Friday, December 30, 2011
Final Word: NFC North
By Kevin Seifert
Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 17:
Lambeau Field rematch: The season's first game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions was a tense, physical and emotionally-charged Thanksgiving Day affair that included two ejections and eventually ended in a 27-15 Packers victory. The rematch figures to be less intense. The Packers are hoping to become the sixth team in NFL history to win 15 games in the regular season, but they aren't likely to sacrifice their health to do it. It's likely that coach Mike McCarthy will empty his bench at some point, even if most of his regular players start the game. Historically, the Packers have been strong finishers regardless of the circumstances. They have won their final regular-season game for eight consecutive years, the best active streak in the NFL, and are 16-1 in regular-season finales since 1994.
The Lions will also have to prepare for Matt Flynn for their Week 17 game against the Packers.
Lions positioning: The stakes are simple for the Lions. A victory would be their first in the state of Wisconsin in 20 years, ending the longest streak of consecutive road losses to one opponent in NFL history at 19. It would give them their first 11-victory season since 1991, and would also clinch them the NFC's fifth seed in the playoffs and a first-round matchup at the winner of Sunday night's game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. Even if they lose, the Lions would still be the fifth seed if the Atlanta Falcons lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Otherwise, they will be the No. 6 seed and face a trip to play either the New Orleans Saints or the San Francisco 49ers.
Unleash Flynn: McCarthy hasn't said much about his personnel plans for Sunday's game, but he apparently told former NFL quarterback and current broadcaster Rich Gannon that backup Matt Flynn will get at least some action. Starter Aaron Rodgers has suggested that Flynn is ready to compete for another team's starting job, and Flynn could sign elsewhere this offseason as a free agent. But there is a limited amount of regular-season tape to evaluate Flynn on, and none of it is from this season. So that makes whatever time he gets in Sunday's game particularly valuable to his future.
Quarterback issues: The Chicago Bears will start 32-year-old journeyman quarterback Josh McCown at the Metrodome on Sunday, which I suppose is merited after his better-than-expected performance Sunday night against the Packers. But I strongly agree with Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, who wrote this week that the Bears would be ignoring the central flaw of their season by not giving rookie Nathan Enderle extensive playing time. Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie flopped after taking over for injured starter Jay Cutler, sparking what is now a five-game losing streak. Part of developing backup quarterbacks is getting them regular-season playing time. If you can't squeeze a rookie quarterback into a Week 17 game after you've been eliminated from the playoffs, when can you? If Enderle is so ill-prepared that the Bears deem him unfit for even that assignment, they might as well cut their losses with him now.
Vikings stakes: I wonder if Vikings fans are rooting for a victory or loss Sunday against the Bears. A win would allow them to avoid tying the franchise record for most losses in a season (13). They would also circumvent their first winless division record in team history. On the other hand, a loss would give the Vikings a top-three pick in the 2012 draft. A victory could drop them as far as No. 6. One thing is for sure: Everyone will be rooting for the Vikings to get into a goal-line situation. Coach Leslie Frazier has already said he'll give the ball to tight end/H-back Jim Kleinsasser, who will be playing in his final career game.