NFC North: Malcom Floyd

Wrap-up: Lions 38, Chargers 10

December, 24, 2011
12/24/11
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A few thoughts on a momentous day and evening in Detroit:

What it means: The Detroit Lions clinched their first playoff berth since 1999 in convincing fashion, jumping on the San Diego Chargers for 24 first-half points and finishing strongly as well. The victory caps a three-year overhaul from the franchise's darkest moment, the 0-16 season in 2008, and cements the status of a new set of heroes for Detroit sports fans. For those asking, we don't yet know if the Lions will be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Turning point: The Chargers threatened to make a game of it the third quarter, recovering an onside kick moments after closing the gap to 24-7 midway through the quarter. But on third-and-goal at the 4-yard line, cornerback Chris Houston broke up a pass intended for receiver Malcom Floyd in the end zone. The Chargers were forced to kick a field goal, a clear momentum swing that they never recovered from. Kudos to Houston for his play, which also included an interception and a total of four defensed passes.

StaffordWatch: There's no other way to say it: Matthew Stafford and the entire Lions passing offense were dealing all game long. From the opening play, a 46-yard jump ball that receiver Calvin Johnson caught against double coverage, the Lions had their way with the Chargers' defense. Stafford's final numbers: 29 completions in 36 attempts for 373 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 137.6 passer rating. In his past three games, Stafford has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Obviously, that's how you want a franchise quarterback to respond in the playoff push. In the process, he set a new Lions record for the most passing yards in a season. It now stands at 4,518 yards.

Composure: Circumstances conspired to whip the team into a frenzy, and center Dominic Raiola was among those who let his pregame emotions get the best of him. I saw Raiola's pushing and shoving before the game and wondered if we were in for another penalty-filled, out-of-control performance. But the Lions appear to have put that phase of their season behind them. They were called for only three accepted penalties, losing a total of eight yards, and kept their composure throughout the afternoon. There was a moment when I thought tight end Tony Scheffler was going to go after a Chargers player post-whistle, but he smartly held back. Coach Jim Schwartz's no-tolerance policy has worked.

Rewards: I'm sure many Lions fans were thinking Saturday of friends and loved ones who suffered through years and years of substandard, playoff-less years of football. I couldn't help but marvel at how much bad football that longtime Lions beat writer Tom Kowalski covered in his 30-plus years on the job. Kowalski passed away last August, just before this wild season kicked off. Beat writers don't root for the teams they cover, but take it from experience, covering a playoff team is a lot more interesting than the alternative.

What's next: The Lions will close out the regular season -- and turn their attention TO THE PLAYOFFS -- next Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers.

Final Word: NFC North

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 16:

Busted rivalry: When the NFL released its schedule this spring, many of us had high expectations for a late-December matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Instead, an injury-devastated Bears team will limp north as a (deserved) 13-point underdog. It's possible the Packers will have clinched home-field advantage even before taking the field Sunday night, if the San Francisco 49ers lose Saturday at the Seattle Seahawks. If not, the Packers will attempt to secure it against a team playing without quarterback Jay Cutler, running backs Matt Forte and Marion Barber, and receiver Johnny Knox. Third-string running back Kahlil Bell is expected to start, pairing with third-string quarterback Josh McCown -- who has a history of helping the Packers' playoff positioning. (See: Noooooooooooooooo!) One other interesting bit of history: The Packers are one of five teams in NFL history to open a season 13-0 and then lose in their 14th game. All four of the other teams lost their 15th game, too. That list includes the 2009 and 2005 Indianapolis Colts, the 2009 New Orleans Saints and the 1998 Denver Broncos.

[+] EnlargeJames Starks
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireGreen Bay's James Starks is expected to play Sunday against the Bears.
Packers' run game: For several reasons, Sunday night's game would be an obvious target for the Packers to try to enhance their running game. James Starks (ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion) are expected to return. The Packers will start a makeshift offensive line that likely will include T.J. Lang at right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard; the best way for offensive linemen to get comfortable is via run blocking. And it's also worth repeating that the Bears historically have done a good job limiting Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' downfield opportunities. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers has completed only five of 26 attempts on throws against the Bears that traveled in the air 21 yards or more. He's thrown for one touchdown, a game-winner to receiver Greg Jennings in 2009, and two interceptions on those passes.

