NFC North Breakdown: Week 11

(Dan Zinski writes for The Viking Age, which is FSB’s Minnesota Vikings blog. Representing the rest of the NFC North are Bear Goggles On, Lombardi Ave. and SideLion Report.)

The Vikings and Bears both looked to get two games over .500 – and both lost.  The Packers, meanwhile, scratched their way back to even, at the Bears’ expense.  The result?  Three teams at 5-5.  And the Lions continuing their relentless march toward historic futility.

Chicago Bears (5-5):

Looking Back:  Kyle Orton limped heroically onto the field for the Bears against the Packers – and was utterly ineffective.  And so was the rest of the Bears team, as evidenced by the final score:  37-3 in favor of the Packers.  I hope Dick Butkus and Mike Ditka averted their eyes from this one, because it was brutal.  Ryan Grant rang up 145 rushing yards against a defense that had totally stuffed the Titans’ formidable run game the week before (Brandon Jackson added injury to injury by running for 50 yards of his own).  Aaron Rodgers tore up the pass D, completing 23 of 30 passes.  Meanwhile, Matt Forte could do little against a Packer run defense that has been as tough as tissue paper most of the year.  A battle for first place in the division turned into one of the most severe undressings this rivalry has seen in years.  I’m sure the Bears are looking forward to the rematch at their place Week 16.  Or maybe not.

Looking Forward:  The Bears continue their 3-game road trip in St. Louis.  The Rams have gone back to sucking after that little freakish two game upset spurt earlier in the season.  Chicago ought to be able to win this one even with Rex Grossman at QB (a little hint to the Bears – let Orton rest).  Then again, you never know with the Bears.  They, like the Packers and Vikings, are consistent only in their inconsistency.  The Bears better be motivated against the Rams – they surely don’t want to go into the Metrodome at 5-6 and needing a win to keep their season alive.

Detroit Lions (0-10):

Looking Back:  The Lions have become teases – they act like they’re going to have a competitive game, and then everything falls apart.  Two weeks ago they led Jacksonville 7-3 – before surrendering five unanswered touchdowns.  And this week against Carolina they got up 10-0 – only to give up 21 points in the second quarter and lose 31-22.  The offensive stats were actually passable for Detroit:  Daunte Culpepper had a decent game, throwing for 207 yards, 1 TD and 2 picks.  Kevin Smith went over the century mark on the ground and Calvin Johnson caught 6 for 65.  Then you look at the rushing stats for Carolina:  130 yards for Jonathan Stewart and 120 for D’Angelo Williams.  To say Detroit got pounded on the ground would be an understatement.  They got messed up.  They remain on pace for the first 0-16 season in league history.

Looking Forward:  The good news:  The Lions have their next 3 games at home.  The bad news:  They host 7-3 Tampa, 10-0 Tennessee and 5-5 Minnesota.  Tampa has been a weak road team, so maybe there’s a glimmer of hope there.  Sure.  And maybe the Israelis and Palestinians will decide to just hug it out.  Maybe Kanye West will quit being the world’s biggest d-bag.  Maybe the Lions’ defense will learn to tackle a running back?  Let’s hope the Buccaneers take care of business – it would be a shame to spoil that potential 11-0 vs. 0-11 match-up on Thanksgiving.

Green Bay Packers (5-5):

Looking Back:  The Packers lost two squeakers, to Tennessee and Minnesota, and were therefore hoping to break the tension with a nice easy blow-out.  Against the Bears, though?  As it turned out…yes.  The Packers manhandled Chicago.  Ryan Grant made everyone remember why they fell in love with him last season, and Aaron Rodgers made everyone recall why Brett Favre was sent to New York.  The defense clamped down on Chicago, allowing only 9 first downs and 234 total yards.  The Packers did what they’ve been doing all season – bounce back from frustrating losses.  Now the question is:  Can they put together a run?  They look like they should be the best team in the division – but they’re only 5-5, and stuck in the middle of a three-way tie for the lead.  That run defense has let them down and Rodgers has had some shaky games.

Looking Forward:  Their schedule the rest of the season is relatively favorable.  Next they travel to New Orleans to test their all-world pass defense against the league’s best passer this year, Drew Brees.  And after that?  A pair of home games, against Carolina and Houston – both winnable.  10 wins is still not out of the question for this team – but it will only happen if they finally play like their talent would indicate they should.  Another great late-season run by Ryan Grant would help.

Minnesota Vikings (5-5):

Looking Back:  History pointed to a gigantic let-down for the Vikings in the wake of two straight thrilling home victories – and sure enough, a let-down was what they delivered.  It looked good early though – they went up 13-6 on Tampa and appeared to have the game in hand.  And then Jeff Garcia decided to go all Fran Tarkenton on their asses, running Jared Allen and the D-line ragged.  Meanwhile, the Vikings’ offense fell completely asleep – including Adrian Peterson who lost his Superman cape sometime in the second quarter.  The Packers’ win over the Bears meant the Vikings had a chance to take over first place by themselves – instead they’re in a three-way traffic jam at 5-5.

Looking Forward:  The Vikes will spend another week in Florida, this time in Jacksonville.  The Jaguars have not lived up to expectations this year but should be hyped for this game, given that a loss will likely end their playoff hopes.  Jared Allen and the Williams Wall might be tired after spending all week in New York trying to convince Roger Goodell not to suspend them.  Gus Frerotte may still not be over the pounding he took from Tampa.  Jack Del Rio and Mike Tice will surely not take pity on their old team.  The Packers and Bears both face eminently beatable opponents, so the Vikes will probably need this one to keep pace.

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