Northern Exposure: Week 17

Scout.com's NFC North experts keep you up to date on the Black and Blue Division. The Packers sit atop the division at 14-1, followed by the Lions at 10-5, then the Bears at 7-8 and the Vikings at 3-12.

Chicago Bears (7-8)

LAST WEEK: With Sunday's 35-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears have been officially eliminated from the playoffs. Losing on the road to arguably the best team in the NFL wasn't surprising but it was the manner in which they lost that caught most off guard. Over the past month, the offense has repeatedly let the team down, yet against Green Bay, it was the defense that cost Chicago the upset win. Between Weeks 6-15, the Bears defense ranked second in the NFL in rush defense and third in opponent passer rating. They held up against the run, holding the Packers to just 81 yards on the ground. Yet the pass defense absolutely imploded, giving up five Aaron Rodgers touchdowns. Zack Bowman, who was elevated to starter at cornerback over Tim Jennings, gave up three of those passing scores. Chicago's offense held up surprisingly well with Josh McCown making his first start since 2007. He went 19-28 for 242 yards, yet threw two costly interceptions. RB Kahlil Bell got his first career start and rushed for 121 yards on 23 carries. Roy Williams led all receivers with six receptions for 81 yards.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Bears started this year 7-3 and now sit out of the playoffs at 7-8. They play a meaningless game at the Metrodome on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, who also have nothing left for which to play. Pride is the only thing on the line in this season finale. Chicago beat the Vikings 39-10 in Week 6 this year, yet that was before their top two offensive linemen, starting quarterback, top receiver and Pro Bowl running back were injured. That team doesn't exist anymore, which should make Sunday's contest much more competitive. McCown has started just one game against the Vikings during his 10-year career, but it's a game most Minnesota fans remember. It was the season finale in 2003, when McCown's late-game touchdown drive knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs. He finished that contest 20-33 for 224 yards and 2 TDs.

FUN STAT: The Bears sent five players to the Pro Bowl this year, which is the most for a Chicago team since the eight they sent in 2006. Charles Tillman was honored for the first time in his nine-year career. Brian Urlacher makes his eighth trip, while Lance Briggs will go for the seventh straight season. Matt Forte, despite being placed on IR yesterday, was honored for the first time, while Corey Graham will make his debut in Hawaii as a special teams contributor.

Detroit Lions (10-5)

LAST WEEK: For the first time in more than a decade, the Detroit Lions are going to the dance -- and they did so emphatically. The 38-10 dismantling of the supposedly hot San Diego Chargers put fellow post-season dwellers on notice: when the team puts it together, they can compete with anyone. Quarterback Matthew Stafford used everyone weapon in his arsenal to humble San Diego's defense, completing 80 percent of his passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, the ball club blanked Pro Bowler Philip Rivers in the first half and yielded little to nothing in the second. Given Detroit's 5-5 record since their unbeaten start, including a few wins against sub-par teams that required a little luck, the complete thrashing of an opponent came at just the right time.

LOOKING FORWARD: Although they can breath easier with its playoff berth safety secured, the team's final tilt at Green Bay is important for two relatively surface reasons: first, a win can improve the team's playoff positioning, and allow them to start its run against a far less formidable opponent; second, they haven't won in Green Bay since 1991. Lions coach Jim Schwartz, however, has stated that he would simply rather keep the momentum going. Last year, Green Bay won its final two contests, sneaking in as a wild card team before making its Super Bowl run. If Detroit wins on Sunday, they'll enter the post-season on a four-game winning streak, arguably as the hottest team.

FUN STAT: The last time Detroit was in the playoffs? Matthew Stafford was 11 years old. Bill Clinton was president. Y2K provokes some mass hysteria. MySpace is officially launched. The Matrix is the most popular film. Britney Spears has a career. Matt Millen is doing color commentary for FOX Sports.

Green Bay Packers (14-1)

LAST WEEK: The Packers clinched homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a hot-and-cold victory over the Bears. Offensively, the Packers got their groove back after a sputtering performance at Kansas City the week before. Most impressively, the Packers' banged-up and beleaguered offensive line didn't allow a single sack, with left tackle Marshall Newhouse keeping Julius Peppers completely off the stats sheet. Because he had time, Aaron Rodgers played his best game in a couple of weeks with a career-high five touchdowns. He threw for 283 yards while playing only two snaps in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, the defense was gouged for 199 rushing yards and 441 total yards against a bunch of guys nobody's ever heard of, though the team's season-long saving grace – turnovers – returned with two takeaways. The defense hasn't recorded a sack in two weeks.

LOOKING AHEAD: Coach Mike McCarthy said the plan is to win Sunday's season-finale against Detroit, though with nothing of substance to play for, the guess is McCarthy will play his front-line players for a few series before turning the game over to the backups. The Packers need to get healthy. Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings has missed the last two games with a knee sprain. Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed last week's game with a sprained kneecap. Running back James Starks is out again with an ankle injury. Defensive end Ryan Pickett has missed the last two games with a concussion. Returning will be left tackle Chad Clifton, who hasn't played since injuring his hamstring at Atlanta on Oct. 9. The coaches want to get him plenty of action to kick off the rust before they determine whether they go with Clifton or Newhouse for the playoffs. A matchup against standout veteran Kyle VandenBosch will be just what Clifton needs. On Thanksgiving, Newhouse held VandenBosch without a sack.

FUN STAT: Look in the Packers' media guide, and three of the five worst seasons in terms of penalty yards came under McCarthy. This year, the Packers lead the league in fewest accepted penalties (70) and are second penalty yardage (511). The Packers were penalty-free against Chicago (an offside penalty was declined), their first no-penalty game since 1990 and the first time against Chicago since 1942.

Minnesota Vikings (3-12)

LAST WEEK: The Vikings never suffered such loss in getting a win. With their 33-26 win over the Washington Redskins, they went from having an outside chance at the No. 1 overall draft pick to no chance and now they could fall as low as No. 6 in the draft if they beat Chicago and other teams with four wins all lose this weekend. In addition, the Vikings lost superstar running back Adrian Peterson until at least next September after he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. While the Vikings avoided at least solely owning the worst record in franchise history (they could still tie it if they lose Sunday), they lost a lot by winning on the road.

LOOKING AHEAD: With Peterson out, Toby Gerhart will carry the load for the Vikings' running game, and the team also promoted rookie running back Caleb King from the practice squad to the active roster, along with signing rookie back Jordan Todman off the San Diego practice squad. Despite rookie quarterback Christian Ponder leaving Saturday's game after the first series of the second half with a concussion, he passed his league-mandated impact test on Tuesday and went through a full practice Wednesday. He is expected to start Sunday against the Chicago Bears. However, in addition to playing without Peterson, the Vikings also put former Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson on injured reserve because of a concussion.

FUN STAT: Jared Allen is pursuing the Vikings' single-season sack record. He has 18.5 and needs 2.5 Sunday to make it happen, but he has others right on his heels. The Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware and Eagles' Jason Babin each have 18 sacks. The NFL has never had two players reach 20 sacks in the same season.


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.

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