If the Packers don't recover after Monday night's controversial loss, history suggests their playoff hopes could be in trouble.
The Goodell Bowl: That's what I'm referring to Sunday's game at Lambeau Field, which pits two teams who have felt aggrieved by the policies of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The New Orleans Saints are 0-3 after Goodell suspended coach Sean Payton for the season and interim coach Joe Vitt for six games because of their roles in his investigation of an alleged bounty program. The Packers, meanwhile, were the team most impacted by the NFL's attempt to use low-level replacement officials in its first three weeks. How much were the Packers impacted by last Monday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks? Even if they win Sunday to even their record at 2-2, they face this fact: Under the current playoff format, only 35.3 percent of 2-2 teams advanced to the playoffs. If they fall to 1-3? History suggests they have a 14.7 percent of playing in the postseason.
Run to Daylight: The Packers balanced their offense midway through the Seahawks game, giving tailback Cedric Benson 15 of his 17 carries after halftime. It was no coincidence that all three scoring drives came after that point. Will the Packers bring that approach Sunday? The Saints defense has really struggled this season but has been particularly vulnerable to the run, giving up a stunning average of 215 rushing yards per game. The Packers' initial game plan hasn't worked well in any of their first three games, and they've gone scoreless in the first quarter each time. That hasn't happened in the first three Packers games of a season since 1991.
Tables turned: For so long, a trip to Detroit was an automatic victory for the Minnesota Vikings, who won 16 of 17 in this series before the Detroit Lions broke through in the 2010 season finale. The Lions have now won three consecutive games over the Vikings, and it is the Vikings who own a dubious distinction: They've lost their past 11 NFC North games. The Lions haven't had the start they would have liked this season and are a fourth-quarter comeback in Week 1 away from an 0-3 record. Meanwhile, the Vikings surprised everyone with a convincing victory last Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers, and they'll get downfield receiver Jerome Simpson back from suspension. But it doesn't appear many people consider them legitimate contenders quite yet. The Lions are healthy six-point favorites, and 11 of 14 ESPN experts picked them to win.
The Allen factor: Vikings defensive end Jared Allen terrorized the Lions last season with six sacks, three in each game, and a forced fumble. Allen has been limited by neck spasms that started in last week's game against the 49ers, and his only sack this season came on the 49ers' final offensive play last week. But one way or the other, Allen will be a key part of this game. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is nursing a strained leg/hamstring/hip, and you can count on Allen testing right away whether Stafford is moving any slower in the pocket.
Another MNF affair: An NFC North team will participate in Monday Night Football for the second consecutive week, and the Chicago Bears' matchup at the Dallas Cowboys comes during a streak of six prime-time NFC North games in six weeks. We're popular. We get it. I'll have plenty more to say about this game over the weekend and on Monday, but for now let's bring you up to date on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's tough record in prime-time road games. Cutler is 3-6 in those games as a Bears starter and 5-10 overall in his career.