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Friday, October 8, 2010
Final Word: NFC North

By Kevin Seifert

NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Brian Urlacher
Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears defense are currently ranked No. 6 against the run.
Playing it safe. After a week of teeth-gnashing about last Sunday night's 10-sack disaster, the Bears would be well-advised to play it safe this week on offense and rely on a defense that has played at a high level all season. Backup Todd Collins will replace starter Jay Cutler (concussion), and it's possible the Bears will shake up their offensive line for the third time in five games. Anything other than an offensive scaleback is asking for trouble against a Carolina Panthers team that has scored only 46 points in four games and overall ranks as the third-worst offense in the NFL. The Bears' defense figures to match up well, especially when you remember that defensive end Julius Peppers should be highly motivated against his former team. The quickest way to disaster would be for the Bears' offense to hand the Panthers some easy scores. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz will surely realize that point and react appropriately.

Nice spread. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers provided an honest assessment last week of his team's offense, suggesting it is best suited in a spread formation that ensured its top skill players were on the field as much as possible. It was a reasonable nod to the Packers' ineffective run game since Ryan Grant's season-ending injury, and they would be smart to re-implement it Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Through four games, the Redskins have the second-worst pass defense in the NFL. Opponents are completing 66.4 percent of their passes for an average of 305 yards per game. The best way to ensure a victory Sunday might be to follow the plan they used two weeks ago against the Chicago Bears, controlling the clock with their passing game and limiting the opportunities for the Redskins to test their injury-wracked defense.

Staying the course. The Detroit Lions must defeat the St. Louis Rams to continue along their current path of improvement. A reasonable observer can excuse three road losses to divisional foes, as well as a three-point loss to Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles. And it's true that the Rams have already won two games this year and are getting surprisingly mature play from rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. But a team that believes it's moving in the right direction should beat this Rams team at home, and I doubt there is a soul in the Lions' organization who thinks otherwise. Current lines have the Lions as three-point favorites, and it's one they should -- and need -- to win.

Moss likes the big stage. New Minnesota Vikings receiver Randy Moss didn't catch a pass in his final game with the New England Patriots last Monday night. But that quiet evening was an aberration relative to his usual production on "Monday Night Football." In his 16 previous Monday night games -- the equivalent of a regular season -- Moss caught 92 passes for 1,477 yards and 16 touchdowns. Among those scores were nine touchdown receptions of 25 or more yards. Knowing Moss' history in so-called "spectacle games" and his giddy return to the Vikings, it's hard to imagine him having another quiet evening this Monday night. The New York Jets have their choice of cornerbacks to match up with him, but Moss' determination to make an explosive first impression should not be underestimated -- no matter the competition.

The other returning receiver: With all of the hoopla surrounding Moss this week, the return of another receiver has gone almost unnoticed. The Jets will have the services of Santonio Holmes for the first time this season, giving them a downfield weapon against a Vikings defense that continues to undergo personnel flux. The Vikings are limiting teams to 189 passing yards per game, the eighth-best mark in the NFL, even with multiple cornerbacks nursing injuries. This week, rookie cornerback Chris Cook hasn't practiced because of a knee injury that also cost him the first two games of this year. Cook worked as the Vikings' nickelback in their Sept. 26 victory over the Lions, and if he misses Monday night's game, the Vikings will once again be short-handed. You can expect the Jets to notice.