Northern Exposure

The Packers are the NFL's lone undefeated team at 12-0. The Bears and Lions are battling for playoff spots with matching 7-5 records, with the Lions facing the last-place3 Vikings (2-10). Our NFC North experts look ahead to this week in our weekly look at the Black and Blue Division.

Green Bay Packers (12-0)

LAST WEEK: If the Packers wind up going undefeated, Sunday's 38-35 victory over the New York Giants will be the defining game. With their defense being picked apart by Eli Manning, Green Bay's offense absolutely had to win the game when it got the ball at its 20-yard line with 58 seconds remaining and the scored tied 35-35. Aaron Rodgers made it look easy, operating what coach Mike McCarthy called the smoothest two-minute drill he'd ever been a part of. Rodgers got the Packers in scoring position in two plays, with completions of 24 yards to Jermichael Finley and 27 yards to Jordy Nelson, then made it a chip-shot field goal with an 18-yard completion to Greg Jennings. The fourth-quarter victory was just the sixth of Rodgers' career. For comparison, Tim Tebow has five in 10 career starts and Manning has five this season. "The professional football player just always amazes me," McCarthy said. "To go into somebody else's house ... and to go and perform the way we needed to, it's impressive. We needed that opportunity. Aaron's an excellent manager at the line of scrimmage, let alone his ability to play the position. And it was great for us to do that, especially in that environment. That's something we can definitely draw from."

LOOKING AHEAD: The Packers play three of their final four games at home, starting Sunday against Oakland, which appeared to be surging under Carson Palmer until laying an egg in a 34-14 loss to Miami last week. The Raiders and Broncos are tied for first place in the AFC West at 7-5. Oakland is an impressive 4-2 away from home and will play at Green Bay, which has won a league-best 16 of its last 17 home games. 

FUN STAT: The Packers have won 18 in a row, which is tied with six other teams (including the 1941-42 Bears and 1933-34 Bears) for the second-longest streak in NFL history behind the 21 straight by New England in 2003 and 2004. Incredibly, they haven't trailed in the fourth quarter at any point in that streak. Moreover, they've been tied in the fourth quarter for just 3 minutes, 14 seconds: 2:18 against Chicago in Week 17 of last season and the final 56 seconds against the Giants.

Detroit Lions (7-5)

LAST WEEK: If the Detroit Lions had to identify its toughest opponent to date, they would be hard-pressed to name a team other than themselves. The team's loss to New Orleans was saturated with 11 penalties and marred by bonehead personal fouls, stoking the flames of a media-incited reputation war on the Lions. On several occasions, the team either took points off the board, or put its offense at a disadvantage against a Saints club that doesn't require opportunity to embarrass opponents on national television. Had cooler heads prevailed, the Lions competed well with New Orleans, as QB Matthew Stafford managed to outduel Drew Brees; Stafford tossed for 408 yards after completing 31 of his 44 passes. If not for the selfish behavior of a few players, the Lions could have moved ahead of their competition in the wild card race.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Lions find themselves in an ironic position. In the final four games of 2010, Detroit relished its position as spoiler, knocking back to playoff-aspiring teams (Tampa Bay and Miami) en route to a four-game winning streak. On Sunday, they'll play a beaten and battered Vikings squad that couldn't further exemplify the cornered, wounded animal that every opponent should fear. Add the drama of the team's earlier season battle, in which the Lions rallied from 20-0 in the second half in Minnesota, and you have a Vikings squad eager for payback. The Lions seemingly have the advantage with regards to palpable statistics and key matchups, including going up against a decimated Minnesota secondary. Yet, given the gravity of a division contest with playoff implications with a revenge factor for good measure, all bets are off.

FUN STAT: The last time Detroit has defeated the Vikings twice in a regular season? 1997, when the Bobby Ross-coached ball club was led by the record-breaking trio of Scott Mitchell, Barry Sanders and Herman Moore. They qualified for the postseason that year, but fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 20-10.

Chicago Bears (7-5)

LAST WEEK: The Bears suffered arguably one of the team's worst losses in years last week. The 10-3 defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field was a low point for the club this year. Not only did Chicago lose its second game in a row but the game-winning score came on a fluke Hail Mary play at the end of first half. To make matters worse, RB Matt Forte was knocked out of the game with a sprained MCL and will miss the next two to six weeks -- this just two weeks after the club lost Jay Cutler. Without its two best players, the offense struggled mightily, gaining just 181 yards. The offensive line took a big step backward, giving up seven sacks on the day. Caleb Hanie struggled for the second straight week, completing just 11-of-24 passes for 133 yards and three INTs. He's thrown six interceptions in his first two starts, which has caused much speculation as to to whether or not Bears brass will be bringing in a veteran signal caller like Donovan McNabb or even Brett Favre. Yet the team has vehemently denied those rumors, so it looks like it's Hanie or bust for the remainder of the year. Chicago's defense played well, as usual, holding Kansas City's offense to just 252 yards, yet the Hail Mary pass was all Kansas City needed.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Bears now head to Denver to face a Broncos team that has won five in a row behind an outstanding defense and rushing attack. Tim Tebow and the throwback option offense Denver is running has thrown the league for a loop and so far has been good enough to claim five straight. Yet it's been the defense that has shined the past month and a half. The group is led by a fierce pass rush that includes rookie linebacker Von Miller (10.5 sacks) and veteran defensive end Elvis Dumervil (6.5 sacks). Throw out a blowout loss to the Lions in Week 8 and the Denver defense has allowed an average of 17.8 points per game since Week 7. Chicago's offense will face a huge test, trying to move the ball against a stout unit without the team's two best offensive players.

FUN STAT: Since Week 6, the Bears are second in the NFL in both rushing defense and opponent passer rating. During that time, Chicago's defense has allowed just 74.3 rush yards per game and opposing passers to have a rating of just 65.6.

Minnesota Vikings (2-10)

LAST WEEK: Same sad song, different Sunday. The Vikings continue to find ways to lose. Without Adrian Peterson, they remained competitive against a playoff-contending Denver Broncos team, but when it came crunch time, the Vikings got crunched, 35-32. After taking a 15-7 lead at halftime, they allowed the Broncos two touchdowns in three third-quarter drives, and a touchdown and two field goals in four fourth-quarter drives. Christian Ponder threw a first-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown, fumbled away another possession, and a second interception in the fourth quarter set up the Broncos for their game-tying field goal.

LOOKING AHEAD: Ponder threw for a rookie franchise-record 381 yards, but it was the yards given up on the other side of the ball that hurt the Vikings just as badly as Ponder's turnovers. The Vikings secondary gave up three passes of 40 yards or more in the second half – to the passing-challenged Tim Tebow no less. As Frazier pointed out, if the secondary thought it was tough against Tebow, they could be in for a nightmare against Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.  Stafford has five 300-yard passing games already this season, including a 378-yard performance in his first meeting against the Vikings, and, of course, one of Johnson's five 100-yard receiving days this year was also against the Vikings. There is no other matchup that even comes close to gaining the attention in this game as Stafford/Johnson against the injury-ravaged Minnesota secondary.

FUN STAT: Jared Allen tied an NFL record with his fourth career safety, joining Ted Hendricks (1969-83) and Doug English (1975-85). Allen's most infamous safety might have been chasing former Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky out of the back of the Metrodome end zone in 2008. At least the Vikings have this over the Packers: half of Allen's four career sacks have come against Green Bay.

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