Detroit's challenge: The Detroit Lions will clinch a playoff spot Saturday if they beat the San Diego Chargers in what will likely be a raucous atmosphere at Ford Field. (There are also several scenarios to clinch this weekend even if they lose. They're noted in this post.) Hopefully everyone knows the Chargers are on one of their annual December rolls. They've won three consecutive games after a six-game losing streak. Since Norv Turner took the head coaching job in 2007, the Chargers are 20-2 in December. This will be no cakewalk.

Big targets: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers struggled earlier this season, but he has been the NFL's most efficient quarterback over the past three weeks based on Total Quarterback Rating. Rivers has hit a groove with a pair of 6-foot-5 receivers that will pose significant matchup problems for the Lions. Malcom Floyd has 11 receptions for 233 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games, while Vincent Jackson has caught 12 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. Jackson has been sidelined in practice this week by a groin injury. Lions cornerback Chris Houston (knee) clearly wasn't 100 percent last week against the Oakland Raiders, and the team re-signed Brandon McDonald this week for extra depth. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) also remains sidelined, and backup Chris Harris was cleared Thursday to practice following a concussion.

Make it stop: If you're a big-picture observer, you see ample motivation for the Minnesota Vikings to lose Sunday at the Washington Redskins. One more victory by the Indianapolis Colts, in conjunction with two more Vikings defeats, would give the Vikings an excellent chance to secure the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft. A loss to the Redskins would extend the Vikings' losing streak to seven games, tying a franchise record set in their expansion season of 1961. But I'm not sure what would be worse: tying that record or extending their NFL record of games without an interception, which stands at nine. Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman has thrown at least one interception in his past 10 starts, and he is tied for the second-most interceptions in the NFL (18) despite missing three games this season. Something's got to give.

Chargers won't have Mathews or Floyd

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
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SAN DIEGO -- A pregame rain shower here at Qualcomm Stadium appears to be over, and now we can tell you officially that the San Diego Chargers won't have running back Ryan Mathews or receiver Malcom Floyd for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

Mike Tolbert will start for Matthews. The Chargers didn't announce a replacement for Floyd, but it's likely to be Patrick Crayton.

There were no surprises on the Packers' pregame list of deactivations. It includes: cornerback Davon House, linebacker Robert Francois, linebacker Jamari Lattimore, offensive lineman Ray Dominguez, tackle Chad Clifton, defensive end Mike Neal and linebacker Vic So'oto.

NFC North Friday injury report

November, 4, 2011
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With two teams on bye this week and a third not playing until Monday night, our Friday injury report is a bit light.

All but two Green Bay Packers will be available for Sunday's game at the San Diego Chargers, and those two players -- left tackle Chad Clifton and defensive end Mike Neal -- are no surprises. The Chargers declared defensive lineman Luis Castillo (tibia) and guard Kris Dielman (concussion) out of the game, and linebacker Shaun Phillips (foot) is doubtful.

Neither wide receiver Malcom Floyd (hip) nor running back Ryan Mathews practiced this week for the Chargers. Both are listed as questionable.

Meanwhile, every Chicago Bears player had full participation in practice Thursday, except offensive lineman Gabe Carimi (knee), who wasn't expected to play Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles anyway. The Bears have one more day before issuing the game status for their roster, but it doesn't appear there will be any other issues.
A few Tuesday training camp tidbits in quick-hitting fashion ...

Item: The Chicago Bears signed tight end Desmond Clark to a one-year contract.
Comment: It's not entirely clear what the Bears are up to at tight end. Clark was inactive for 11 of 16 games last season and didn't seem to fit into the team's plans. But he has been a locker room pillar for years and might have extra value now that we know center Olin Kreutz won't return. Said Clark: "I think the way the Bears viewed me as a leader had a great deal to do with it."

Item: After mulling retirement, Kreutz wants to play somewhere this season, according to his agent.
Comment: Kreutz didn't encounter a ton of interest on the free-agent market, but someone will need a veteran center in the next few weeks, if not before.

Item: The Indianapolis Colts signed former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris.
Comment: Four sacks in two years.

