ESCANABA - There's a lot of intrigue in the NFC North as the final week of the NFL's regular season wraps up. All eyes will be on Lambeau Field Sunday as the Green Bay Packers host the Chicago Bears in one of the NFL's marquee matchups of the week.
It's as close to a must win as the Packers have had all season. Win and they're in like Matt Flynn. Lose, and they'll need a lot of luck to go their way.
You have to like Green Bay's chances though. After all, they've been in playoff mode for a couple weeks, and now carry that win-or-bust mentality with them.
They certainly played the part of playoff contender last week in their dismantling of the fading New York Giants.
Aaron Rodgers was outstanding in returning from his second concussion of the season, throwing for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. It turned out to be far more than the Packers needed in the 45-17 victory, but everyone needs an ego-boost now and then, especially those who suffer a rough blow to the head.
Rodgers and the Packers will all need to be on top of their game to beat Chicago, which has been very impressive since their mid-season bye.
The Bears have gone 7-1 since, with their only loss coming to a New England team that many feel is the class of the NFL.
Granted, the Bears schedule hasn't exactly been daunting over that stretch, but they've taken care of business.
Green Bay should be concerned, and not because the Bears defense - perennially in the NFL's top five - is once again top notch. Their offense has really come alive as of late thanks to none other than catalyst Jay Cutler, who has been written off more than once in his career. The Bears also won the first head to head matchup back in September, although that means little now.
So optimists, you can feel good about this Sunday with the game being at Lambeau and the Packers looking like they can rise to the occassion. Pessimists? You may also be in luck. In the event the Packers fall, they can still backslide into the postseason providing Tampa Bay and the Giants also choke.
Tampa Bay has to travel to New Orleans. Hmm, better luck next year Bucs. The Giants face Washington, albeit on the road. Any given Sunday, right?
In the NFC North's consolation game this week, golfing buddies the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings meet to discuss vacation plans Sunday at Ford Field. (Insert joke about how the Vikings are already 0-1 at Ford Field this season.)
Minnesota must have gotten the NFL's memo last week about how they're hurting the NFL's image of parity, because they shocked Philadelphia Tuesday with rookie quarterback Joe Webb under center. Adrian Peterson tossed his crutches aside and rushed for over 100 yards, and all was well with the Vikings, at least for one week.
Now, it's *cue drum roll* "THE BATTLE FOR THIRD PLACE!" featuring the Minnesota Vikings, the train wreck of the NFL, now resembling the decrepit engine that could, and the Detroit Lions, winners of three straight, including two straight road wins for the first time since you bought a compact disc in a store! This Sunday only!
OK, so maybe manufacturing hype for these two also-rans is a bad idea, but for Lions and Vikings fans this game still means something.
I don't recall the last time a 2-10 team finished 6-10, but that's what the Lions can pull off with a win at home over the Vikings. It's important because it brings legitimacy to a team that believed they were better than their record indicated all season long. They're proving that now, and they're doing it without Matthew Stafford, Kyle Vandenbosch and Alphonso Smith, among others.
Has Detroit finally learned how to win? We won't find out this year, but at the beginning of next season (providing the NFL doesn't shut down) when it really counts.
For Minnesota, where the circus has been running deals all season, the speculation over whether Brett Favre will play one final game is more than just a sideshow, it's the main event.
It would truly be a shame if the VIkings season ended with Favre's last NFL action being his head bouncing off the frozen turf of TCF Field.
He deserves better, such as throwing a pick into the waiting arms of Lions safety Louis Delmas. Or, of course, playing a steady, complete game win or lose.
As for the denizens of Ford Field, I would advise they duck and cover when the Vikings take the field, lest the ground opens up beneath them and the stadium is swallowed. It would be par for the course for the infamous MInnesota Vikings of 2010.