Chicago Bears (8-3): at Detroit
Bears players are adamant that Sunday's contest in Detroit is not a "trap" game despite the Lions' 2-9 record.
Even though they're coming off a huge victory over the Eagles, and they host the 9-2 Patriots a week later, the 8-3 Bears say they will not be trapped into taking the Lions lightly. A glance at the tape of the last meeting, when they barely escaped with a 19-14 victory in the season opener when Calvin Johnson's apparent game-winning touchdown catch was ruled incomplete, should be motivation enough.
"We're not in position to have trap games," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We need to win every game. That's the mentality we have. This is a division rival on the road. We squeaked by and beat them (with) that call right at the end the first game. By no means are we looking past this."
In addition to their narrow defeat at Soldier Field, the Lions have lost to the 7-4 Eagles by three points, the 7-4 Packers by two points, the 7-4 Giants by eight points, the Bills by three points and the 9-2 Jets by three points in overtime.
Both of their victories have come at home at Ford Field, where they are the NFC's highest-scoring home team. In their five games in friendly confines, the Lions have rolled up 32 points on the Eagles, 44 on the Rams, 37 on the Redskins, 20 on the Jets and 24 on the Patriots.
"There are no trap games for us this year," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "Every week is another week for us to go out and improve. This is another opportunity to get ourselves a step closer to the playoffs and the championship."
Although the Bears are tied with the Saints for the second-best record in the NFC, one game behind the 9-2 Falcons, there are four teams just a game behind them at 7-4. The top seven teams are battling for five playoff spots.
But people will talk, knowing the Bears are on a four-game win streak and have won five straight in the Lions series and four of the last five at Ford Field.
"We try not to get into the 'people say' an awful lot," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "I don't see how you can have a trap game with a division opponent that supposedly should have beaten us the first time. We respect them. They're a good football team. Every week we play, it seems like the next game is bigger. It's no different this week. This is a huge game for us."
Even if the Bears were tempted to let their minds wander while preparing for a 2-9 team, Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson effectively got their attention by guaranteeing a victory on Wednesday.
"I would think you would guarantee a win every week," Briggs said. "It's good. It should fire them up; I know it definitely fires us up. I know we've got it pinned up everywhere in our meeting rooms. But I've been tricked into guaranteeing a win (before). I won't be tricked again."
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
And they haven't made an obvious effort to feature any one player.
But, heading into Sunday's clash with the Lions, they do have a clear-cut No. 1 receiver: Johnny Knox.
Martz's play-calling has kept everyone involved in the passing game, and quarterback Jay Cutler has done an impressive job of distributing the ball judiciously. As a result, five Bears have between 29 and 40 catches after 11 games.
But Knox, whose 40 catches lead the way, has 740 receiving yards, which are exactly double that of the next teammate, Devin Hester, who has 370 yards on 31 catches. Knox's average of 18.5 yards per catch ranks seventh in the NFL, and among players with at least 40 catches, only the Broncos' Brandon Lloyd is averaging more yards per catch (19.3) than Knox, who is on pace for a 1,076-yard season.
"He's the kind of guy you've got to account for defensively," Cutler said. "If not, he'll get going. He's got so much speed in that second level that he'll get away from you in a hurry."
Extra points — Defensive end Julius Peppers was less than overwhelmed with his NFC defensive player of the month award after recording four sacks in November. "I like to get those things, but it doesn't really mean anything," Peppers said. "Winning games is what's important around here, and that's what we're trying to do."
— Quarterback Jay Cutler was named NFC offensive player of the week after completing 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards and four touchdowns with a career-high 146.2 passer rating in the 31-26 victory over the Eagles.
— The Bears have held six of their 11 opponents to 70 or fewer rushing yards, including the Lions in the season opener. Detroit managed just 20 yards on 21 attempts.
Detroit Lions (2-9): vs. Chicago
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham had a lot on his plate this week, not even counting the chore of putting together a game plan for a rapidly improving Bears offense.
He actually might have spent more team coaching psyches than scheming for the Bears.
"Being a psychiatrist all week is frying my soul," he said.
There were many egos to soothe and much confidence to restore after his defense fell apart in the second half against the Patriots last Thursday, giving up 35 points, including 28 unanswered.
"I am going to teach them to be resilient if I have to kill every one of them," he said. "And after this week, I believe they think I just might do that."
Stumbling and bumbling
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
What Cunningham is about, though, is making sure players stay within the structure of his defensive scheme. Smith freelanced and got burned.
"He's 25 with a lot of talent and he blew it," Cunningham said. "I still can't get over it. But I think he's come out of it. He had a good week of practice.
"He felt bad for letting me down and letting the coaches down, but the most important thing I told him was, 'What you need to do is make sure you don't let this room down, these players. If you lose them, you are out the door.' He hasn't done that. He's responded well."
Another issue Cunningham had to deal with was trying to patch up his defensive line. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch hasn't practiced all week because of a neck injury and isn't expected to play Sunday.
