay Packers (13-0)
  2. New Orleans Saints (10-3)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3)
  4. Baltimore Ravens (10-3)
  5. Houston Texans (10-3)

And here are the teams with the five worst differentials:

  1. Indianapolis Colts (0-13)
  2. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
  3. St. Louis Rams (2-11)
  4. Vikings (2-11)
  5. Arizona Cardinals (6-7)

It would be fine if the Vikings continue running the ball well and can stop the run. But that can't be it. They won't compete in the NFC North, much less this league, until they rebuild their pass offense and reassemble a competent secondary. Until the NFL veers away from its love affair with the passing game, the Vikings have no choice but to shift their vision.

Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

December, 5, 2011
After the Minnesota Vikings' 35-32 loss to the Denver Broncos, here are three issues that merit further examination:

    Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertFollowing their loss against the Broncos, the Vikings take a seat in the examination room.
  1. Coach Leslie Frazier has deserved some criticism this year, but let's cut him a break from demands that he should have allowed the Broncos to score once an interception gave them possession at the Vikings' 15-yard line. As the theory goes, the Vikings would have been better off giving the Broncos a 39-32 lead and then launching their own potential game-tying drive rather than letting the Broncos run off the rest of the clock and kick a short field goal to win. I checked with ESPN's analytics team to see if the Vikings would have increased their mathematical win probability with such an unorthodox move. The short answer from Alok Pattani was no, based on an ESPN model built off thousands of individual play results over the past decade. The Broncos had a 95.3 percent chance to win the game the moment they made the interception. Had the Vikings allowed an immediate touchdown, their chances of driving the field for a touchdown on their ensuing possession and ultimately winning the game in overtime was 2.5 percent. So statistically speaking, the Vikings had a better chance of stopping the Broncos' final possession, as they tried to do, than pulling off a non-traditional miracle.
  2. Frazier made a starling admission Monday at his weekly news conference when asked about struggling cornerback Cedric Griffin. In essence, Frazier said Griffin wouldn't be playing if the Vikings had a better option. Griffin is trying to come back from the second of two career ACL tears and has looked hesitant and a step slow all season. Frazier: "He's not the Cedric we saw before the second ACL injury and he's tried to battle through some things. But his confidence level has not been where it needs to be to able to play at a high level in our league. I'm sure it has a lot to do with coming off a second ACL. We're just so depleted depth-wise that we have to have him out there. I know he'd like to play better. I know he's trying to play better. It's been a tough year for him." That said, I would imagine that Griffin won't open training camp in 2012 as a starter.
  3. Quarterback Christian Ponder played most of Sunday's game with a hip pointer and is going to be limited, at best, in practice this week. Frazier said the team's medical staff is confident Ponder will be ready for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, but it's interesting to note that Frazier shot down the idea of newly-acquired backup Sage Rosenfels as a potential replacement if Ponder suffers a setback. Joe Webb would take whatever first-team snaps that Ponder doesn't this week. I'm fine with that. A 2-10 team might as well give young players every opportunity to gain experience provided they're equipped to give a credible performance.
And here is one issue that I still don't get:
Frazier told the truth Sunday when he expressed incredulity at how bad his defensive backs covered the Broncos' receivers. But given the situation, I'm not sure what anyone expects right now. The Vikings opened the game without a single defensive back who deserves to be part of their long-term plan. Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Husain Abdullah, Tyrell Johnson and Asher Allen -- five of their top seven Week 1 defensive backs -- were inactive for the game. Few teams have the depth to absorb that kind of attrition.

BBAO: Vikings roster shakeup

November, 30, 2011
We're Black and Blue All Over:

I ran out of steam Tuesday before the news stopped pouring in, so let's catch up on a flurry of moves that ended the season of four prominent Minnesota Vikings players, including two starters.

Receiver Michael Jenkins (knee) and safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) were placed on injured reserve, along with safety Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) and long-snapper Cullen Loeffler. Among those signed to fill their spots were veteran safety Jarrad Page.

