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NFC North picture is fuzzy

December 17, 2010
By Keith Shelton

ESCANABA - With only three weeks left in the regular season, the picture in the NFC North division is still a little out of focus.

It's Chicago's division to lose but in their final three games, it could be the elements that do them in rather than their opponents. Monday night the Bears will be facing Minnesota but it won't be in the protected confines of the Metrodome.

Instead Chicago and Minnesota will meet at the University of Minnesota's TFC Field which is outdoors. It will be the first outdoor home game in nearly 30 years for the Vikings and with temperatures expected in the single digits, you can see why Minnesota went with a domed stadium.

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Keith Shelton

Fortunately for Chicago, the Vikings are a wreck. They've already been officially eliminated from playoff contention, their home stadium has collapsed, they started the season with multiple injured receivers and then fired head coach Brad Childress mid-season, and now their top two quarterbacks are beaten up pretty badly.

Tavaris Jackson has already been ruled out and Brett Favre will likely be a game-time decision again, one week after his storied ironman streak came to an abrupt end at 297 games.

If Favre - who won't be put on injured reserve this season - can't go, the Vikings will start rookie sixth round pick, Joe Webb, with none other than receiver Greg Camarillo being the emergency backup.

If Chicago should win, which looks fairly likely, they'll host the New York Jets at what is sure to be a frigid Soldier Field before wrapping up the season against Green Bay at Lambeau Field's Frozen Tundra. And don't forget their blizzard setback to New England last week. Brrrr.

Meanwhile, Green Bay has likely the toughest remaining stretch in the NFL, and all three games could be must-wins. They'll travel to Foxboro this Sunday to face the NFL's top team, the New England Patriots, who just shellshocked Chicago.

One would think Clay Matthews and the Pack's defensive line and secondary could do a better job containing Tom Brady, but will it be enough to win?

Green Bay wraps up its season in the friendly, if not frigid confines of Lambeau Field in late December-early January, as they'll host the New York Giants and Chicago Bears. Both are potential playoff teams ahead of Green Bay and the Packers will almost surely have to win them both to get into the postseason.

Green Bay has its' own quarterback concerns, with Aaron Rodgers suffering his second concussion of the season against the Detroit Lions. Matt Flynn did not look impressive in the most prolonged action of his young NFL career, but he may be thrust into starting duty against the Patriots. Nothing like a trial by fire to get your feet wet.

Of course the Packers brought this urgency on themselves by dropping what should have been a sure win against the Detroit Lions.

Granted, the Lions have played well all season long, just not well enough to win many games. Although you would have thought Green Bay had their last meeting against Detroit fresh in their minds. Lest we forget that Rodgers and company played half the game, and couldn't muster a lick of offense. His pass to Greg Jennings was a great candidate for an easy touchdown but Jennings' untimely and uncharacteristic gaffe resulted in it being picked off by Detroit rookie safety Amari Spivey.

Flynn may have played even worse than Rodgers in relief. Still, as bad as the Packers offense performed, Detroit was worse. At halftime, third string starting quarterback Drew Stanton had a quarterback rating of 2.2 (and no, I'm not forgetting a digit) and had not completed a pass, but it was still enough to win.

Most impressive about the Lions is that even with starting defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch out for the season with a neck injury the reserves filled in so well, his absence was unnoticeable.

The Lions are a good candidate for one more win in their final three games. Jim Schwartz would like it to come on the road and so would the eight Lions fans left in the building. With the Lions facing Tampa Bay and Miami on the road before wrapping up the season at home against Minnesota, it doesn't appear likely the infamous road losing streak - the last one the Lions have to break - will end this season. Then again, who saw the win over Green Bay coming?

With Matt Stafford slated to return either this Sunday or for the final two games, the Lions could go out with a winning note and avoid a top-five draft pick.

 
 

 

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