"We will do different things," Cunningham said. "Lawrence Jackson is healthy and he can rush. Cliff (Avril) is back and he can rush. We've got enough rushers. Sammie Hill (defensive tackle) has shown a lot of improvement these last few weeks and it excites me to have him helping out inside."
"There are a variety of things we haven't really done yet because we've been depending on our defensive line so much."
Cunningham is also trying to figure out what has gotten into Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who suddenly is running the football like Vince Lombardi.
"Yeah, he's running the ball more than I've ever seen him," Cunningham said. "They're playing tough and their offensive line is playing strong and tough, and that runner (Matt Forte) has a lot of confidence right now. He still mixes in the pass, but not the way he used to."
Mismatch on paper
The Lions will face the Bears and the NFL's stingiest defense (14.2 points per game) with their third-string quarterback.
Drew Stanton, a second-round pick in 2007, will make his second pro start. His only other start came late last season in San Francisco, a forgettable two-interception outing.
"I am different in a lot of ways," said Stanton, who saw emergency relief action against Giants and Jets this season (20-of-35 for 233 yards with one touchdown and one interception). "My comfort level with this offense is better, for one thing, and I've been getting constant reps. This offense has continued to expand, and we have a lot of playmakers. Now it's just a matter of getting the ball into their hands and being smart."
It was announced Wednesday that quarterback Shaun Hill had a broken knuckle on his right index finger. The injury doesn't require surgery, and Hill said he would return before the end of the season.
Starter Matthew Stafford (shoulder) still hasn't begun throwing, so the Lions are down to Stanton and Zac Robinson, who was signed off Seattle's practice squad on Nov. 9.
— Wide receiver Nate Burleson guaranteed the Lions would beat the Bears. "Yeah, I said we're going to win on Sunday," Burleson said. "We only have five games left, and my goal is to finish 7-9. Like I've been saying all year, we don't have a team on our schedule that we can't beat."
— By the numbers: Stanton has 55 completions in three-and-a-half seasons while Hill had 59 in the last two games.
— At tailback, it appears they are going to stick to the same routine with injured rookie Jahvid Best. Limit him throughout the week and hope they can get something out of him on Sunday. Fighting through turf toe injuries, he hasn't been productive since Week 3. He has been limited to three carries the last two weeks. He was on the field for just one play against the Patriots. Maurice Morris is expected to start Sunday.
Minnesota Vikings (4-7): vs. Buffalo
Running back Adrian Peterson returned to practice on Friday with a sprained right ankle and has a chance of playing Sunday against the Buffalo Bills at Mall of America Field.
Peterson hasn't missed a game since his rookie season in 2007 when he sat out back-to-back contests because of a knee injury.
"(He) moved around pretty good. There's a probability that he will be able to play," interim coach Leslie Frazier said. "We're going to still take him out on Sunday morning, just to see how he moves around, make sure he's confident in what he has to do to play in the game. He did a much better job than we thought he would today, so we're optimistic."
Peterson, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his four NFL seasons, was injured in the second quarter on Sunday in the Vikings' victory at Washington.
"I can say initially when it happened it was the worst pain I've felt as far as any type of ankle injury I've had," he said. "But throughout the week the pain has went away."
Peterson has made it clear he doesn't need to be 100 percent in order to play Sunday. "I've played plenty of times and not been 100 percent," he said.
All three are listed as questionable.
What the Vikings will have to decide is if they want Peterson to play at less than 100 percent. If Peterson doesn't play, rookie Toby Gerhart will be the featured running back. Gerhart rushed for 76 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown against Washington.
When Brad Childress was hired as the Vikings' coach in 2006, he made it clear he wanted his team to establish itself up front as being strong in the run game and equally as strong in stopping the run.
Somewhere along the way, the Vikings got away from that philosophy on offense -- a fact that clearly bothered Frazier. Frazier went to work on correcting that last week after he was named interim coach following Childress' dismissal.
The Vikings had a season-high 38 rushing attempts and Brett Favre threw 23 passes, his second-lowest total of the season on Sunday in a 17-13 victory at Washington.
Frazier made it clear he won't be going away from that approach this Sunday, the first of three consecutive games at Mall of America Field.
The Bills have the NFL's worst run defense, giving up 167.4 yards per game. No matter who plays at running back, Frazier is going to stick with a run-first philosophy that seems to be just fine with Favre. That's interesting because if the Vikings had taken this approach when Childress was the coach, it likely would not have been greeted with open arms by Favre.
— Peterson has not had a fumble this season and now has 259 touches without losing the football. His last lost fumble came on Dec. 28 at Chicago. Peterson had seven fumbles and lost six last season.
— DE Jared Allen has 79.5 sacks since entering the NFL in 2004, which ranks fifth all-time among NFL players for the most in the first seven seasons. Allen surpassed Bruce Smith's 78 in seven seasons.
— By the numbers: 300 — Career games in which Brett Favre has played in during his 20 NFL seasons. He has played in 298 of those in a row.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.