Abdullah hadn't played since Week 10. Jenkins, however, had been a reliable receiver for rookie quarterback Christian Ponder and leaves the team's receiving corps in shambles. Percy Harvin is the only remaining wide receiver with more than nine receptions this season.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Wrap-up: Falcons 24, Vikings 14

November, 27, 2011

A few thoughts on another loss for the NFC North's last-place team:

What it means: Down 17-0 at halftime, the Minnesota Vikings made it interesting but ultimately absorbed their ninth loss of the season. It's the franchise's first 2-9 start since 1962.

Harvin Watch: With tailback Adrian Peterson sidelined by a high ankle sprain, receiver/running back Percy Harvin was the team's lone remaining offensive playmaker. And Harvin made two huge plays to give the Vikings a chance in this game, hauling in a 39-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-13 in the fourth quarter and also returning a kickoff 104 yards to the Atlanta Falcons' 3-yard line with six minutes, 28 seconds remaining. Harvin caught eight passes for 95 yards and, including special teams, accounted for 200 all-purpose yards.

Late-game questions here: The final seven minutes in this game will be hotly debated among Vikings fans. Here are the primary questions: Even without Peterson, were the Vikings justified in using Harvin on two consecutive inside running plays on the goal line after his kickoff return? Should coach Leslie Frazier have challenged Harvin's second run, in which he appeared to have crossed the plane on second effort? Down by 10 points, should the Vikings have taken an easy field goal rather than go for a touchdown on fourth down? And should they have given the ball to tailback Toby Gerhart, who hasn't been much of an effective short-yardage runner in his career?

Opinion here: My quick reaction to those questions goes as following. I'm fine with using Harvin. He was the Vikings' best player Sunday. Frazier would have had nothing to lose by challenging the ruling on third down. I would have taken a field goal, but either way you need a field goal and a touchdown to force overtime. But handing the ball to Gerhart on fourth down, especially with a quarterback in Christian Ponder who excels at plays that give him a pass-run option on the outside, was the least defensible of the decisions we saw from Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Injury report: Already playing without safety Husain Abdullah and cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, the Vikings lost safety Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) and cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder) during the game. I thought their defense played well considering they had Benny Sapp, on the street two weeks ago, playing at one cornerback spot and rookie Mistral Raymond at safety. The Vikings also lost long snapper Cullen Loeffler to a back injury. Defensive end Jared Allen did a flawless job as Loefller's replacement and even made a special teams tackle after his first snap.

What's next: The Vikings will host the Denver Broncos next Sunday at the Metrodome. Remember, the game has been moved from CBS to FOX. As of last week, the team had more than 5,000 tickets to sell to avoid a local television blackout.

NFC North at night

November, 23, 2011
Hitting a few of Wednesday's news tidbits before heading to the airport:

Chicago Bears: We already got you up to date on the acquisition of quarterback Josh McCown. Cornerback D.J. Moore (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. Safety Brandon Meriweather (concussion) was limited.

Detroit Lions: Reserve defensive end Lawrence Jackson (thigh) is doubtful for Thursday's game. Defensive tackle Corey Williams (calf) is listed as questionable but told reporters this week he plans to play. Defensive end Willie Young (ankle) is questionable but is expected to play. The only players ruled out are running back Jahvid Best (concussion) and punter Ryan Donahue (quadriceps).

Green Bay Packers: As we noted earlier, running back James Starks (knee/ankle) is questionable and left tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) is out. All other players should be available Thursday.

Minnesota Vikings: Tailback Adrian Peterson (ankle) was one of four players who didn't practice Wednesday. Coach Leslie Frazier said the team won't try to test Peterson in practice until Friday at the earliest. Safety Husain Abdullah (concussion), tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps) also missed practice. The Vikings might need to promote practice squad tight end Allen Reisner because of the Shiancoe and Rudolph injuries.

