NFC North game scout

The Bears and Lions play each other in the early game and Packers travel to Philadelphia for the late afternoon matchup. With the Vikings off, get prepared for other NFC North action.

Sunday
CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-0) at TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (0-0)
MIAMI DOLPHINS (0-0) at BUFFALO BILLS (0-0)
CINCINNATI BENGALS (0-0) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (0-0)
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (0-0) at HOUSTON TEXANS (0-0)
DENVER BRONCOS (0-0) at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (0-0)
ATLANTA FALCONS (0-0) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (0-0)
OAKLAND RAIDERS (0-0) at TENNESSEE TITANS (0-0)
CAROLINA PANTHERS (0-0) at NEW YORK GIANTS (0-0)
DETROIT LIONS (0-0) at CHICAGO BEARS (0-0)
ARIZONA CARDINALS (0-0) at ST. LOUIS RAMS (0-0)
GREEN BAY PACKERS (0-0) at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (0-0)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (0-0) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (0-0)
DALLAS COWBOYS (0-0) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (0-0)

Monday
BALTIMORE RAVENS (0-0) at NEW YORK JETS (0-0)
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (0-0) at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (0-0)


DETROIT LIONS (0-0) at CHICAGO BEARS (0-0)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 9/12/10
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: FOX (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick)


KEYS TO THE GAME: To protect QB Jay Cutler, who was sacked 10 times in his final four quarters of preseason play, the Bears will ride Matt Forte and Chester Taylor behind an offensive line with four starters in positions they didn't occupy full-time last season. The lack of cohesion showed in the preseason. There will be opportunities for both teams to strike downfield against shaky safeties. Lions' rookie RB Jahvid Best adds an explosive playmaker to the offense. He'll line up in the slot and get carries to create mismatches. Likewise, the Bears will shuffle DE Julius Peppers to multiple positions to force the Lions to adjust blocking protection and account for him on every down.

FAST FACTS: Cutler was never sacked five times in a game last season. He was sacked five time in one half of the Aug. 22 preseason game vs. Oakland. ... RB Matt Forte' had two 100-yard games last season — both against Detroit. ... Lions QB Matthew Stafford had 296 yards passing in his only start against the Bears in 2009. He was also sacked a season-high five times.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Lions: Dominic Raiola is beginning his 10th season as the Lions' center. But as far as he's concerned, he was born yesterday.

"I don't think it's fair to talk about what's happened here in the past because, look around this room — this roster isn't even close to being the same," he said. "You are talking about an entirely different team. I don't want any of these guys in here to associate themselves with the Lions teams of the past. If you are talking about the 2008 Lions, I don't associate Jahvid Best or Matthew Stafford with that team. It's totally different now."

Like it or not, the 2010 Lions will carry some of the baggage from the past, like the 20-game road losing streak it will take into Soldier Field Sunday.

"There are some guys that have had a long drought and there are some guys in here that are used to winning on the road that are walking into this situation for the first time," coach Jim Schwartz said. "It's like last year after we lost the first two games and I was asked how it felt to lose 19 in a row. I was like, ‘Jeez, can't you let us be 0-2?' We didn't lose 19 in a row. You can't hold these guys accountable for what's happened in the past."

Clearly, the offense is different than most of the teams that contributed to the 20 straight road losses. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and his system, and his position coaches, and his quarterback, and his offensive line, are starting their second year in Detroit. It's the first time in Raiola's tenure all those things have been in place for two years in a row.

In addition, there's some weaponry. That too is different. Besides quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions have a diversely-skilled running back with game-breaking speed in rookie Jahvid Best, a proven complementary receiver in Nate Burleson and two versatile tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.

Teams are going to have to game plan for more than just Johnson or the Lions' passing game now.

But — and with the Lions there's always a but — the defense looks every bit as accommodating as it has the last couple of years.

That's with a revamped defensive line. With the additions of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, defensive tackle Corey Williams and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the second overall pick in the draft, joining holdover defensive end Cliff Avril, the Lions have a formidable front four.

But there are mostly concerns behind it. Their two best players in the back seven, middle linebacker DeAndre Levy and safety Louis Delmas missed most of the preseason with groin injuries and they both missed practice on Wednesday.

With those two, the back seven is iffy, without them there is little hope.

Julian Peterson, at 32, is the only established starting linebacker. Zach Follett, who was fighting his way off the practice squad at this time last season, will start at the other outside spot — at least for now.

If Levy can't play, veteran Landon Johnson would probably start, though Johnson has been pushing for Follett's spot on the outside all through camp.

