Green Bay Packers (13-1)
LAST WEEK: The second-longest winning streak in NFL history died meekly on Sunday at Kansas City, with the Packers losing 19-14. The result was dumbfounding. The Packers led the NFL in first-quarter scoring and first-half scoring. They led the league with points on their first possession of the game and the first possession of the third quarter. They posted zeroes across the board. Entering the week on pace to be the second-highest scoring team in NFL history, Green Bay was shutout at halftime and had only seven points until late in the fourth quarter. Aaron Rodgers remains the front-runner to be named league MVP but, for just the third time in his career, he completed less than 50 percent of his passes. Adding injury to insult, the Packers' offensive line is a disaster. Already without Pro Bowl left tackle Chad Clifton since he sustained a severe hamstring injury in Week 5, the Packers lost starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga (sprained kneecap) and his backup. No. 1 draft pick Derek Sherrod (broken leg).
LOOKING AHEAD: The Packers need just one win over the final two weeks to lock up homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The offensive line picture, however, makes the Christmas night game against Chicago a scary proposition. The Bears' starting defensive line has recorded 25 of the team's 30 sacks. Julius Peppers must be salivating at the prospect of facing Marshall Newhouse (Clifton's up-and-down replacement at left tackle) and T.J. Lang (a solid left guard who figures to get the start at right tackle). If you like defense, Sunday's game will be great. The Packers' makeshift offensive line could make for a miserable night for Rodgers. The Bears' makeshift offense — minus Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Johnny Knox — could make for a great night for the Packers' porous defense.
FUN STAT: The Packers and Bears will be facing each other for the fourth time in 2011, just the sixth time teams have squared off four times in the same calendar year and the first time that's happened since 1994. Green Bay is 3-0, with wins in the 2010 finale and NFC Championship Game, then at Chicago in Week 3 of this season. Incredibly, the Packers and Lions played each other five times in 1994: Green Bay lost at Detroit in the 1993 finale (Jan. 2, 1994) but won at Detroit in a playoff rematch the following week (Jan. 8, 1994). The Packers beat Detroit on Nov. 6, 1994, lost at Detroit on Dec. 4, 1994, then beat Detroit in the playoffs on Dec. 31, 1994.
Detroit Lions (9-5)
LAST WEEK: Has there been a more awkward, unlikely, stumbling-with-style postseason run? Detroit was outplayed by Oakland last Sunday in every conceivable fashion, yet again relied upon young talents Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson to pull itself from the brink of postseason elimination and into an impending playoff position; it would be the franchise's first appearance in 12 years. To suggest the Lions have looked anything but questionable since they abused Tim Tebow eight weeks ago is a drastic understatement. Against the Raiders, the team found itself down 13 points in the final 5 minutes of regulation. The solution? Throw it to Calvin Johnson and hope for the best. The formula worked, but was buoyed by some puzzling decisions by the Raiders. Detroit's comebacks have been well-documented this season, and are closely related to an explosive offense, but it simply isn't a sustainable solution -- especially against the top-tier, playoff-caliber competition they'll face in the coming weeks.
LOOKING AHEAD: Win and they're in. For the first time since Stafford was in elementary school, the Lions have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. They'll face a suddenly hot San Diego team in the confines of Ford Field, but even if they don't march away with a win, some help on Sunday could allow them to back into the postseason. Along with next weekend's contest at Green Bay, the next two games should serve as a litmus test. Are the Lions for real? Can they stand up to legitimate competition? Do they belong with the upper-echelon of the league? The team has the skill and moxie to make it interesting, but have lacked discipline and consistency when it's needed it most. The Lions' run for respectability begins on Sunday.
FUN STAT: Stafford, who is 23 years and 10 months old, has passed for 4,145 yards and a team-record 33 touchdowns. That makes him the second-youngest quarterback in NFL history with at least 4,000 yards passing and 30 touchdowns in a season. The youngest was Hall of Famer Dan Marino, who did it in 1984 (The Sports Xchange).
Chicago Bears (7-7)
LAST WEEK: The Bears, in essence, finished off their season in Sunday's 38-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. With Caleb Hanie under center, Chicago's offense struggled for the fourth game in a row, mustering just one total touchdown on the day and going 3-for-10 on third down. Hanie finished 10-for-23 with three interceptions before being pulled late in the fourth quarter in favor of Josh McCown -- who promptly threw the team's fourth pick of the game. To make matters worse, the club lost its leading receiver, Johnny Knox, to a back injury in the first quarter. He'll be out for the season. The one bright spot on offense was running back Kahlil Bell, who posted 108 total yards and scored his first career touchdown. The defense was solid again for most of the contest. Julius Peppers strip-sacked Seattle QB Tavaris Jackson in the end zone and Israel Idonije jumped on the fumble for a TD. The unit held Marshawn Lynch to just 42 yards on 20 carries, after he had rushed for more than 100 yards in six of his seven previous contests. Yet bad news also came for defense, losing starting free safety Chris Conte for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Bears have benched Hanie and will go forward with McCown as the starting quarterback. He'll face a Packers defense that has been very porous of late. Lucky for them, Chicago's Pro Bowl quarterback and running back, top receiver and two best offensive linemen will not play. On top of that, Devin Hester is hobbled with an ankle injury, which has slowed him considerably of late. The defense will face a big test with Aaron Rodgers and company coming off their first loss of the season. But honestly, with the Bears' playoffs hopes shattered due to the four-game losing streak, everyone involved with this team -- the players, coaches and media -- will want this one to be over as quickly as possible so they can get back home and actually enjoy the holidays.
FUN STAT: With Hanie in charge the past four weeks, the offense has posted just 40 total points. Those 10 points per game are the lowest of any NFL offense during the past month. This coming on the heels of a five-game winning streak in which the offense under Jay Cutler and Matt Forte was scoring 32.2 points per game.
Minnesota Vikings (2-12)
LAST WEEK: The Vikings lived up to expectations Sunday, losing to the Saints and losing badly, 42-20. Despite scoring first and sticking with the Saints through much of the first half because of turnovers, the expected fate of Drew Brees knifing his way through the Vikings' depleted secondary finally caught up with Minnesota. Brees finished with 412 yards and might have ended up with the NFL single-game high of 555 passing yards if he wasn't pulled with the game well in hand early in the fourth quarter. The Vikings settled for field goals off the Saints' early turnovers and QB Christian Ponder couldn't get anything going in the passing game until the fourth quarter.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Vikings are reduced to playing for pride and one huge motivational factor – avoiding the worst record in franchise history. The 1984 Minnesota Vikings were captained by militaristic coach Les Steckel, who lasted only one year after posting a 3-13 record that prompted the slogan "Less Steckel." Les Frazier is the new coach in charge, and his style couldn't be much different from Steckel's, but this Les is also struggling in his first season. Fortunately, the Vikings have a chance to rebound in their final two games, playing at Washington and then hosting Chicago on New Year's Day. With Adrian Peterson in the Vikings' lineup once again and without the secondary facing the likes of Brees, the Vikings should at least have a chance in their final two games.
FUN STAT: Despite missing three games, Adrian Peterson is just 68 rushing yards shy of his fifth straight 1,000-yard season in as many years in the NFL. Percy Harvin is 81 receiving yards shy of his career high (867), and Jared Allen already has a career-high 17½ sacks. It's the surrounding parts that have been lacking for the Vikings.
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. >