NFL Nation: audibles NFC 13
The Packers' suddenly porous pass defense overshadowed a bit of a clunker from quarterback Aaron Rodgers last week in New Orleans; Rodgers threw three interceptions and was sacked twice in the second half of a 51-29 loss. And while it's difficult to pin the Packers' record on the transition to Rodgers, you can certainly make an argument that they'll have a tough time defeating Carolina without a strong game from him.
Rodgers' numbers have split remarkably between the Packers' wins and losses. Consider this dichotomy, brought to you courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:
Carolina's pass defense is ranked No. 8 overall based on yardage allowed, but the figures above suggest passing yards haven't been as important as interceptions and sacks in determining wins and losses. The Panthers have nine interceptions this season, tied for No. 19 in the NFL, and are tied for No. 15 with 28 sacks.
All of which suggests the Packers stand a better chance Sunday if Rodgers limits his interceptions and sacks. That's the kind of deep analysis you've grown to expect from the Black and Blue blog.
Continuing with our theme of quarterbacks, the Bears have come to expect mistake-free play from quarterback Kyle Orton -- the type of performance that can make the difference in a road game with huge playoff implications. Orton, in fact, has thrown 185 consecutive passes without an interception, dating back to Sept. 28.
Orton has thrown four interceptions this season, but they have come during just two games. That means he's had eight starts this season without an interception, a mark that ranks second in the NFL behind Washington's Jason Campbell.
There will be plenty of variables in play Sunday night, including whether the Bears' defense can do a better job after giving up 41 points to the Vikings in the teams' first meeting. We're also on alert for a (game-breaking) Devin Hester sighting.
But Orton's cool efficiency is what gives the Bears their best chance to win this game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
In Charlotte, a town that's capable of overreacting, there's a sense of doom among fans after the Carolina Panthers lost a single game.
The Panthers went down to Atlanta, got thumped and fell to 8-3. That still doesn't sound like a bad spot to be in, but there might be some justification for all that gloom. Even in the two games before that, victories against Detroit and Oakland, the Panthers didn't look particularly impressive. Quarterback Jake Delhomme has struggled of late and a defense that seemed dominant early in the season has been ordinary recently.
A lot of folks are worried about Tampa Bay or Atlanta taking the NFC South title because Carolina has the toughest remaining schedule. This week's trip to Green Bay may sound grim because visits to Lambeau Field always are tough.
But maybe there's some good news among all the clouds for Carolina fans. The Packers might be struggling even more than the Panthers.
Consider these numbers: In Week 12, the Packers and Panthers combined to allow 96 points, 808 total yards, 42 first downs and 13 touchdowns.
The bright side? If you've got to go into Lambeau Field, this might be the right time to do it.
In NFC South circles, the quarterback talk has been all about New Orleans' Drew Brees and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. Understandable since Brees is on pace to set the single-season record for passing yards and Ryan is having the best season of any rookie since Dan Marino.
But, very quietly, Jeff Garcia has been one of the NFL's best quarterbacks for the last six weeks. After being benched early in the season, Garcia and coach Jon Gruden seem to have patched up their differences and Garcia's again playing like the Pro Bowl quarterback he was a year ago.
Garcia is 5-1 in his last six starts and ranks third in the league in passer rating in that span. At 38, he's also starting to show signs of the mobility that helped him prosper earlier in his career.
With Brees coming to town and Tampa Bay's running back situation a bit shaky with Earnest Graham lost for the year, the Bucs are going to need Garcia to be even better than he's been in the last six games.
Atlanta Falcons (7-4) at San Diego Chargers (4-7), 4:05 p.m. ET
There's been a lot of talk about how this game is a showdown between Michael Turner and LaDainian Tomlinson. That's understandable because Turner spent four seasons as Tomlinson's backup before signing with the Falcons this year. Turner has better numbers than Tomlinson, and he also is a guy with plenty of pride and there probably is a part of him that would like to show the Chargers how good he is.
But the fact is, the Chargers and the rest of the league already know Turner is a top-notch back. Turner and Tomlinson were -- and still are -- friends, so this isn't truly a grudge match. Turner and the Falcons are beyond that.
They're a team in the thick of a playoff race and they need a victory far more than Turner needs to prove anything. But let's just say Turner goes out there and hangs 150 yards on a struggling San Diego defense.
There might be a little sense of vindication involved.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The 49ers can make it 0-for-15 among teams traveling west to east across a 3-hour time difference this season. Seattle (0-4), Oakland (0-3), San Diego (0-3), Arizona (0-3) and San Francisco (0-1) have combined for an 0-14 record in games starting at 10 a.m. PT.
The Cardinals' defeat to the Eagles on Thursday night didn't qualify because Arizona is on Mountain time and does not adjust for daylight savings.
The early start isn't the 49ers' only enemy at Ralph Wilson Stadium. San Francisco's defense has allowed nine passing touchdowns over its last four games despite holding the Rams to one during a 35-16 victory in Week 11. The Bills aren't a great passing team, but they are coming of a 54-point showing at Kansas City.
Bulger has taken too many hits to trust his protection and run the offense with confidence. Jackson figures to be rusty if he returns, and his durability is in question. Pace is still a good player when healthy, but an offensive tackle can do only so much.
And it's not as though the Rams' defense has shown signs of picking up the slack. This game qualifies as a must-win for the Dolphins as they make a playoff push. Their ground game should punish the Rams' poor-tackling defense.
Huge game for the Redskins after watching the Cowboys improve to 8-4 Thursday. The Giants are the best team in football, though, and coach Tom Coughlin doesn't allow for letdowns. The Giants got that loss out of the way against Cleveland and haven't looked back.
The Redskins are a completely different team than the one that opened the season in the Meadowlands. The Giants feasted on Jim Zorn's West Coast offense and did a nice job of taking running back Clinton Portis out of the game. Jason Campbell has been up and down since that game, but he's certainly capable of burning you if given enough time in the pocket.
Expect Zorn to commit to the running game from the start. Everything in this offense feeds off Portis' success on the ground. The Giants are the sixth-best rushing defense in the league heading into Sunday. They'll have to survive what should be a huge emotional wave from the Redskins early. The late Sean Taylor will be inducted into the Ring of Fame before the game. Zorn wants his players to absorb the special moment and then re-focus on playing.
Both teams have some key injuries. For the Giants, Plaxico Burress and Brandon Jacobs are still banged up. And you should keep an eye on Fred Robbins' shoulder injury. He's a big part of that elite defensive line. The Redskins might have to go without middle linebacker London Fletcher and defensive end Andre Carter, who both have foot injuries. Linebacker Marcus Washington has already been ruled out.
Carter actually went through some drills in Thursday's practice, but Fletcher didn't do anything. It would be a big surprise, though, if Fletcher sits out. He's one of the most durable players in the league and he's played through pain before. Plus, he's the emotional leader for this defense.
I think this is the type of game that could hinge on a big play on special teams. Rock Cartwright does a really nice job in all phases of special teams for the Redskins. But Domenik Hixon is the Giants player who can absolutely take over a game.