Item: The St. Louis Rams signed former Green Bay Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga.
Comment: Poppinga is expected to compete with another former Packers linebacker, Na'il Diggs, for a starting job. He'll certainly bring an aggressive attitude to the Rams' defense.

Item: The Minnesota Vikings might still be in the market for free-agent receiver Malcom Floyd, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
Comment: Could Floyd bulk up and play left tackle?
Probably the top question I'm seeing from Minnesota Vikings fans is how their team is planning to replace receiver Sidney Rice, who agreed earlier this week with the Seattle Seahawks.

During the wild speculation over the first few days of free agency, the Vikings have been linked to some big-name free agents, including Malcom Floyd and Braylon Edwards. They might well end up with one of those players, but here is another name to keep in mind: Michael Jenkins.

The Atlanta Falcons released Jenkins on Friday morning, and already many people around the NFL are linking him to the Vikings because offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave used to be the Falcons' quarterbacks coach. That means Jenkins will know the Vikings offense and be ready to step in right away when newly signed free agents are able to begin practicing Aug. 4.

To be clear, Jenkins is a much different receiver than Rice. He's a classic possession type, with dependable hands and a good work ethic. He's not going to make plays happen downfield on his own, but he'll be in the place that Donovan McNabb (or Christian Ponder) expects him to be.

I have no inside knowledge a deal is imminent. It's just one that makes a lot of sense for both sides.

Recent Vikings posts: Remi Ayodele could be the Vikings' new nose tackle. The best way to view the acquisition of McNabb is as (expensive) insurance for Ponder. Rice wanted a fresh start. The Vikings made the right call to bring back place-kicker Ryan Longwell. Receiver Percy Harvin plans to play at about 10 pounds lighter this season. Adrian Peterson was surprised to see Rice leave. The Vikings have a tough decision on Peterson's contract.
Tuesday's SportsNation chat was admittedly a little thin on Chicago Bears content, so I wanted to make sure to address a question that a number of you have sent to the mailbag. Here's a version from Chris of Baltimore:
I know that one of our many pressing needs this offseason is at wide receiver; to get a true No. 1. I think it is fair to say that the early rounds in the draft should definitely be directed to the O-Line and maybe a DB. Since getting a stud receiver in the draft is a crap shoot, do you think that the Bears may make a move in free agency (assuming the CBA works itself out)?

It's interesting that we're back to a topic we spent much of last offseason on. Do the Bears truly need to add a No. 1 receiver? Or is the sum of their parts adequate, especially when you add tailback Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen to the mix?

[+] EnlargeJohnny Knox
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJohnny Knox tied for the team lead in catches last season with 51 and averaged 18.8 yards per catch.
I would peg the Bears' offensive line as their top offseason need, by far. That's where their draft focus should lie. But as my AFC West colleague Bill Williamson recently pointed out, there will be a glut of receivers available on the free-agent market whenever the league and its players agree on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

That list includes Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards, Malcom Floyd, Santonio Holmes, Steve Breaston, Randy Moss, Santana Moss, Steve Smith (of the New York Giants), Terrell Owens and Mike Sims-Walker.

So if you are the Bears this offseason, are you:

  1. Satisfied with the status quo?
  2. Interested only in an ideal addition?
  3. Determined to add more depth?

If I had to make an educated guess, I would say the Bears will land in category No. 2. I'm guessing they believe that Johnny Knox's 951-yard season was a sign that, with another year in Mike Martz's offense, he will be as close to a No. 1 receiver as they need. I would think they're satisfied with Earl Bennett as a tough possession receiver and know they have Devin Hester as a big-play slot man.

General manager Jerry Angelo has been reluctant in recent years to invest in receivers, and I'm not sure he'll feel compelled to change that tack in 2011.

With that said, I think the Bears should be disappointed if their top four wide receivers combine for 147 receptions next season, as they did in 2010. For comparison, consider that the Green Bay Packers' top four wide receivers combined for 222 receptions in 2010.

The Bears are hoping for internal improvement, first and foremost. If they can target a mid-level receiver that fits Martz's offense, the Bears might consider it. But if you're hoping they break the bank to acquire someone like Edwards or Holmes, you might be disappointed.

Bears coach Lovie Smith will be among those who speak to reporters at this week's scouting combine. We'll of course pass along any updates on the receiver situation as warranted.

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8