NFC North: Steve Sabol
Continuing our silly introduction of rock-inspired music selections, I've got Robert Tepper's "No Easy Way Out" running through my head Sunday morning. (Surely you saw Rocky IV).
For Chicago, there is no easy way out on the final Sunday of the regular season. To win the NFC North, the Bears need to beat a tough team in Houston and hope Minnesota loses at home to what likely will be a watered-down New York Giants team. If not, the Bears know they can clinch a wild-card spot only if they win Sunday, combined with losses by Tampa Bay and Dallas.
The Vikings, on the other hand, do have an easy way out. They could still win the division if they lose to the Giants, as long as the Bears lose to Houston. And wouldn't that be some way to end another year of bizarre occurrences in the Black and Blue.
I'll be at the Metrodome in a few hours and will keep my best to keep you up to date on the happenings in Houston as well. Figures to be a wild day, and thanks in advance for spending part of it with us.
For now, let's take a spin around the division:
- Today we'll find out if the Vikings are winners, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. "The Vikings' failure to beat the Giants today not only would be a disappointment for a franchise whose simplest path to the playoffs would be a victory, it also could saddle Brad Childress' team with the reputation of not being able to get over the hump."
- Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has no problem if the Vikings back in to the playoffs: "Through the back door, through the front door, down the chimney or up through the sewer pipe, does anyone really care how the Vikings get into the playoffs?"
- Bears coach Lovie Smith is better in this type of situation than Childress, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
- Smith's trust in defensive coordinator Bob Babich will be tested in Houston, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Nick Hut of the Northwest Herald wonders how Bears left tackle John St. Clair will fare against Texans defensive end Mario Williams.
- Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings surpassed Donald Driver as the Packers' top receiving threat this season, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers running back Ryan Grant has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark but doesn't consider it an accomplishment, writes Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal. "No. No. No. No," Grant said.
- Interesting angle: Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press asks Steve Sabol of NFL Films how he will come up with a highlight video of the Lions' 2008 season.
- Retired executive Ron Wolf will not join the Lions this winter, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
A few of you, maybe one or two here and there, might recall our ill-fated attempt to rank the top rivalry in the NFC North over the past few years.
I went with Green Bay-Minnesota. Chicago fans, shall we say, disagreed and nominated Bears-Packers.
(There were some ground rules about timeframe and a few other twists, but I'm over it. Really.)
I never asked Packers coach Mike McCarthy about it, but Friday -- with his team two days away from playing the Bears at Lambeau Field -- he made his sentiment abundantly clear. "Absolutely," was McCarthy's response when asked if the Bears are the Packers' biggest rival.
McCarthy had Packers assistant Jerry Fontenot, a former Bears center, speak to the team Friday afternoon after practice about the rivalry. Asked for his own thoughts, McCarthy recalled a conversation he had with NFL Films founder Steve Sabol several years ago:
"He was telling me about his interactions with Coach Lombardi and so forth, and he made a statement that really stuck with me. He said that when the Green Bay Packers are playing well and the Chicago Bears are playing well, things are great in the National Football League. And I think that says a lot about both organizations."
We live and learn.