NFC North game scout

The Vikings don't play today, so let's take a look at the other games in the NFC North with keys to the game and fast facts.

Sunday
Denver Broncos (2-2) at Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
Atlanta Falcons (3-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-3)
New York Giants (2-2) at Houston Texans (3-1)
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) at Buffalo Bills (0-4)
Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) at Indianapolis Colts (2-2)
Green Bay Packers (3-1) at Washington Redskins (2-2)
St. Louis Rams (2-2) at Detroit Lions (0-4)
Chicago Bears (3-1) at Carolina Panthers (0-4)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-2)
New Orleans Saints (3-1) at Arizona Cardinals (2-2)
Tennessee Titans (2-2) at Dallas Cowboys (1-2)
San Diego Chargers (2-2) at Oakland Raiders (1-3)
Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) at San Francisco 49ers (0-4)

Monday
Minnesota Vikings (1-2) at New York Jets (3-1)


Green Bay Packers (3-1) at Washington Redskins (2-2)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 10/10/10
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

KEYS TO THE GAME


With Clinton Portis (groin) out, the Redskins won't veer from the run-first approach that worked at Philadelphia with Ryan Torain, but expect more from Donovan McNabb against the Packers' beat up defense that is without injured S Morgan Burnett and likely LB Nick Barnett, too. The Packers could play more two-tight end sets to preserve QB Aaron Rodgers' health. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has hugged the throttle with blitzes when facing potent passing offenses with mixed results. He might back off a bit fearing pronounced mismatches with TE Jermichael Finley, who is emerging as one of the top tight ends in the NFL. The Packers are still trying to replace RB Ryan Grant, averaging 82 rushing yards in the past three games.

FAST FACTS

The Packers' five longest runs allowed this season all have been by quarterbacks. ... McNabb has 209 rushing yards in six career games against Green Bay.

PACKERS

Until the Packers have all of the facts, they're not coming to any conclusions about the status of veteran linebacker Nick Barnett for the rest of the season.

Contrary to reports that began surfacing late Wednesday night, coach Mike McCarthy said after practice Thursday "there's been no decision on Nick Barnett being done for the season."

Barnett suffered an injury to his right wrist in the Packers' 28-26 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. X-rays taken during the game after Barnett left in the first half didn't reveal a fracture, and he returned to action and finished the game.

However, concerns about nerve damage in the wrist purportedly arose earlier in the week, and the team pursued getting a second opinion from an outside doctor to determine whether Barnett would need season-ending surgery. Barnett traveled to Indianapolis on Thursday and will be examined Friday.

"It's a matter of opinions of the two doctors that are going to be involved (in the decision)," McCarthy said. "We're not ready to make a decision. Now, will we (Friday)? I'm really waiting on the information that's going to come out of this visit."

If Barnett is indeed done, that will make three starters to succumb to season-ending injuries in only the first four weeks.

Halfback Ryan Grant suffered a ruptured ankle in the opener, and rookie safety Morgan Burnett sustained a torn ACL on Sunday.

"To have some of our key guys be going down — and I'm not talking about two or three weeks, (but) for the season — that's a different dynamic," Pro-Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson said Thursday. "It's just kind of tough to bounce back from some of those things."

The double whammy of the injuries to Barnett and Burnett in the last game is only part of an epidemic that has swept through Green Bay's defense.

The Packers also likely will be without nickel cornerback Sam Shields (calf) and situational linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder) for Sunday's game at the Washington Redskins. They haven't practiced this week after also missing the last game.

The status of Pro-Bowl safety Nick Collins also is up in the air this week because of a lingering knee injury. McCarthy, though, expressed optimism Thursday that Collins, who was a limited participant in practice after sitting out Wednesday, will play Sunday.

Charlie Peprah, considered the top candidate to replace Burnett in the starting lineup, practiced in full for the second straight day. Yet, McCarthy said Peprah isn't totally recovered from a thigh injury that kept him out the last two games.

The Packers addressed the thinning ranks at linebacker by promoting first-year player Maurice Simpkins from the practice squad Thursday to take Burnett's spot.

Green Bay cut the 6-0, 236-pound Simpkins in the preseason, then re-signed him to the practice squad before the start of the season.


St. Louis Rams (2-2) at Detroit Lions (0-4)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 10/10/10
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, John Lynch

KEYS TO THE GAME


Defense has been at the heart of the Rams' turnaround from 1-15 in 2009, holding each of their first four opponents to no more than 17 points. The Rams have produced key stops whereas the Lions have been lit up by big plays, allowing 14 touchdowns (eight passing). The team whose running back is closer to full strength — Steven Jackson (groin) of the Rams and Lions rookie Jahvid Best (toe) — gets a leg up because it should temper the opposing pass rush. QB Shaun Hill pushed the ball to WR Calvin Johnson regularly last week, who is one of four Lions with at least 20 catches this season. QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder) is out for the fourth consecutive game.