Aaron Berry, Erin Henderson won't play

November, 20, 2011
A few pregame notes as we await Week 11 kickoffs:

NFC North Friday injury report

November, 18, 2011
Getting inside the Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: Nickel back D.J. Moore (ankle) is doubtful for Sunday's game and isn't expected to play against the San Diego Chargers. Corey Graham will be the nickel back. All other players should be available.

Detroit Lions: Punter Ryan Donahue (quadriceps) was ruled out, confirming that newcomer Ben Graham will punt Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Safety Amari Spievey (toe) is probable and expected to play. The Lions could be thin on the defensive line, based on the availability of defensive ends Willie Young (ankle) and Lawrence Jackson (thigh). Both are listed as questionable.

Green Bay Packers: The only injury issue this week has been defensive end Mike Neal (knee), who made it through portions of all three practices. The Packers are listing him as questionable for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an encouraging sign. Even if he doesn't play this week, it appears Neal hasn't had any setbacks to prevent an imminent return.

Minnesota Vikings: Guard Anthony Herrera (knee) and safety Husain Abdullah (concussion ) were ruled out for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders. Joe Berger will again start at right guard, and it's expected the Vikings will use a three-man rotation at safety between Jamarca Sanford, Tyrell Johnson and rookie Mistral Raymond. Meanwhile, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) is questionable, as is linebacker Erin Henderson (hamstring). Kyle Rudolph and Kenny Onatolu, respectively, could see additional playing time Sunday.

NFC North at night

November, 17, 2011
Checking in on Thursday's news bits:

Chicago Bears: Cornerback D.J. Moore missed practice after suffering an ankle injury Wednesday. If he can't play, the Bears could look at Corey Graham or Zack Bowman in the nickel Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. Defensive end Julius Peppers (knee) practiced Thursday.

Detroit Lions: Safety Amari Spievey (toe) returned to practice Thursday as a limited participant. Running back Jahvid Best (concussion) watched practice but did not participate. Punter Ryan Donahue (quadriceps) didn't practice. Neither did defensive ends Willie Young (ankle) and Lawrence Jackson (thigh). Quarterback Matthew Stafford (finger) had full participation in practice.

Green Bay Packers: Linebacker Desmond Bishop and guard T.J. Lang, both of whom missed practice Wednesday for personal reasons, returned Thursday. Running back Ryan Grant (knee) also returned to practice and had full participation.

Minnesota Vikings: Defensive end Jared Allen has been filling in as the team's long snapper in practice because of Cullen Loeffler's shoulder injury. But coach Leslie Frazier told reporters there is "no chance" he would use Allen in that role Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. If Loeffler isn't ready, the Vikings will sign an emergency snapper. Safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) continues to be sidelined and doesn't appear likely to play Sunday. Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford would be the starters.

NFC North at night

November, 16, 2011
Checking in on Wednesday news bits in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: Receiver Devin Hester (illness) didn't practice Wednesday but is expected to play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

Detroit Lions: Running back Jahvid Best made an appearance at practice Wednesday. He did not participate, but he hadn't been seen anywhere near practice since suffering a concussion last month. Agent Tony Fleming told ESPN's Josina Anderson that Best has been seeing specialists and will be "re-evaluated" when his symptoms subside. Quarterback Matthew Stafford (finger) wore gloves again during practice but was a full participant. Safety Amari Spievey (toe) was among those who did not practice. Meanwhile, Lions receivers coach Shawn Jefferson opened practice with a full-squad breakdown that ended with "[Expletive] them."

Green Bay Packers: Defensive end Mike Neal (knee) is continuing to increase his workload in practice and hasn't been ruled out of Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Running back Ryan Grant (knee) did not practice but should be ready for Sunday's game. Linebacker Desmond Bishop and guard T.J. Lang were attending to personal matters Wednesday and didn't practice.

Minnesota Vikings: Guard Anthony Herrera (knee), safety Husain Abdullah (concussion), linebacker Erin Henderson (hamstring) and long snapper Cullen Loeffler (shoulder) all missed practice. The Vikings will wait another day or so before deciding whether to sign an emergency long-snapper for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.