NFC NORTH: Health could play the biggest factor in division race

Posted Nov 22, 2013

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Chicago’s Jay Cutler are dealing with injuries while Detroit’s Matthew Stafford has started every game this season

In the end, health could play the biggest factor in the race for the NFC North division title.

There was a rare occurrence in Allen Park on Thursday when all 53 players on the Lions active 53-man roster participated in practice. Eight players were limited, but to not have at least one player sitting out due to injury is kind of incredible for Week 12.

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

Around the same time on Thursday, in Chicago and Green Bay, franchise quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers were watching in street clothes as their respective teams finalized preparations for this weekend’s games.

The Bears are 2-2 in games in which backup Josh McCown has either started or played because of an injury to Jay Cutler.

The Packers are 0-3 with backups Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien since Rodgers was lost to a fractured left collarbone on the first series of a game against Chicago three weeks ago.

"When you talk about the quarterback position, I think you’re 100-percent right there," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said when asked if the Lions health gives them an edge. "We have had a lot of the same injuries that everybody else has across the board. We’ve had some key players missing. Quarterback wise, we have certainly been healthier than our division opponents have."

That’s really been the key. No other position has a direct effect on the win/loss column every Sunday in the NFL than the quarterback position. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford has started every game for the Lions this year. Rodgers has eight (lost in first series in eighth start) starts. Cutler has seven.

In a three-team race currently separated by just one game and tie breaking scenarios, every missed start is crucial.

There have certainly been casualties along the way for the Lions this season. They lost starting defensive end Jason Jones to a knee injury the third game of the season. That’s turned into a bigger loss than most probably realized at the time.

Slot receiver Ryan Broyles ruptured an Achilles tendon and is done for the year and so is Pro Bowl special teamer Montell Owens, who played just four plays this season because of a knee injury.

Receiver Nate Burleson has missed the last seven games with a broken forearm and is just now set to return to action.

The Bears have played more than a month without linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), their best defensive player.

Green Bay’s best defensive player, linebacker Clay Matthews, missed a month with a broken thumb.

The Lions have had defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for all 10 games.

The Lions, by far, have been the healthiest of the three teams fighting for the division.

The last six games will be a race to the finish for the NFC North title and the Lions currently have all their horses at the starting gate, which is a nice advantage to have.