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Friday, December 7, 2012
Final Word: NFC North

By Kevin Seifert

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

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 14:

Recent dominance: The Chicago Bears have won six consecutive games against the Minnesota Vikings, their last loss coming in 2009 when Brett Favre was the Vikings' quarterback. There might be some mild animosity directed at the Vikings' Jared Allen, whose illegal hit on guard Lance Louis two weeks ago ended Louis' season. But for the most part, the Bears should win this game if they can slow down Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson, who has put together the best four-game stretch (671 yards) in his career. The Bears actually held him to his least productive game over that period, 108 yards. The Bears are favored by three points and 11 of ESPN's 14 experts have picked them to win.

Christian Ponder
Christian Ponder has thrown for more than 200 yards in only one of the Vikings' past four games.
Last chance: The Vikings entered Week 12 with an opportunity to win the NFC North, but quarterback Christian Ponder struggled in games against the Bears and Green Bay Packers to largely scuttle those chances. Ponder has completed just over 50 percent of his passes for a total of 278 yards in those games, and another poor performance Sunday could send him to the bench in favor of backup Joe Webb. Coach Leslie Frazier left open that possibility this week by saying: "We believe that Christian is our number one and we've gone through offseason, training camp, during the season, now. That being said, if things get to a point where your number one is really costing you some situations that could preclude winning, you do have to do what's best for the football team." We'll see if Ponder can avoid that fate against a Bears team that won't have linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) and probably cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) as well.

Touchdown receptions: This game will feature two players with eight touchdown receptions, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. Each has their own statistically impressive story to tell considering the relative lack of production around them. The Bears have found a way to target Marshall more than any other NFL receiver on a percentage basis this season (39.2 percent of all throws). Marshall also leads the NFL in percentage of a team's receptions (41.9) and passing first downs (44.9). Rudolph, meanwhile, is the only NFL player to have caught more than half of his team's total touchdown passes (eight of 14). Marshall is tied for second at 50 percent (eight of 16). In both cases, it's awfully impressive for one player to continue to produce even when defenses know how limited their offenses have been.

Wisconsin's spell: There are a lot of historic numbers heading into Sunday night's game at Lambeau Field, and all of them favor the Packers. They have won 21 consecutive games against the Detroit Lions in the state of Wisconsin, including the playoffs. The Lions haven't won in Green Bay or Milwaukee since the 1991 season, the longest streak of consecutive road losses to one team in NFL history. The Packers have won 10 consecutive NFC North games, the longest current divisional streak in the NFL, and coach Mike McCarthy is 12-1 against the Lions in his tenure. Finally, the Packers are 19-6 all-time in Sunday night games, the best Sunday night winning percentage in the NFL. The Packers are seven-point favorites and all 14 ESPN experts have picked them to win.

Rebuilding at WR: The Lions will be playing without three of the top four receivers they entered the season with. Calvin Johnson remains on the field as he pursues Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a season, but Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles are all on injured reserve. Newcomer Mike Thomas likely will start next to Johnson, but expect the Lions to make heavy use of tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler in their multiple-receiver sets. Last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, the Lions used multiple tight ends on 90.7 percent of their snaps. That was the Lions' highest percentage use of multiple tight ends in a single game, by far, over the past five years. The previous high during that period was 77.8 percent in Week 2 of 2010.

(Statistics courtesy ESPN Stats & Information unless otherwise noted.)