Northern Exposure

The Packers are the NFL's lone undefeated team at 13-0. The Lions are 8-5 and in the thick of the playoff race, while the Bears are 7-6 and in dire straits. Minnesota is a last-place 2-11. Our NFC North experts look ahead to this week in our weekly look at the Black and Blue Division.

Green Bay Packers (13-0)

LAST WEEK: So much for Oakland posing a challenge. The Raiders were 7-5 and tied for first place in the AFC West. They had a power running game to test a Packers run defense that couldn't handle the Giants' Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw the week before. They had a big-play passing game to test the league's 31st-ranked pass defense. They had a defense that had held their last eight opponents to less than 50 percent passing. None of that mattered. The Packers led 7-0 in 3 minutes and 31-0 in 23 minutes en route to a 46-16 victory. Aaron Rodgers tied an NFL record with 13 consecutive games with at least two touchdown passes, but saw his NFL-record streak of 12 consecutive games with a passer rating of 100-plus end with a mark of 96.7. The Packers lost their top receiving threat, Greg Jennings, to a knee sprain during the third quarter. He's expected back in time for their playoff opener the weekend of Jan. 14-15.

LOOKING AHEAD: Unscathed after a challenging three-game stretch against the Lions, Giants and Raiders, the Packers visit the lowly Chiefs on Sunday, with a victory locking up homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Kansas City is 5-8 and fired coach Todd Haley on Monday, though it certainly wasn't Haley's fault that four of his premier players — tight end Tony Moeaki (preseason), safety Eric Berry (Week 1), running back Jamaal Charles (Week 2) and quarterback Matt Cassel (Week 9) — are out for the season. The Chiefs are 1-5 in their last six games and have scored 45 points in those games. Hence, interim coach Romeo Crennel benched Tyler Palko and installed veteran Kyle Orton as his starting quarterback.

FUN STAT: The Packers have had perfect road records only two times in franchise history: 3-0 in 1923 and 6-0 in 1941. They're 7-0 this season and would cap an 8-0 run against the Chiefs. Green Bay's 10-game road winning streak is the longest in the NFL and a franchise record. ... Green Bay has scored at least 42 points in five games this season, tying Dallas (1971) for most since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. With three games to go, the Packers already have set the franchise record with 466 points. They're on pace for 574 points, which would trail only New England (589 in 2007) in league history. A team-record and league-high 19 players have scored touchdowns.

Detroit Lions (8-5)

LAST WEEK: The Lions seem intent on finding the self-destruct button on what has otherwise been a remarkable season. After taking a 21-0 first-quarter lead against the Vikings, the short-handed defense allowed the Vikings' third-string quarterback, Joe Webb, to do his best Michael Vick impersonation. In relief of ineffective rookie Christian Ponder, who was disastrous, Webb led two scoring drives and came 1 yard short of completing a comeback that might have knocked the Lions from playoff contention. Even on the game's final play, Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy did his best to avoid victory, snaring Webb's face mask; although the play didn't necessarily cause Webb's game-deciding fumble, it would have provided Minnesota with another chance for a game-winning score — if it had been called. Any positives from the contest were far and few between, and most coming in a first quarter that was largely decided by Ponder's inept play. 

LOOKING AHEAD: If Detroit's recent play is indicative of its progress, a trip to the postseason would be more semantics than a step in the right direction. The team continues to regress, or at best, fail to improve on either side of the football. The Lions have a conducive appointment this weekend to turn things around, when they travel to face the reeling Raiders (7-6). They'll welcome back suspended tackle Ndamukong Suh, rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley and possibly cornerback Chris Houston. To secure a playoff position, it's likely that the Lions need to win two of their next three games, with Sunday's tilt providing the best opportunity.

FUN STAT: Matthew Stafford has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 15 straight games and has thrown multiple touchdowns in nine of the 13 this season. He is on pace to break single-season records in passing yardage, touchdowns, completions and completion percentage (TheSportsXchange).