FAST FACTS

The Lions have averaged 9.25 penalties per game. ... Rams QB Sam Bradford is attempting to become the third rookie No. 1 overall pick to start and win three consecutive games (Drew Bledsoe, Jeff George).


Chicago Bears (3-1) at Carolina Panthers (0-4)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 10/10/10
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan

KEYS TO THE GAME


The Bears must attempt to recover from last week's physical onslaught, with pass protection becoming the greatest priority for a poor offensive line that has also failed to run block effectively. The matchup the Bears must win is against LB Jon Beason, who is blitzing regularly and can chase backup QB Todd Collins from the pocket. Collins will be filling in for Jay Cutler, who received a concussion during the Giants' siege last week. Carolina's punchless offense will be even more limited with a milquetoast receiving corps unlikely to have Steve Smith (ankle). The Bears always aim to take the run away, and they will dare rookie QB Jimmy Clausen to beat them.

FAST FACTS

The Bears have one rushing TD in their past 13 games. ... The Panthers are 14-0 when RB Jonathan Stewart has 14 or more carries.

BEARS

Even though quarterback Jay Cutler's concussion is only expected to keep him out for one week, the Bears have to hope that backup Todd Collins can recapture the magic he flashed the last time he rode to the rescue of an injured starter.

Near the end of the 2007 season, the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Collins took over for Jason Campbell and led the Redskins to four straight victories and a spot in the playoffs. After Campbell suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Week 14 game at FedEx Field against the Bears, Collins relieved and completed 15 of 20 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in a 24-16 Washington victory.

"I thought someone would remind us of it," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Todd remembers it well, too, and we do. We got a chance to see him come into a game, and he played a great game against us and led his team to victory. Hopefully that's still there, and he can do the same for us now on the other side."

Starting and winning the final three games in ‘07, Collins compiled a 106.4 passer rating, throwing five touchdown passes and no interceptions. Amazingly, those final three starts in the 2007 regular season were the first for Collins in 10 years, but he says he can benefit from that experience as he prepares for Sunday's game against the Panthers in Charlotte.

"It helps," he said. "I've been around for a while. It's a team game, but I look forward to going out there and doing my part and contributing to a victory."

In between his three starts in 2007 with the Redskins and 13 starts in 1997 with the Buffalo Bills, Collins threw a total of just 27 passes in nine seasons. In five of those seasons, he didn't throw a single pass in a game.

"It's pretty tough," the 38-year-old Collins said. "There have been some long stretches being the backup guy when I didn't get a chance. You've just got to stay consistent and disciplined in your preparation year to year and week to week because, when you get a call like this, you can't let your skills diminish or not stay up with the game plan every week."

Despite Collins' late-season heroics in 2007, the starting job went back to Campbell the following season. Collins didn't see any game action in ‘08 but played in three games for the Redskins last season, completing 12 of 23 passes for 144 yards and a passer rating of 71.6. After relieving Cutler last week at halftime, Collins completed 4 of 11 passes for 36 yards and an interception before he was knocked from the game with a neck stinger.

"I played poorly, and we lost the game," said Collins who finished the night with an 8.1 passer rating. Caleb Hanie finished up for the Bears, completing 3 of 4 passes for 36 yards.

Hanie is in his third season with the Bears. Collins wasn't signed until Aug. 23, as insurance after Hanie suffered a sprained right shoulder in the preseason opener. Bears coaches believe that Collins' NFL game experience, even though it's been spread out over 16 years, gives him an edge over Hanie as the starter.

"Todd is a guy that has played a great deal and won," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said, "and played exceptionally well this summer. We know what he is. He demonstrated in the preseason that he could play at a high level. It's just a question of getting him a little bit more familiar."

With Cutler out, Hanie is, at least for a week, back to second on the depth chart but, barring any additional injuries or a setback for Cutler, he'll be back in the three-hole next week.

"Caleb easily could be No. 2 right now," Martz said. "But because of the experience and being in this competitive situation and knowing how to respond, and managing the game, these are going to be things that are all a little bit new for Caleb, all right? We know, at least I feel good about Todd in those pressure situations. And we anticipate him managing the game very well. That's why he is the No. 2 and that's just kind of how we feel about them."



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