NFC North: The Packers Look For Revenge Against the Giants
By Tom Pollin
The NFC North Black & Blue Beast (@tjpollin)
There’s a new sheriff in charge at the top of the NFC North after the Chicago Bears did the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football.
That new sheriff, known as the Green Bay Packers in real life, travels east for a spotlight showdown on Sunday Night Football against the New York Giants. The last time these two teams got together was last January at Lambeau Field when the when the Giants made quick work of the 15-1 Packers with a 37-20 victory in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs.
The Giants have had a week to deal with issues arising from their annual mid-season crisis. Before their bye week they suffered consecutive losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals while watching the Dallas Cowboys begin to creep up on them in their rear-view mirror.
In other division action, the Detroit Lions kickoff Thanksgiving Day football against the Houston Texans and the Bears host the Minnesota Vikings in the first of two games in three weeks against their NFC North rivals.
As the pumpkin pie cools in the kitchen, here are five things to look at in Week 12 NFC North action.
1. The Packers are setting their sights on another first round playoff bye.
The Packers passed the Bears for first place in the division due to their head-to-head victory in Week Two and are currently the third seed in the NFC playoff picture. They can strengthen that position with a win over the fourth seed Giants on Sunday night.
The Packers are on a five game win streak after their fourth quarter comeback win against the Lions last weekend. During the streak they’ve outscored their opponents by an average of 11 points per game.
Why they, or even the Giants for that matter, would want that bye through the Wild Card Round of the playoffs is a difficult question to answer.
The Packers and Giants are the winners of the past two Super Bowls and both took the full route through the playoffs to get to those Super Bowls. All a 15-1 record and a first round bye got the Packers last season was bounced out of the playoffs in the Divisional Round by the Giants.
2. A Sunday night battle between two Pro Bowl Quarterbacks/Pitch Men
Since most "Turkey Bowl" teams have runners who have better yards per attempt averages than the Packers it's up to Rodgers to move their offense, and when he's on he can be unstoppable (just ask the Texans about that).
Rodgers is back to having the best Passer Rating in the NFL, just ahead of Peyton Manning and 49ers “back-up quarterback” Alex Smith. The Packers have also done an excellent job of shutting down opposing quarterbacks this season. Their No. 6 in Defensive Passer Rating facing Eli Manning who is ranked No. 22 in Passer Rating.
What it boils down to is the Packers have the best Passer Rating Differential in the NFL against a team that can bring a pass rush, is second to the Bears in interceptions, but No. 21 in touchdown passes allowed.
Eli Manning is No. 22 in Passer Rating this season after finishing No. 7 last year and facing the team that is ranked No. 6 in Defensive Real Passer Rating.
As to their commercial efforts, the advice for both of them is...don't quit your day jobs.
3. The Lions face the NFL’s best team the second year in a row on Thanksgiving.
Since the 2000 season the Lions are 2-10 on Thanksgiving Day and are on an eight game losing streak on the day we give thanks for the Plymouth Colony’s survival (which eventually led to the formation of the NFL). Those numbers take in some of the worst Lions teams of all time put together by one of the worst general managers in NFL history.
Fortunately there are statistics that allow us to analyze both of these times at this point in time. Unfortunately for the Lions their stats are getting analyzed against the best in the AFC.
To start with, Matt Schaub is quietly having a very good season as a passer. He’s ranked No. 4 in Real Passing Yards per Attempt, No. 7 in Offensive Passer Rating and No. 7 in Real Quarterback Rating against a Lions’ defense that is ranked No. 27 in Defensive Passer Rating and No. 26 in Real Quarterback Rating.
As for Matthew Stafford, he’s currently mired at No. 19 in Offensive Passer Rating, far from the No. 5 spot he finished at last season. This week he’s facing the defense that is ranked No. 2 in the Defensive Hog Index. The Texans are No. 8 in causing Negative Pass Plays and No. 1 in Preventing Third Down Success.
It’s true the Texans barely survived a 15 round slugfest against the Jacksonville Jaguars at home last weekend and were blown away by the Packers in Week Six at home but they’ve also done their share of damage to opponents (and if you don’t believe me just ask the Titans or Ravens).
With the Lions on a slow descent towards a single-digit first round draft pick, this game will likely have all the impact of a speed-bump leading into the Redskins at Cowboys game.
4. Beat the Bears and the Vikings vault into second place.
Speaking of speed bumps, the Bears are going to feel like one if they can’t find some solutions to their problems by Sunday when they host the Vikings at Soldier Field.
Prior to the Monday Night Football kickoff, Mike Ditka’s prediction on the pregame show was that the Bears had pride and would win the game for Halas, Nagurski, Grange, etc. The Bears followed by playing like a bunch of dead football legends against the 49ers in a 32-7 loss that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
While that was taking place the Vikings were resting and enjoying their success in putting together a 6-4 record in a year in which they were supposed to be beginning a rebuilding project.
While the Bears’ defensive effort gave rise to the Kult of Kaepernick and a demotion to backup quarterback status for Alex Smith, the Bears still rank No. 1 in the NFL in Defensive Passer Rating and Defensive Real Quarterback Rating. Their defense is also No. 2 in creating Negative Pass Plays and Preventing Third Down Success.
The Vikings have achieved success this season despite the up-and-down performance of quarterback Christian Ponder. The highest he is in passing statistics is No. 18 in Offensive Passer Rating. He doesn’t rank higher than No. 20 in any other statistical measure.
What the Vikings do well is run the football. Behind the efforts of “Bionic Back” Adrian Peterson the Vikings are No. 3 as a team in Rushing Yards per Attempt. Peterson has gained 1,128-yards through 10 games (a pace that would see him finish with 1,800-yards by the end of the season) and a 5.8-yards per carry average.
At the time of this writing it appears that Jason Campbell will be making another start at quarterback in place of Jay Cutler, who is still feeling the aftereffects of the concussion he suffered in the game two weeks ago against the Texans.
It might be better for Cutler’s health if he sits another game, if the Bears didn’t desperately need him to play after last week’s debacle against the 49ers. The Bears are No. 32, dead last, in protecting against Negative Pass Plays (sacks and interceptions). The Bears’ line was so bad that a three man rush by the 49ers against a five man offensive line got to Campbell so fast that they forced a fumble in the end zone that turned into a safety.
The question of the game at the start is going to be whether last week was an anomaly for the Bears or the first sign that their defense might be showing a bit of its age while exposing an offense that can’t keep a team in a game.
As it stands right now, the Bears still have an elite defense and an offense that should still be effective in running the ball if nothing else. If that’s not good enough they’ll find themselves sliding into third place in the division with time in the season running out and difficult games still on the schedule.
5. Turkey is good, and good for you too!
Turkey is low in fat and high in protein. It is also a good source for many other essential vitamins and minimals.
Turkey is low in calories which leaves room in the caloric budget for that extra serving of mashed potatoes plus whipped cream on your pumpkin pie.
With all the advantages of eating turkey just remember that the more turkey and trimmings you eat on Thanksgiving Day, the healthier you'll be.
Here's to a happy Thanksgiving to football fans everywhere. Enjoy the wonderful food and gorge your eyes on all the great football coming your way this weekend.
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