Chicago Bears (7-6)

LAST WEEK: The Bears continue to top themselves in horrible ways to lose a game. Against the Broncos, the Bears blew a 10-point lead with less than 3 minutes left to earn their sixth loss of the season. Caleb Hanie struggled again, throwing for just 115 yards. The running game made up for the lack of an aerial attack, with 159 rushing yards, led by Marion Barber's 108. Yet Barber essentially cost Chicago the game, failing to stay in bounds coming out of the two-minute warning when the Bears were attempting to run out the clock. This gave Denver quarterback Tim Tebow the chance to put his team in field goal range to tie the game. In overtime, the Bears had a shot to win the game and were in field goal range when Barber fumbled the ball on a run up the gut. Tebow again drove his team close enough for kicker Matt Prater to boot through a 51-yard game-winning kick.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Bears will face the Seahawks this week in the team's final home game of 2011. Realistically, the Bears don't have much of a shot at making the playoffs. The club would need to win out and other NFC teams would have to lose. With Green Bay up after this week, the odds of that happening are slim to none. Hanie is playing for a job after this season. If he's to earn a contract next year, he'll need to show in these last three games that he's a viable NFL quarterback. It won't be an easy task, though, as Seattle boasts the 13th-ranked defense in the league, with top-15 ranks against both the pass and rush. Running back Matt Forte is not expected back this week, so Barber will have an opportunity to redeem himself. Seattle's offense revolves around running back Marshawn Lynch, a tough downhill runner, so Chicago's 10th-ranked rushing defense will have its hands full.

FUN STAT: The Bears' offense during the past two games — both losses — has gone 2-for-26 on third downs. During that stretch, the team has scored just 33 points. ... In his career against Seattle, Devin Hester has returned eight punts for an 18.4-yard average and one touchdown.

Minnesota Vikings (2-11)

LAST WEEK: While Vikings coaches take heat for not being creative enough, you have to hand it to the players – they are finding creative ways to lose. Even Jared Allen admitted on Wednesday that they are finding all sorts of ways to lose close games. On Sunday in Detroit, despite five turnovers before the final drive, the Vikings were on the doorstep of a win when they managed to find one more way to put the ball on the carpet. Joe Webb replaced Christian Ponder at quarterback in the third quarter after the rookie threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball twice (losing it once). Webb drove the Vikings to two touchdowns in the second half and had them on the 1-yard line with 9 seconds to play. The result: He pump-faked instead of throwing to tight end Kyle Rudolph, allowing linebacker DeAndre Levy's blitz to get home and force a sixth turnover. Had a facemask on Webb on that final play been called, it would have given the Vikings another untimed down, but they had only themselves to blame for the mistakes made before that in the 34-28 loss.

LOOKING AHEAD: A depleted secondary that might have only one of the top six defensive backs from September in a starting role on Sunday will face one of its biggest challenges of the season. After two games against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers – which created one of the two blowouts for the Vikings this season – the defense gets a chance to go against the quarterback who is likely to break Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage mark. Drew Brees is every bit the quarterback as Rodgers this year, and Brees' top-rated offense and passing game will be facing a secondary made up of mostly second-string defensive backs. Antoine Winfield, Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson are on injured reserve, Chris Cook hasn't practiced since he was charged with felony domestic assault and Cedric Griffin was benched after another lack of execution. And then there is this: The secondary hasn't had an interception in eight games, a franchise record, and could make it an NFL record if they don't pick off Brees.

FUN STAT: The Vikings' secondary doesn't have much to offer anymore, but DE Jared Allen continues to bring it with his pass rush. Allen had three sacks of Matthew Stafford on Sunday. That gives Allen 17.5 for the season and gives him a chance to reach the franchise record of 21 sacks or even the NFL record of 22.5 sacks (Michael Strahan in 2001). Wouldn't it be fun to see Brett Favre go to the Bears and lay down in the season finale to give Allen the NFL record after Favre did the same for Strahan 10 years ago? Yeah, it won't happen, but still …

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 Viking Update.

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