Double Feature: NFC North Sunday preview

Double Feature: NFC North Sunday preview

It’s all come down to this. Week-17s in the NFL really do not get much better. For the NFC North, three of the four teams can earn something with a victory on Sunday; the Bears being the only one of the three who does not control their own destiny in that regard.

Because both NFC North games are just as important to how we will ultimately define the Chicago Bears’ 2012 season, I thought it only appropriate to do a sort of double feature for you this week.

For Chicago, a win over the Detroit Lions, who are out of playoff contention, only secures them a spot in the postseason if the Minnesota Vikings lose to the Green Bay Packers at home at Mall of America Field.

Thus, the Bears control nothing.

For Minnesota, they will secure a postseason berth with a win over the Packers even if the Bears should win their game based on the two teams’ overall division records. It would be the Vikings’ first playoff berth since 2009.

As for what the division-champion Packers have at stake in all of this mess, Aaron Rodgers’ crew can clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a victory over the Vikings.

The only north team without a horse in the race is the one the Bears are playing, luckily enough. The Lions currently sit with a 4-11 record and should be playing for a higher draft selection, as two other teams (Raiders and Eagles) are also siting at 4-11 with one to play. Teams give up draft picks to move up two spots. What’s one meaningless loss to potentially do the same?

WR Calvin Johnson had needed 182 yards in the final two weeks against Atlanta and Chicago to break Jerry Rice’s all-time single-season receiving yards mark of 1,848. But with 225 yards against the Falcons last week, despite a 31-18 loss, he’s already there with 1,892 yards through 15 games.

I suppose now Johnson could play for the NFL’s highest average yards per game record, currently 126.1 to Johnson’s 124.7, but really, it doesn’t matter; the Lions have nothing to play for. Head coach Jim Schwartz is probably in little danger of losing his job after signing a contract extension in the offseason.

Having set the stage a little bit, here’s what you need to know about each game heading into the final week of the regular season:

Packers (11-4) at Vikings (9-6) stats you should know

  • The Vikings are hot right now, having won their last three-straight, and they’re also tough to beat at home. With a 6-1 home record, the Packers will not walk away with an easy win. BUT . . .
  • More specifically, the Vikings haven’t beaten the Packers at Mall of America Field since 2009. Additionally, the Packers have won nine consecutive season finales (2003-11), the longest current streak in the NFL and the longest in franchise history. So, likewise, the Vikings will not walk away with an easy win either.
  • Since Mike McCarthy took over in 2006, the Packers are 18-7 (.720) in dome games (including playoffs). That ranks No. 2 in the NFL among teams with eight or more road/neutral dome games.
  • Aaron Rodgers’ career 116.6 passer rating indoors ranks No. 1 in NFL history (among QBs with a minimum 200 attempts, as there must be qualifications on a stat like that).
  • Against Green Bay this season, RB Adrian Peterson rushed for his second highest total yards on the ground (210), his highest total yards from scrimmage (220) and his second highest yards per attempt (10) among games played during the 2012 season.

Bottom line: Green Bay isn’t going to have any qualms about going to Minnesota on the road to close out their season and try to secure a win. They are the favorites to win this game by any objective standards. Having said that, a Vikings’ victory wouldn’t shock me in the least. I’m going with the Packers 31-23.

Bears (9-6) at Lions (4-11) stats you should know:

  • The Bears have won eight of their last nine meetings against the Lions, including the first match up of the 2012 season, 13-7 at Soldier Field in Week-7.
  • Since 2004, season sweeps by each team have happened in seven of the last eight years prior to 2012. The Bears swept the season series in 2005, ‘06, ‘08, ‘09 and ’10, while the Lions took both meetings in ’04 and ‘07. The two teams split their two meetings in 2011.
  • Chicago and Detroit have split their 10 meetings at Ford Field since 2002. Detroit won the first three, before Chicago won five of the next six. The Lions evened the series at Ford Field last season with a 24-13 victory on MNF.
  • The Lions are turnover-prone this season. In their first meeting against the Bears, Chicago forced six fumbles and one interception. And just last week, the Lions coughed up three more turnovers for a second-straight week, increasing their turnover ratio to -12, a perfect recipe for their current 4-11 record.
  • The Lions are currently third-worst in the League with 29 total giveaways. The Bears are the best in the League with 40 total takeaways.

Bottom line: The Bears should win. They have to win. While a Detroit victory wouldn’t completely shock me, I can’t say the same thing about this game as I did the Packers-Vikings game. I would be marginally surprised if the Bears lost. I’m going with the Bears 27-17.

NFC playoff picture:

  • The Falcons have their spot locked down, with home field advantage throughout, at 13-2.
  • The Packers, again, can clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a win.
  • The Vikings, again, can clinch a berth with a win.
  • The 49ers are currently the No. 3 seed and can clinch the NFC West with a win. They can clinch a first-round bye should they win and the Packers lose.
  • The Redskins and Cowboys meet in Washington for the NFC East division title.
  • The Seahawks are in the playoffs and can win the NFC West with a win and a 49ers’ loss.

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