Chicago Bears (6-3)
LAST WEEK: The Bears blew out the Detroit Lions 37-13 this past Sunday to raise their record to 6-3. It was a game in which Chicago's defense and special teams was more than enough to defeat the visitors. Devin Hester scored on a punt return -- giving him 12 punt return TDs for his career, an NFL record -- and nearly scored on two others, all this despite an ankle injury and strep throat. The defense forced six turnovers, including four interceptions of Lions QB Matthew Stafford, while giving up just 80 yards on the ground. Chicago's offense had a very hard time moving the ball and could muster just 232 total yards. Earl Bennett caught all six passes thrown his way, racking up 81 yards in the process. Yet he was the only Bears player to catch more than one pass during the game. Matt Forte, who was averaging more than 150 total yards per game this year, picked up just 64 yards on the ground and another 3 yards through the air.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Bears now start a stretch of four games against AFC West opponents. First up is the San Diego Chargers, a team that has lost four straight contests. The Chargers are dealing with a host of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, as well as along the offensive line. QB Phillip Rivers is having one of the worst seasons of his career, having thrown more interceptions (15) than touchdown (13) through nine games. Chicago will be without starting left guard Chris Williams, who was placed on IR this week with a wrist injury, as well as RT Gabe Carimi. Forte had a rare off game last week, so expect him rebound in a big way against San Diego's 24th-ranked rushing defense.
FUN STAT: The Bears have had a revolving door at the safety position for years now, yet they may have finally found long-term answers in youngsters Major Wright and Chris Conte. In the three games those two have started together, Chicago has allowed just one touchdown pass -- a garbage-time score late in last week's game against the Lions.
Detroit Lions (6-3)
LAST WEEK: A lopsided score shifted the balance of both public perception and the post-season race following Detroit's 37-13 loss at Chicago. The team turned the ball over six times, but two early fumbles led to Chicago scores. Combined with Devin Hester's 82-yard punt return touchdown, the Lions were forced to go one dimensional, throwing into the elements 63 times during the game to no avail. Ironically, the team did a solid job containing Chicago's organic production (Matt Forte managed just 64 rushing yards, and QB Jay Cutler completed less than half of his passes), so while ugly, the final score wasn't necessarily indicative of one team significantly outplaying the other. As coach Jim Schwartz mentioned in his presser, his club's performance was out of character, especially given that Detroit had only turned the ball over four times all year heading into the contest.
LOOKING AHEAD: Despite the loss to Chicago, the Lions remain in control of their own destiny with regards to the wild card hunt -- although the next 10 days could very well determine their fate. Detroit has two consecutive home games, beginning with Carolina on Sunday and the undefeated Packers on Thanksgiving. If they take care of business with both contests, they hop into the driver's seat and would appear playoff bound for the first time since 1999. But anything short of a split and the squad will traverse between a once promising future to purgatory. It would be fair to suggest that the next two games will truly determine whether Detroit's presumed and borderline meteoric growth is legitimate, or another case of smoke-and-mirrors, a'la 2007.
FUN STAT: The loss to Chicago snapped the franchise's longest road winning streak (six games), which dated back nearly an entire year. That's promising, given the club snapped its NFL record 26 game road losing skid in December of 2010 ... Matthew Stafford's 63 passes were a career-high, as were his four interceptions ... coach Jim Schwartz caught grief for what appeared to be another Lions/Bears "wind" moment (see: Marty Mornhinweg, 2002), but he might have the data on his side. When quizzed whether Stafford's broken finger and protective gloves on Sunday affected his play, Schwartz remarked that the wind affected both QBs, correctly noting that Stafford actually managed a better completion percentage than Cutler. Both QBs entered the game completing nearly 60 percent of their passes.
Green Bay Packers (9-0)
LAST WEEK: The Packers finally earned a three-phase victory in a 45-7 romp over Minnesota on Monday night. After being carried all season by their prolific offense, Green Bay got a special-teams touchdown (Randall Cobb's 80-yard punt return) and its defense limited the Vikings to 266 yards and just 5-of-14 on third down. The offensive line couldn't protect Aaron Rodgers during the first half and, even with Cobb's touchdown, the Packers had to settle for a 17-0 halftime lead. The blocking issues were solved for the second half, though, and Rodgers turned in a typical Rodgers performance. With 23-of-30 accuracy for 250 yards and four touchdowns, Rodgers turned in his third consecutive game with a passer rating of at least 140 (140.3). For the season, he's got 28 touchdowns, just three interceptions and an astronomical passer rating of 130.7.
LOOKING AHEAD: Tampa Bay visits as the Packers play the second game in a stretch of three games in 11 days. After a 3-1 start, the Buccaneers are 4-5. It's a shocking fall. The Packers wouldn't have even made the playoffs last season had Detroit not snapped its NFL-record 26-game road losing streak by beating the Buccaneers in overtime in Week 15. Josh Freeman had a brilliant rookie season for the Bucs, with 25 touchdowns against six interceptions. This season, he's got nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The Bucs haven't scored a first-quarter touchdown all season and are averaging a 25th-ranked 17.3 points per game.
FUN STAT: The Packers have scored a league-high 320 points. The Saints are next with 313. However, Green Bay has played nine games and New Orleans has played 10. By average, the Packers lead with 35.6 per game, with the Saints second at 31.3. And for further perspective, there's this: The Packers have scored 28 points in one half on four occasions this season, including the second half on Monday. Only three other teams are averaging 28-plus for an entire game.
Minnesota Vikings (2-7)
LAST WEEK: The Vikings offered little resistance to the red-hot Packers or their likely league MVP in quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Minnesota suffered a three-phase meltdown in Wisconsin. They gave up 356 yards and allowed a 7-for-13 third-down conversion rate on defense, they only managed 266 yards on offense and converted 36 percent of their third downs, and they gave up a punt return for a touchdown and came up short on a field goal attempt after a costly penalty. It all added up to a disastrous 45-7 loss that hammered home the chasm between the elite in the league and the Vikings.
LOOKING AHEAD: Minnesota is happily done with Rodgers for this season and gets to return home to face the Oakland Raiders. While Carson Palmer is no Rodgers, he is getting more comfortable with the Raiders offense after three games and is looking like he'll limit the interceptions. But instead of a pass-intensive attack, the Vikings will most likely focus on stopping the Raiders' running game, which is experiencing new levels of success with Michael Bush, who is averaging more than 5 yards a carry and 100 yards per game since taking over for the injured Darren McFadden three games ago. McFadden will likely be questionable for Sunday, but Bush could be the better alternative if the Raiders want to test the Vikings' slowly slipping run defense.
FUN STAT: It's not so much fun for the Vikings, but the rest of the NFC North is enjoying playing them of late. Minnesota has lost its last nine North matchups, a franchise record, with their last win coming against Detroit in Week 3 last year.
Jeremy Stoltz is publisher of Bear Report, Nate Caminata is publisher of Roar Report, Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and Tim Yotter is publisher of Vikings Update.