Wednesday, December 29, 2010
How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch
By Kevin Seifert
1. Pessimism in the NFC North: For the first time all season, the division had an undefeated week. Better later than never, right? What's more, all four victories were notably impressive. The Chicago Bears scored 38 points on the New York Jets' supposedly vaunted defense. The Green Bay Packers dropped 45 points on the New York Giants. The Detroit Lions scored 17 points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter to win a road game in Miami. And the Minnesota Vikings upset one of the NFL's best teams on their own field after waiting 48 hours in a hotel for a delayed kickoff. Take a bow, Black and Blue.
2. Drama in Chicago: When the season began, who would have guessed the Bears would not only have the division locked up before the Week 17 matchup against the Packers, but also the NFC's No. 2 seed? The Bears remain an enigma to some, but I would count myself among their believers since they dismantled the Eagles last month. The Bears would be well-advised to keep pushing through their game against the Packers, regardless of the stakes. But at the very least, they'll have a well-deserved stress reduction this week.
3. Mistakes by Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears quarterback: Admit it. When Jets safety Dwight Lowery returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown Sunday, you thought something along these lines: "Here it comes." Cutler has limited his interceptions all season after throwing an NFL-high 26 last year, but the national consensus seems to be that it is only a matter of time before he reverts. Instead, Cutler rallied to throw three long touchdown passes in the second half without another interception. He has 14 in 14 starts this season, four of which came in one game against the Washington Redskins. That means Cutler has 10 interceptions in his other 13 starts. Those are playoff-caliber numbers.
Leslie Frazier will be counting on Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson to lead a thin group of linebackers in Minnesota.
1. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings interim head coach: Frazier outcoached Philadelphia Eagles counterpart Andy Reid in Tuesday night's 24-14 victory, finding ways to harass quarterback Michael Vick all evening, and also did a masterful job keeping his team focused during the 48-hour delay. The victory guaranteed Frazier at least a .500 record during his six-game tryout for the full-time job. Will that be enough? You could make that argument, but in reality no one knows what owner Zygi Wilf is thinking and whether he has already decided to interview other candidates. Hiring a head coach is a critical decision, and there is nothing wrong with being thorough.
2. B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers defensive tackle: As we discussed during training camp, the Packers needed Raji to be a difference-maker in his second season. Quietly, Raji has done just that. His sack of the Giants' Eli Manning last Sunday gave him 6.5 this season, the third-most of any defensive tackle in the NFL. Raji has been the workhorse and stalwart of an otherwise injury-plagued position group, rarely leaving the field and playing in just about every alignment that defensive coordinator Dom Capers conjures up. It was going to be difficult for Raji to make the Pro Bowl ahead of the Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh, whose nine sacks made him a lock, but he has definitely produced a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
3. Nate Vasher, Detroit Lions cornerback: There is no doubt that the Miami Dolphins targeted Vasher last Sunday. If I had Brandon Marshall on my team, I would do the same thing. Marshall was targeted on 16 passes, and he caught 10 for 102 yards. But Vasher provided a few glimpses of the cornerback he used to be, rallying to grab a key fourth-quarter interception and also tackling Dolphins tailback Ronnie Brown in bounds on the final play as the clock expired. Vasher shouldn't be starting in the NFL at this point, and he wouldn't be if it weren't for a rash of injuries in Detroit. But his career might not be over, either.