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NFC North Spin cycle: Packers deal Lions tough blow

Pro Football Weekly
Pack hoping faith in Crosby will be rewarded
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Pack hoping faith in Crosby will be rewarded

Updated 11:15 a.m. ET, Tuesday, Nov. 20

The Packers grinded out a win at Detroit, leaving the Lions with plenty of work to do to get back into the thick of the NFC playoff race. We take a closer look in the NFC North "Spin cycle." 

BEARS

What we learned: The Bears have a lot of work to do offensively and only a little time to do it in, and the Packers, who now have a share of the NFC North lead, are not waiting for them to figure it out. Yes, the defense also had an awful night Monday against a quarterback making his first career start, but we all know the defense is not the Bears’ biggest problem. Their offense has not proved it can do much of anything against the league’s better defenses, whether Jay Cutler is playing or not. In fact, they have looked like a team without a plan — at least a winning one — on offense way too often this season. In the Bears’ three losses (at Green Bay, vs. Houston and at San Francisco), they have scored only 23 points (7.7 average). The bad news for the Bears is their next five games are against teams ranked among the top 13 in points allowed, including three vs. teams in the top 10.

What’s in store next: The Bears will return home and prepare to play the 6-4 Vikings for the first time this season. Chicago has dominated the series of late, winning five in a row vs. Minnesota, but the Vikings ended a losing streak with a big win over the Lions before their Week 11 bye and they are still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot. It appears the fight to the finish is going to be very intriguing with the Bears and Packers both 7-3. It could get even more interesting in a hurry — a win for the Vikings and a Packers loss to the Giants on Sunday would create a three-way tie atop the NFC North.

What the heck? What happened to the Bears' offensive line that didn’t allow a sack last week vs. J.J. Watt and the Texans? QB Jason Campbell was sacked six times — 5½ of which were made by one player (49ers OLB Aldon Smith) — and hit 11 times total. There might have been times when Campbell could have thrown the ball away a bit sooner, but Mike Tice left his tackles in one-on-one matchups in pass protection too often. Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb were not anywhere near up to the task. It’s Week 11 and Tice still seems to lose track of the situation at times, which results in some very difficult — arguably unwinnable — matchups for the tackles.

LIONS

What we learned: The Lions are falling out of the playoff race. A 24-20 loss to Green Bay on Sunday puts Detroit (4-6) two games behind in the battle for wild-card positioning in the NFC. Detroit is running out of time to reverse course and could need to run the table to have a chance to again make the postseason. The Lions weren't without their chances to win on Sunday. Leading 17-14 with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Lions could not turn a 1st-and-goal at the Green Bay 10 into a touchdown, settling for three points. The Packers, who hardly played their best game Sunday, capitalized, with QB Aaron Rodgers leading them down the field and throwing the go-ahead TD pass to WR Randall Cobb with 1:55 left. It was a bitter pill for Detroit, whose defense played a strong game but just couldn't hold off Green Bay's late charge. 

What’s in store next: The Lions, who haven't won on Thanksgiving since 2003, will be hard-pressed to end their losing streak with anything but a strong effort against Houston (9-1) on Thursday. While the Texans needed overtime to beat Jacksonville on Sunday, the Texans' overall form is outstanding. The Lions' defense will need to quickly bounce back after a fine effort in defeat on Sunday. The Texans have the running and passing games to give Detroit problems. Moreover, Houston has one of the NFL's best defenses. 

What the heck? Three points to make: One, Lions WR coach Shawn Jefferson reportedly had an animated discussion with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan late in the game; if nothing else, it's an annoyance for a Lions club trying to rally. Context can be lacking when making judgments on these sort of incidents that make public view, so it's hard to get a read on what it all means. Two, QB Matthew Stafford simply needs to be sharper for the Lions to have a chance down the stretch. He was just 17-of-39 passing for 266 yards with one TD and two picks on Sunday. In his defense, an interception returned for a score could have been caught by TE Tony Scheffler, but Stafford was also fortunate not to have been intercepted on his TD pass to WR Calvin Johnson. Three, could we really see a Lions starting lineup without OLT Jeff Backus (hamstring) on Thursday? Backus has started 186 regular-season games in a row, but the Lions play again in just three days. 

PACKERS

What we learned: The big story in the first of four divisional encounters the next five weeks was an inspired defensive effort, despite the absence of star LB Clay Matthews (hamstring). Four takeaways (including a pivotal 72-yard interception return for a TD by M.D. Jennings), five sacks and five tackles for loss were primarily responsible for a 24-20 victory over a Lions team that played well until faltering at the very end. Green Bay’s offense had trouble finding its rhythm, in no small part because of the revamped offensive line’s struggles without injured ORT Bryan Bulaga, but it came through in crunch time with a go-ahead TD catch by Randall Cobb (9-74-1) with 1:55 remaining and also got a very welcome boost from TE Jermichael Finley, who caught a 20-yard TD pass and set up Cobb’s TD with a nifty 40-yard catch-and-run.

What’s in store next: The Sunday-night stage is set for a rematch of the Giants-Packers divisional playoff game last season, when the Packers lost in surprisingly meek fashion 37-20. While the Packers have somehow managed to keep battling through injuries to win five in a row, the Giants, coming off their bye, have dropped two straight. The QB matchup between Aaron Rodgers, who unnecessarily beat himself up after his team’s latest win, and Eli Manning, who some have suggested is suffering from a tired arm, is a good bet to keep viewers around the country from turning in early.

What the heck? That’s what Packers Nation has been grumbling more often than not lately whenever beleaguered PK Mason Crosby lines up for a field goal. Mired in the worst slump of his career, Crosby missed two more FG attempts Sunday before calming his growing critics down just a tad with a late 39-yarder to make the final score 24-20. Crosby’s 11-of-18 FG conversion rate (61.1 percent) continues to be cause for concern. In addition, the injury bug continues to rattle the Packers’ cage, with NT B.J. Raji possibly reinjuring the left ankle that sidelined him for two games earlier this season (check status).

VIKINGS

On bye.

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