In the secondary, the Lions are counting on some reclamation projects to come through. Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade are the starting cornerbacks, both flamed out with their previous teams. Pushing them will be former second-round pick Alphonso Smith, who was about to be released by Denver before the Lions came offering a fourth-string tight end (Dan Gronkowski).

If Delmas can't play, or can't play at his usual level, then the Lions could be going with undrafted rookie Randy Phillips or third-round draft pick Amari Spievey, who was converted from cornerback late in camp, to start alongside veteran C.C. Brown.

The Bears' offensive coordinator Mike Martz, broomed out of Detroit with Steve Mariucci, has to be licking his chops.

Bears: One thing the Bears will not be burdened by this season is great expectations.

Fans, media and run-of-the-mill bystanders are adjusting their sights downward when they look ahead to Lovie Smith's seventh season in Chicago. That's understandable given last year's 7-9 season and this year's 0-4 preseason.

Not even the odds-makers think much of the Bears. Even though they're at home Sunday at noon against the Lions, who have won just twice in the past two seasons, the Bears are only 6 1/2-point favorites.

"That's kind of the mentality out there right now," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "Everyone is a little bit down on us, a little bit disappointed (in) last year and then preseason wise. Offensively, we haven't been as high flying as we were predicted to be. That's fine. Under the radar isn't a bad thing."

The Bears aren't even on most radar screens when it comes to talk of the postseason, but that has little effect on their locker room. Players insist they're not motivated by the lack of respect or their record in the preseason because they don't put much stock in either.

"We don't really pay a lot of attention to the record as much in the preseason," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We were just trying to get better in different phases of the game. Right now everybody is 0-0. That's the reality of it. There's no added pressure or any chip (on our shoulders) from anything that happened in the preseason. This is a fresh start as far as we're concerned."

The Bears were 2-2 in the preseason before they went to Super Bowl XLI, and they were 3-1 last year and in 2007, but they finished 7-9 both years. So, any lack of faith that comes from a mundane preseason is not shared by the players.

"The preseason was the preseason," cornerback Zack Bowman said. "Those games don't count. Obviously the season is here and these games do (count). We're like, ‘It's all opinion.' We can't worry about what other people think about us. We know inside this locker room we're a good team. So we're going to go out there and prove it."

The prejudging, good or bad, is just part of the deal according to coach Lovie Smith, who pointed out that the Saints were coming off an 8-8 year, when they won the Super Bowl last season.

"That's what you do in the preseason; that's what you do in the off-season," Smith said of the prognostications. "You have a lot of experts; we're all experts based on what we think. I guess that matters before you play. But once you get to game week, it really doesn't matter. You can't really tell what a team will do."

Cutler said gloomy predictions by outsiders have no bearing on what will happen Sunday against the Lions.

"It is what it is," the quarterback said. "You can't get caught up in that. You can't get distracted by what anybody is saying no matter how good it is or how bad it is."

While Peppers is considered by many as a solution to some of the problems that plagued the Bears last season, Cutler is looked at by some as part of the problem, considering he threw a league-high 26 interceptions to offset his 27 TD passes.

"Last year I took a hit obviously," Cutler said. "I had a little step-down there. I'm growing. Every experience you learn more and more. I'm excited about this year."

The next step is getting the doubters to believe.


GREEN BAY PACKERS (0-0) at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (0-0)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 9/12/10
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman)


KEYS TO THE GAME: Eagles QB Kevin Kolb isn't a first-time starter, but this is his first opener with the Eagles, who ended the Donovan McNabb Era in the offseason by dealing him to division rival Washington. Kolb was shaky in the preseason, but coach Andy Reid isn't concerned, even against a defense that had 30 interceptions in 2009.

Packers' head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy likes to say he is committed to the run, but he's not kidding anyone. The Packers enter the season with the best passing attack going after Aaron Rodgers' unbelievably high rate of execution in what amounted to only a little more than a game of action during the preseason - 41-of-53 for 470 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 141.2.

So, why wouldn't McCarthy go vertical, even against the Eagles' traditionally exotic, blitz-happy defense that will challenge Green Bay's revitalized offensive line, which didn't allow a sack of Rodgers in exhibition play? Consider that in the three games Rodgers and the No. 1 unit were on the field for a total of 13 series, the Packers carried out 56 pass plays to only 25 run plays (including those nullified by penalties) for a heavily lopsided pass-run ratio of 69-31. Still, McCarthy needs to bring up the confidence of halfbacks Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson carrying the football after they combined for three fumbles (two lost) in August.

