NFC North breakdown: Week 12

The competition continues to be tough for the Detroit Lions, and the Vikings and Packers face each other. Will there be an outright leader in the NFC North after this weekend?

Detroit Lions (7-3)
The Detroit Lions offense lost its mojo against a good defense. The Lions were only able to score six points on a very talented Cardinals defense, and only produced 281 yards of total offense.

For all the offensive weapons the Detroit Lions have, it is hard to believe they had such an off game. Quarterback Matthew Stafford only threw for 183 yards, and also had an interception. Then Calvin Johnson, who could be considered the best wide receiver in the NFL, was targeted 12 different times, but was only able to come down with five catches for 59 yards.

If there was a bright spot on the Lions offense, it would have been running back Joique Bell, who ran for 85 yards and caught three passes for 30 yards. Bell has found success filling in as the lead back in Reggie Bush’s absence, and should continue to have a role in the offense once he returns.

Things do not get any easier for the Lions in Week 12, though. After playing on the road in Arizona against the team with the best record in the NFL, they now have to travel to New England to face a Patriots team that is arguably the best team in the NFL.

The Patriots defense is a very balanced one. They are No. 14 against the run, allowing 109.9 yards per game, and No. 17 against the pass, allowing 241.9 yards per game.

Where the Patriots have been deadly as of late, though, is on offense. In the last three weeks New England’s offense has scored 51 points against the Bears, 43 points against the Broncos, and 42 points against the Colts. That does not bode well for a Lions team that has lost its last three games against the Patriots, and have had trouble closing out seasons in the past – they lost six of their final seven games a year ago.

The Lions still have some things leaning in their favor, though. They have the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Their defense alone should be able to keep this ball game close, but they will need their offense to step up their performance – they have only scored 30 or more points once this season, and that was Week 1 – if they hope to win this game.

Since losing to Arizona, the Lions’ grip on the NFC North title has started to slip. They still hold onto the lead, but only by the slimmest of margins, and that is the fact that they beat the Packers in Week 3. If they hope to continue to hold onto the lead they will need a win this week, as the Packers are currently one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers (7-3) vs Minnesota Vikings (4-6)
As previously stated, the Green Bay Packers are currently one of the hottest teams in the NFL. In the last three weeks they scored 44 points on the New Orleans Saints, 55 points on the Chicago Bears, and 53 points against the Philadelphia Eagles. Their defense has also been performing at a high level. Holding those three teams – Saints and Eagles have the No. 2 and No. 4 offenses in the NFL – to under 25 points.

The Minnesota Vikings, on the other hand, seem to be on the downfall after a loss to a struggling Bears team. This team seemed to be on its way up, and had hopes of being able to make a playoff run, but that was diminished by the Bears, who beat the Vikings 21-13.

If the games that the Packers and Vikings have played against the Chicago Bears could be any indication of how this game will go, it would be a blowout win for the Packers.

The Packers have already played the Bears twice this season and outscored them 93-31. The Vikings have played them only once and lost 21-13, and the single touchdown for the Vikings only happened because they were set up by a fake punt that went for 48 yards, and put the offense on the 7-yard line.

This game should not be decided that easily, however. The Packers did beat the Vikings 42-10 in Week 5, humiliating them on Thursday Night Football in front of a national audience, and the Packers have won seven of the last nine matchups between these two teams.

One of the biggest keys for the Vikings this week will be to rebound on defense after getting picked apart by the Bears offense. The Vikings cornerbacks, primarily Josh Robinson, really struggled with the height of the Bears receivers, but they match up much better. They even had some success defending the passing attack of the Packers, holding Rodgers to just 156 yards – although Green Bay did not really need to throw the ball much after taking the early lead in the Oct. 2 meeting.

Another aspect of the game that will be important if the Vikings hope to win is the play of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He did not play in the first meeting between these two teams due to injury, and did struggle last week against the Bears, where he only threw for 158 yards. If he can bounce back and have a solid game, he will give his team a chance to win.

The Packers have one of the most potent offenses in the league and are the second team in NFL history – along with the 1950 Rams – to score 53 or more points in back-to-back games.

Their defense has also been performing better than many thought, and continues to create turnovers at an outstanding rate. They picked off Mark Sanchez twice last week, and also were able to recover two fumbles.

Although the Vikings do not put the ball on the ground very often, Bridgewater will throw the occasional interception. That is not good for the Vikings, as the Packers defense has already picked off opponent quarterbacks 14 times this season, which is good for third in the NFL.

With the way their team is playing, and clicking on all cylinders, the Packers have to be the favorite to win the NFC North at this point in time.

Chicago Bears (4-6)
Last week, the Chicago Bears seemed to redeem themselves a little. After losing to the Patriots 51-23 and the Packers 55-14, they were able to beat a division rival, the Minnesota Vikings, 21-13.

The Bears easily won the time of possession battle, holding the ball for 38:38 compared to the Vikings at 21:22. Chicago also outgained the Vikings 468 yards to 243 yards, nearly doubling them. The Vikings only scored their lone touchdown after a fake punt went for 48 yards and set them up on the y-yard line and in perfect position to score.

This week the Bears have a perfect opportunity to continue their newly found winning ways as they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Buccaneers have the 27th-ranked defense in terms of total yards allowed per game (384.3), and the 30th-ranked passing defense, allowing an average of 266.1 yards, and after the game that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had against the Vikings (330 passing yards and three touchdowns), he should be licking his chops thinking about going up against the Buccaneers Tampa-2 defense.

Chicago is not the only team coming off of a win, however, as Tampa Bay just beat the Washington Redskins 27-7 a week ago. In that game they were able to pick off Robert Griffin III twice, and interceptions have been a downfall of Cutler his entire career. Even in games he performs well in, he still finds a way to turn the ball over (he threw two interceptions last week against Minnesota).

Another advantage the Bucs have going into this game is the fact that their starting quarterback, Josh McCown, played in Chicago a year ago before departing to Tampa Bay in the offseason. He knows what to expect when arriving there, and has plenty of experience playing in the harsh environments that could be present.

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