NFC North breakdown: Week 14

The Packers are fighting for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the Lions are trying to make up ground against them in the division.

Green Bay Packers (9-3)
The Green Bay Packers may have proved to be the best team in the NFL at this moment and one of the NFC favorites to make it to the Super Bowl. As stated last week, last Sunday’s game between the Packers and New England Patriots could have very well have been a preview for the Super Bowl.

Last week the Patriots were ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press power rankings. After a 26-21 victory in front of their home crowd, Green Bay has now taken over the No. 1 spot on the list.

Aaron Rodgers continued his dominating play, throwing for 368 yards and two touchdowns, and got help from another solid performance from running back Eddie Lacy, who has started to pick up his play in the second half of the season, running for 98 yards.

Green Bay’s defense was also impressive last week, holding the dangerous New England rushing attack to just 84 yards, and holding Tom Brady to 245 passing yards and two touchdowns.

This week Green Bay will remain at home – where they are currently 6-0 on the season – and face the NFC South leading Atlanta Falcons. The Packers currently have a 1-1 record against the NFC South, but will have the upper hand against Atlanta in this game. Where the Packers excel at home in the confines of Lambeau Field, the Falcons struggle when forced to leave the Georgia Dome, and are 2-4 on the road.

The Falcons, however, are coming off an impressive win against the Arizona Cardinals, where wide receiver Julio Jones went off for 189 yards and one touchdown on 10 receptions. The Falcons currently have the sixth-ranked passing attack in the NFL – largely do to Jones – but the Packers match up well against them, allowing only 234.5 passing yards per game.

Both teams having their strength on the offensive side of the ball. If the Falcons offensive line can keep Matt Ryan clean – they have given up 24 sacks – then there could be a slim chance that Atlanta could pull off the upset, but even then it is only a slight chance.

The Falcons are already 0-3 against the NFC North, and two of the losses came against the Vikings and Bears, who currently have losing records. Now they have to face the elite of the division.

Detroit Lions (8-4)
The Detroit Lions seemed to give all of their fans a scare as they started to look like the 2013 Lions all over again, losing two games in a row in the second half of the season and not scoring double digit points in either game. They righted everything last week, though, beating the Chicago Bears 34-17.

The Lions have been relying on their defense the entire year, as their offense has been out of sync for a majority of the season. Last week was only the second time they have scored more than 24 points, the first time coming in Week 1 when they beat the New York Giants 35-14.

All that seemingly changed last week as their offense was clicking on all cylinders. Matthew Stafford threw for 390 yards and two touchdowns, with Calvin Johnson being on the receiving end of 149 of those yards and catching both touchdowns. Running back Joique Bell also had a good game, rushing for 91 yards and two touchdowns.

As of now, the Lions are in the playoffs as a wild card, but still have an outside chance at winning the division. They are currently one game behind the Packers, but have a better division record than Green Bay – having beat the Packers Week 3, 19-7.

If the Lions hope to win the division they may need to win the remainder of their games, which includes three straight division games to end the season, and the last one is in Green Bay against the Packers.

Because of the importance of those final three games, this week’s matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looms large. Tampa Bay may only have a 2-10 record, but it is still in contention for the NFC South title, although it is slipping farther and farther from their grasps, and if they lose this week it will be nearly impossible for them to win the division.

For that reason, expect the Buccaneers to give the Lions everything they have. The Lions are still a heavy favorite to win this game, especially after Tampa Bay was only able to score 13 points against the Cincinnati Bengals last week, and have lost seven of their last eight games.

Chicago Bears (5-7)
For a couple weeks the Chicago Bears looked as though they might make a run for the playoffs, but then reality struck and they ran into a Detroit Lions team that was getting desperate for a win.

Before that loss the Bears had seemingly found a groove, winning two games in a row by scores of 21-13 and their defense – which had been the team’s weakness all year – was finally stepping up and helping the team win games. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, though, as their defense allowed 474 total yards and was only able to produce one turnover.

The offense didn’t help out the team’s cause very much, only gaining 269 total yards – Matt Forte was held to a measly 8 yards rushing – and Jay Cutler reverted, throwing two interceptions.

This week the Bears will head down to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, who are coming off a 33-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. At 8-4, Dallas is still very much alive in the playoff race and is in good position to make it 9-5, as they match up favorably against the Bears.

Dallas is coming into this game third in the league in rushing, averaging 145.3, thanks to DeMarco Murray. That matchup plays out favorably for them, even though the Bears have a respectable run defense, 10th in the NFL, because Chicago is allowing an average of 105.5 yards per game.

The Cowboy’s passing attack also matches up well against the Bears. Dallas hasn’t had to throw the ball very often because of the success of their running game, but in the month of November Tony Romo came through when he was needed, having a passer rating of 113.9.

The month of December has not been kind to Romo in the past, but the Bears’ 30th ranked passing defense should be a good way for him to ease into the month with a successful game.

Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
The Minnesota Vikings still find themselves at the bottom of the division, but are coming off a very impressive 31-13 win against the Carolina Panthers. The special teams carried the team, scoring on two blocked punts in the first half and having two big punt returns to help set up the offense.

With the early lead Teddy Bridgewater did not have to do too much to win the game for his team, but when he was asked to make a play he usually did. The rookie recorded his best passer rating of the season (120.7) as he went 15-for-21, 138 passing yards and two touchdowns. He was also able to connect on a ball thrown down the field to Jarius Wright, and that has been his biggest struggle this season.

Although the Vikings are likely to miss the playoffs this season, they will still be looking to finish the year strong and have it as a building block for next season. Last week was a good start to that, and they will have a good chance to win a second game in a row as the 2-10 New York Jets come into town.

Even though the Vikings played well in most aspects of the game last week, their rush defense was suspect, as they allowed 178 total rushing yards to the Panthers. Minnesota currently has the 24th-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 123.8 yards per game. This could pose problems for the Vikings as the Jets are coming in with the second-ranked rushing attack, averaging 148.2 yards per game. And with key injuries to Sharrif Floyd and Anthony Barr further hampering the Vikings run defense, Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson could both be looking at big games against the Vikings.

One reason the Jets are averaging so many rushing yards a game is because their quarterback play has been suspect, at best, all season. With the improvement the Vikings have seen in their secondary – especially with Xavier Rhodes – expect Mike Zimmer to load up the box and leave his corners in man coverage and force either Geno Smith or Micheal Vick to beat the Vikings with their arm.

It will be difficult for the Jets to win the game through the air, as they are ranked last in the league in passing offense, averaging 163.3 yards per game, and the Vikings have the league’s sixth-best passing defense.


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