FAST FACTS: The Packers have an NFL-best 51 wins in road openers. ... Among receivers with at least 40 catches, Eagles WR DeSean Jackson led the NFL with an 18.6-yard average per reception in 2009.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Packers:
Coaches and teammates believe cornerback Charles Woodson could play until he's 40.

The Packers' defensive leader isn't ready to commit to that. Not yet anyway.

"I didn't have to make that promise, but who knows?" Woodson said after practice Thursday, when his two-year contract extension was announced by the team.

The restructured and lucrative deal locks up the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year through 2014.

"Right now, this will probably be the last one," said Woodson, who turns 34 on Oct. 7 and will be 38 when the contract expires.

The five-year pact is reportedly worth more than $55 million with about $21 million in upfront money and bonuses.

The news came three days after New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, runner-up to Woodson for top defensive player last season, signed a four-year, $46 million contract to rejoin the team.

Head coach Mike McCarthy anticipates Woodson will fulfill the length of the new deal and potentially outlast it.

"He really came into training camp (this year) in great shape," McCarthy said. "He looks like he did the last three years. Stay healthy, God willing, and he is instinctive and tough as they come, so I don't see any dropoff at all."

Woodson enters Green Bay's season opener at the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday with intentions of helping the Packers get to the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years and build on the finest of his 12 previous years in the league.

He had career highs of nine interceptions, three touchdown returns and four forced fumbles in 2009, his fourth season in Green Bay.

Woodson, a four-time Pro Bowl player with the Oakland Raiders, reluctantly signed with the small-town Packers as a free agent in 2006 and felt out of place the first couple years.

"It's been a long journey. Not only being here, in Green Bay, but just a long career that started in Oakland," Woodson said. "The mission at this point is to retire here. It's a big deal.

"It took a while. But, once I came around, I came around hard," he added. "It's been a great ride for me, and hopefully, we can bring a championship here. Hopefully, this will be my last team."

Eagles: Kevin Kolb will make his debut Sunday as the Eagles' new starting quarterback. But right now, there are more questions about the players who will be lining up in front of him than there are about Kolb.

The Eagles shipped their struggling right guard, Stacy Andrews, to Seattle for a seventh-round pick over the weekend. Nick Cole, who started 10 games at right guard in place of Andrews last season and did a serviceable job, will start Sunday's season-opener against the Green Bay Packers.

A bigger concern is at center where Jamaal Jackson returns just eight months removed from ACL surgery. He didn't start practicing until mid-August and didn't play in any of the Eagles' preseason games.

Even head coach Andy Reid admitted Wednesday that he doesn't know what to expect from Jackson.

"We'll just have to see," he said."There's some unknown there. We just have to see how he does and sustains throughout a game. And he's got a pretty good task this week against (the Packers') base defense. He's going to be covered every snaps. So it will be a good challenge."

The Packers play a 3-4 defensive scheme, which means their nose tackle, B.J. Raji, is going to be lining up directly in front of Jackson on every down that they're in their base defense. That's hardly ideal for a guy who is coming off major knee reconstruction surgery and who isn't in game shape.

"What I worked on a lot last week was trying to handle the bull rush a little bit," said Jackson."I did that a few times last week and I think we'll continue to work on that type of speed and what they like to do."

The Eagles' offensive line is a bit of a house of cards entering the season. Besides Cole and Jackson, left guard Todd Herremans has had issues with his surgically-repaired foot, and left tackle Jason Peters, while immensely talented, is inconsistent.

Jackson said his knee is "healthy enough to withstand physical contact." He said his biggest concern is his conditioning, particularly in the 80-degree temperatures that are expected for Sunday's game.

"It feels good," he said."It's just the endurance part of it. I didn't have a chance to do any preseason. Four quarters the first game. ... There's going to be a lot of energy. A lot of people are going to be amped up. Hopefully, emotionally, I don't drain myself."

Reid said that if Jackson has any problems with either the knee or his conditioning, he won't hesitate to replace him with backup Mike McGlynn.

"I feel comfortable with him and he feels comfortable and the doctors feel comfortable," Reid said."But I'm going to keep a close eye on him. Mike McGlynn and the experience he got at the center position is going to be important for these first few weeks here."

McGlynn, a fourth-round pick in the ‘08 draft, spent his first two years with the team as a guard. But he was moved to center in the offseason, where he and Nick Cole both took the bulk of the reps in Jackson's absence.

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