Northern Exposure: Packers prepare for Lions

The Green Bay Packers ready for the Detroit Lions; Will Jay Cutler's injury hinder Bears playoff hopes? Insights and more from our NFC North experts ...

Green Bay Packers (10-0)

LAST WEEK: By most quarterbacks’ standards, Aaron Rodgers would have had a great day in a 35-26 victory over the Buccaneers on Sunday. He completed 23-of-34 passes (67.6 percent) for 299 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception, good for a passer rating of 112.3. By Rodgers’ lofty measuring stick, it was his second-worst game of the season in terms of passer rating and snapped a league-record-tying run of three consecutive games with ratings of at least 140. “I’m just frustrated,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t throw the ball very well. I’m not trying to be ridiculously humble right now. I’m just frustrated. The ball that wasn’t coming off the way I wanted it to today.” Rodgers delivered two clutch drives. Twice, the Buccaneers pulled within two points in the fourth quarter. Twice, Rodgers answered with touchdowns, including the clinching 40-yard scoring strike to Jordy Nelson on third-and-4 late in the third quarter.

LOOKING AHEAD: Thursday’s game at Detroit caps a stretch of three games in 11 days for the Packers, who have won a franchise-record 16 consecutive games. The last time the Packers visited Detroit was on Dec. 12, and it was a disaster, with Rodgers knocked out of the game with a concussion. In what wound up being a battle of backup quarterbacks, the Lions won 7-3. With these Packers boasting a 10-0 record and a three-game lead in the NFC North, this is a must-win game for the Lions. Still, the Packers have something to prove. Can their inconsistent offensive line stand up to the Lions’ formidable front four? Can the Packers beleaguered secondary keep up with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson?

FUN STAT: Rodgers extended his NFL record to 10 consecutive games with a passer rating of at least 110. Moreover, if you lower the bar to 100, Rodgers holds that record, too, having broken a tie with Peyton Manning that was set in 2004. Because of that, the Packers are the only team in the league to have scored at least 24 points in every game this season. That 10-game streak is the longest in team history over the course of a single season. Plus, Green Bay is only the second defending Super Bowl champion to score 24-plus points in the first 10 games of its season. The other? The 2000 Rams.

Detroit Lions (7-3)

LAST WEEK:  Welcome back, Kevin Smith. The former-turned-current Lions' running back recorded over 200 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns during Sunday's 49-35 come-from-behind win over the Panthers. Just 10 days ago, Smith was a street free-agent garnering minimal interest before joining a pack of two dozen NFL cast-offs in Detroit looking for another opportunity. Smith stuck, and the rest is history. Smith benefited from Matthew Stafford's lightning hot second half in which the gloved-QB completed nearly 80 percent of his throws, tying his own team record of five touchdown passes. However, it was again was the tale of two halves for the Lions, who at one point were on the ugly side of a 24-7 score -- helped in no small part to three first half turnovers. The Lions scored 35 second half points, but consistency remains a glaring concern.

LOOKING AHEAD:  If there was ever a moment for the Lions to finally have a complete game against a quality opponent, Thursday's Thanksgiving Day tilt wouldn't be a bad opportunity. The team certainly needs a win to remain viable in the claustrophobic wildcard race, but the Packers should also be considered the ultimate measuring stick. Given that the resources poured into Detroit's formidable front four were to primarily counteract division king Aaron Rodgers, the game will test the foundation of the franchise. The good news? The Lions are the last team to beat the Packers with Aaron Rodgers as the game's starting quarterback. Although they knocked Rodgers from last year's 7-3 slugfest, Detroit still won behind third-string quarterback Drew Stanton -- with a large helping of aggressive play by the defense.

THANKSGIVING DAY FLASHBACK:  In 1962, the unbeaten and eventual NFL champion Packers marched into Tiger stadium 6-point favorites. Playing before a crowd of nearly 60,000, the Lions blitzed on nearly every play, annihilating the protection of Green Bay great Bart Starr en route to a 23-0 lead. The Lions eventually won the game 26-14, while the Packers wouldn't lose another game the rest of the season.

Chicago Bears (7-3)

LAST WEEK: The Bears put together a solid effort in defeating the San Diego Chargers at home for the team's fifth straight victory. Jay Cutler was lights out for most of the contest, completing 18 of 30 passes for 286 yards and a 2 TDs. The team received a big contribution from receiver Roy Williams, who led the team with 5 catches for 62 yards, as well as Johnny Knox, who pulled in 3 passes for 97 yards, including a circus touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. The offensive line struggled with newcomer Edwin Williams at left guard. Matt Forte picked up just 57 yards on 20 carries. The defense played its usual stingy game, giving up just 52 total yards on the ground and forcing three second-half turnovers. Yet the secondary did get torched by Vincent Jackson, who caught 7 balls for 165 yards and 1 TD. The defensive line also failed to sack Phillip RIvers, who was playing in front of a line that was without three starters.

LOOKING AHEAD: The big news this week in Chicago is the loss of Jay Cutler to a right thumb injury. He'll undergo surgery tomorrow and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. For an offense that was performing at a very high level, this is a huge blow. Coach Lovie Smith said he expects Cutler back this year but it's unlikely he'll return before the playoffs. The Bears will go forward with Caleb Hanie under center, which will have a marked effect on the offense's ability to move the ball. The team will undoubtedly lean heavily on the run going forward, hoping to ride its strong special teams and defense into the playoffs. The first test comes this week on the road against the Oakland Raiders, who have won two straight. The Raiders boast a strong defense and a revamped passing attack with Carson Palmer at the helm. We'll soon find out just how important Cutler is to the fate of this year's team.

FUN STAT: Caleb Hanie has thrown just 14 regular season passes in his three-plus years in the league. He has never started a game in the NFL and his only real game experience came last season in the second half of the NFC Championship game. Hanie has the physical tools to succeed but he'll need to avoid the costly mistakes if the Bears are going to secure a wild card spot.

Minnesota Vikings (2-8)

LAST WEEK: The Vikings found new ways to lose, despite the Oakland Raiders giving them gift first downs with penalties, in a 27-21 defeat at Mall of America Field. Minnesota’s only touchdown drive of the first half featured three personal-foul penalties that helped extend the drive, capped by an Adrian Peterson touchdown. But Peterson rolled his left ankle and left the game. Without him, the offense struggled. Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder pressed the issue and threw three bad interceptions that he tried to force into tight coverage. With two of those coming in the red zone, it took away scoring opportunities, and the Vikings aren’t good enough to overcome those kinds of repeated mistakes.

LOOKING FORWARD: The biggest issue facing the Vikings as they prepare for the Atlanta Falcons will be the health of Peterson. X-rays taken at the stadium Sunday were negative and he was hoping to be ready for Atlanta. The Vikings need their best player to match the ground-control abilities of the Falcons and Michael Turner. Minnesota’s defense gave up 100 yards to a single running back for the first time this season, as Michael Bush ran over them 30 times for 109 yards. Without Peterson and with Ponder under consistent pressure, the rookie quarterback finished as the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball five times for 71 yards.

FUN STAT: The Vikings set a team record for most first downs by penalty, gaining seven of them on Oakland penalties. The Raiders, who entered the game as easily the most penalized team in the league, had 12 penalties that were assessed, with five of those being personal fouls that cost them 15 yards at a time or half the distance to the goal. It was the fifth game this season that the Raiders had double-digit penalties and the fourth time it cost them at least 100 yards. Another game like that and the Raiders will have more than 1,000 yards against them in penalties this year.

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