NFC North Tour: Happy Holiday

We catch up with the headlines around the division as teams get back to work after Christmas. Why is Mike McCarthy so happy? Why is Matthew Stafford unhappy? Why is opportunity knocking in Chicago? What are the issues in Minnesota?

Green Bay Packers

True to the holiday season, coach Mike McCarthy came away from two straight days of practice liking the spirit exhibited by his players before he excused them a day for Christmas.

"The way they practiced today with a day off tomorrow, it was as good as it gets," McCarthy raved Thursday. "I'll tell you, we looked like we were in training camp the way they were flying around."

The productivity in short order Wednesday and Thursday justified McCarthy's decision to give the players and also his staff the off-day Friday, which is usually the final practice day for the team ahead of a Sunday game.

Green Bay hosts the Seattle Seahawks in its home finale at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

The team will reconvene this morning, going through an extended jog-through on the practice field.

McCarthy all but barred his charges from showing up at Lambeau Field on Friday. Injured players were to report to the training room for treatments in the early afternoon.

"You never think you would do that as a head coach: tell people not to come to work," McCarthy said. "But, I think the longer you're in this business, the more you realize the importance of stepping away from your desk. And, with the amount of work that was accomplished Monday and Tuesday, and then increasing the load Wednesday and Thursday, I feel very good about where we are in our week of preparation."

Packers injury report: Out — LB Jeremy Thompson (neck); Questionable — CB Trevor Ford (knee); NT Ryan Pickett (hamstring). Probable — LB Nick Barnett (knee); LB Brandon Chillar (back); S Nick Collins (calf); DE Cullen Jenkins (quad); DE Johnny Jolly (knee); CB Brandon Underwood (hip); CB Charles Woodson (shoulder).

Seahawks injury report: Doubtful — WR Nate Burleson (ankle); LB Aaron Curry (shoulder). Questionable — RB Julius Jones (rib); WR Ben Obomanu (hamstring).

Chicago Bears

With left end Adewale Ogunleye finished for the season after suffering a fractured left fibula against the Ravens, Mark Anderson has two more games to prove his worth before he starts looking for a new contract.

Anderson is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. If there is no new collective bargaining agreement, however, he will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Bears will have a chance to match any offer he receives, if they desire. But Anderson hasn't done much lately to create a bull market for his services. He had 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006 and five in '07 but only 2.5 since the start of the 2008 season.

"These last couple of games, I want to finish strong, go out there and make some plays for the team and just try to have fun," Anderson said. "I would love to finish strong on a great note."

Anderson is splitting first-team reps this week and, whether he starts or not, he'll see an increase in playing time. Gaines Adams also may get some extra snaps, and coaches are hoping he will justify the second-round pick the Bears spent to acquire him. Rookie Jarron Gilbert is also expected to get more playing time at tackle, especially if Israel Idonije, who has played tackle and end, is used in the defensive end rotation.

"For some of the younger players that haven't played a lot, it's a chance for them," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's tough when you lose a guy like Adewale, but for some of our other defensive ends, we have a few defensive linemen that you could say deserve an opportunity to play. Normally that chance comes around. It's their time now and we're expecting big things from them."

Gilbert, a third-round pick from San Jose State, was the Bears' top pick this year. But he has played briefly in just two games, while players selected after him, fifth-round wide receiver Johnny Knox and sixth-round safety Al Afalava have been major contributors.

Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford will have knee surgery next week.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The Lions have decided to end quarterback Matthew Stafford's rookie season and get a head start on 2010. They will put him on injured reserve and send him for clean-up surgery on his right knee Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala.

"There's no reason to wait," Stafford said. "I don't think it's going to be a big major thing at all."

Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, reportedly suffered a partially dislocated right kneecap Oct. 4 at Chicago. After missing two games, he played through swelling and pain, knowing he would need surgery after the season.

Then Stafford suffered an AC joint separation in his left shoulder Nov. 22 against Cleveland. He didn't miss a snap until he aggravated the injury Dec. 6 at Cincinnati.

"He was really banged-up," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "The fact that he was out there said a lot about him. He wanted to help this team any way he could. Once he got to where he was not being able to be effective, he had to come to the realization (he couldn't play)."

When Stafford saw the doctors Wednesday, they ruled him out for the season finale Jan. 3 against Chicago because of the shoulder. Schwartz said the shoulder does not need surgery, but Stafford might as well have the knee surgery now. The doctors expect to him walk out of the operating room.

"It's not a repair," Schwartz said. "It's not anything other than a clean-out, because it's irritated. There's probably some little chunks in there or whatever that cause some swelling.

"That's stuff that you manage, but one thing you want to do is, you want to put that behind you. You don't want to have to manage that in the spring, next year, further along in your career."

Stafford will return to Detroit and be with the team for the conclusion of the season. He should be ready when the offseason conditioning program begins in March. The Lions expect a leap forward now that Stafford has 10 starts until his belt and will have a full off-season.

Stafford completed 53.3 percent of his passes and threw for 2,267 yards. He threw 13 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

"In general, we got a lot accomplished with the first year," Linehan said. "It wasn't mistake-free, but any rookie is going to go through that kind of a transformation. I really think you can't replace the experience he got. ... He's going to be a great quarterback for this franchise in the years to come, and we can start building a lot of things around him."

Minnesota Vikings

While the Brad Childress-Brett Favre saga has taken up most of the headlines this week, there are other real football-related issues surrounding the Vikings (11-3) as they prepare to play Monday night at Chicago.

The Vikings are one game up on the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles in the race for the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye in the playoffs. But considering what is going on with the Vikings' defense it's not a slam dunk they are going to wrap-up that spot.

Among the concerns:

— Cornerback Antoine Winfield has returned from an injury to his right foot, but he clearly wasn't able to push off on that foot against Carolina last Sunday and missed at least three tackles in a loss to the Panthers. Three missed tackles is a lot for Winfield.

— Safety Tyrell Johnson returned after missing a game because of a concussion and struggled with his tackling against the Panthers. Rookie Jamarca Sanford played well in place of Johnson against Cincinnati and could be a candidate to replace Johnson if he continues to miss tackles.

— Rookie Jasper Brinkley did a nice job filling in for E.J. Henderson on Dec. 13 against run-oriented Cincinnati but struggled against the Panthers as they attacked through the air. The middle linebacker in the Tampa-2 is responsible for dropping into coverage and Brinkley's inexperience showed against the Panthers.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier knows all these things are issues he needs to get fixed as soon as possible with the playoffs approaching and he certainly will put a large focus on tackling this week.

The Vikings struggled with their tackling before their bye week in early November but seemed to get things straightened out during the bye.

The issue is that Arizona set a template for beating the Vikings in their Dec. 6 meeting. The Cardinals rolled to a 30-17 victory in part by having Kurt Warner take three- and five-step drops and get rid of the ball long before the Vikings line could get to him. Carolina followed suit with quarterback Matt Moore and receiver Steve Smith causing all kinds of headaches.

Pass defense isn't the Vikings' strength, and when that's combined with poor tackling, a defense that is very good at stopping the run is rendered fairly ineffective.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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