NFC North News

Despite the fact that the Vikings are the only team in the division with a winning record, things are starting to heat up in November.

DETROIT LIONS
The last time the Lions won two games in a row was three years ago. In fact, they actually won three in a row -- beating Atlanta, the New York Giants and New England -- in the first three games coached by interim coach Gary Moeller in November, 2000.

Two months later, Moeller was fired -- along with virtually everyone else in the Lions front office -- as part of the Matt Millen takeover, and the Lions have been in an extended rebuilding program ever since.

They haven't won two games in a row in three seasons.

They haven't won a road game in three seasons.

They haven't won more than three games in a season since the Bobby Ross/Gary Moeller era ended in 2000.

After their 23-13 victory over Oakland on Sunday, they have a chance to change at least one of those things. They have a chance to make it two wins in a row when they play against the Chicago Bears next Sunday at Ford Field.

They'd better make the best of the opportunity, however, because the difficulty of schedule increases significantly thereafter with Seattle, Minnesota, Green Bay, Kansas City, Carolina and St. Louis looming.

Unless the Lions improve significantly, the only game in which they might be favored will be the Dec. 7 home game against San Diego.

GREEN BAY PACKERS
Lambeau Field is one of the least hospitable venues for any NFL team to visit. As strange as it might seem, Andy Reid gets the Packers Monday night right where he wants them: in Lambeau with winter fast approaching.

No NFL team is close to the Eagles when it has come to winning road games in the 21st century. Under Reid's even-handed direction the Eagles own a 21-7 regular-season record on the road since 2000, a .741 winning percentage that dwarfs that of runner-up Pittsburgh (17-11, .630).

Moreover, the Eagles have been the NFL's winningest team in November and December since 2000 with a mark of 21-5, slightly better than the Packers' 20-7.

This will be the Eagles' fourth road game in five starts. After losing two at home to open the season, they've gone 5-1 counting road victories at Buffalo, the Giants and Atlanta.

The Packers, who are 14-14 on the road under Mike Sherman, are 13-1 at home in November and December since he took over.

"I'd say that historically not many people get on the bus outside (Lambeau Field) happy," an assistant coach for a recent Eagles' opponent said. "It ain't easy there but I think the Eagles' arrow is pointing up. They haven't played as well as in the past but you've got to give them credit for holding it together with all the injuries."

Nine of the Eagles' 21 road victories have been as an underdog, topped by the 7-point line they overcame last November in San Francisco. Reid, a 4-point underdog when he lost at Lambeau Field, 6-3, in Week 3 of 2000, is a 4 1/2-point underdog Monday night.

What's also of interest is that five of Reid's seven road losses were by 3 points or less. The Eagles' recent road success was preceded by their 1-22-1 run of road futility from 1997-'99.

"The Eagles are not an incredibly difficult team to defend," an assistant for another recent Eagles' foe said. "I would have a hard time not picking Green Bay but I think Philadelphia's a tough team. They fight hard and they're well-coached."

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Vikings coach Mike Tice isn't a patient person. Mix in a two-game losing streak and a dead-legged defense and the result is predictable.

Changes are being made for Sunday's game at San Diego (1-7).

Left cornerback Denard Walker was benched in favor of nickel back Ken Irvin. Rookie E.J. Henderson will replace 34-year-old Greg Biekert at middle linebacker in most nickel situations, and some in the base defense.

Willie Offord, who fumbled a starting job when it was practically handed to him during training camp, might be given some of free safety Brian Russell's playing time. Nick Rogers will push strong-side linebacker Henri Crockett for the starting job.

Everyone else basically was on notice to shape up or be prepared to sit out.

Is Tice overreacting? After all, the defense has had the same 11 starters in all eight games.

The same 11 starters that helped the team start 6-0 also played a role in giving up 901 yards in consecutive losses to the Giants and Green Bay.

Tice said he wants to freshen things up and let players know there is a sense of urgency. Benching Walker, the team's most expensive off-season acquisition at $13 million over four years, sent a clear message.

Tice also adjusted his practice routine this week. The players won't wear pads, and it's unlikely they'll practice beyond the scheduled time, as they have in several weeks.

Taking it easier on the players in practice might make more of a difference than changing personnel. Tice has been tough on the team since Day 1 in training camp.

When the team was winning, the tough practices were viewed as having strengthened the team. Now, they're seen as having cost the players some pep in their steps.

The Vikings looked tired defensively against the Packers. By halftime, the Packers had 182 yards rushing and a 10.2-yard average per carry.

The Packers finished with 261 yards rushing and a 7.7-yard average. Enough to make an impatient coach shake things up.


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