O'HARA: Zero wins came out of the NFC North on Sunday -- what does that mean for the division race?

Posted Nov 25, 2013

Lions and Bears lost, Packers and Vikings tied ... and Detroit still leads

Ashlee Palmer didn't have to think very long or say very much to answer the simple question of when the Lions shift gears to bury their thoughts about Sunday's loss to the Bucs and focus on playing the Packers on Thursday.

"Tomorrow morning," Palmer said.

Today is one of five "tomorrow mornings" remaining on the Lions' schedule. It's the day after the game, when a team is either adding momentum after a victory or regrouping from a loss.

Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Bucs and the 37-27 loss at Pittsburgh the previous week has put the Lions in serious regroup mode.

Only two weeks ago, when they stuffed a run attempt for a two-point conversion to seal a 21-19 victory at Chicago, the Lions were in the fast lane in the race to win the NFC North with a 6-3 record and the remaining schedule in their favor.

They have sunk back with the rest of the pack in the North, tied for first with Chicago at 6-5, and ahead of the Packers, who come to Ford Field for Thursday's Thanksgiving Day game a half game back at 5-5-1.

The race is on in the North, and there is no open road in front of anyone.

This week's Monday Countdown looks at some numbers relative to the Lions-Packers game and the Lions' performance in key areas. There's also a breakdown of the remaining schedule for the three North contenders, how the outlook has changed in the last two weeks, and a look at the adventures of punter Sam Martin's rookie season.

There's also the best and worst of the NFL after Week 12.

We start with one number that shows part of what ails the Lions' defense, and another that demonstrates how the Packers cannot be taken for granted, no matter who plays quarterback Thursday.

Chris HoustonChris Houston is the only Lions cornerback with an interception this season. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

1. 334: That is how many passes opposing quarterbacks have attempted since Chris Houston made the one and only interception by a Lions cornerback this season.

Houston's pick came on Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III's 15th throw of Game 3. Griffin was under pressure from Willie Young and forced a pass that Houston was able to intercept. All around, a good play – the rush and the pick.

In 11 games, that is the only interception by a Lions cornerback. No cornerback had one before or since.

The entire defense has 11, led by linebacker DeAndre Levy's five picks. Safeties Louis Delmas and Glover Quin have two each, and linebacker Stephen Tulloch has the other.

One interception by a cornerback doesn't explain why the Lions are 6-5, but the lack of playmaking indicates why they've had trouble defending the pass.

2. 3: That's the number of games the Packers have won on Thanksgiving Day since the Lions began playing in Ford Field in 2002. It's more than any other team. The Patriots have won two games, leaving the Lions tied with five other teams who've won one game each.

The Lions should rule the holiday game that they first brought to the NFL when they moved to Detroit in 1934, but they haven't.

If they want to win the North, they should start building their Thanksgiving dynasty on Thursday.

3. Tuesday: That is the day to circle for the last chance that Aaron Rodgers will return from a broken left collarbone and play quarterback against the Lions on Thursday. In a radio interview last week, Rodgers said he needs two days of practice in order to play in a game.

That would be Friday for a Sunday game, or Tuesday to play on Thanksgiving, Rodgers said.

Rodgers' left collarbone was broken early in a loss to Chicago in Game 8. The Packers lost that game and two more before Sunday's 26-26 tie with the Vikings.

Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien have started – and lost – games for the Packers. Matt Flynn, a former Packer who was re-signed on Nov. 11, relieved Tolzien Sunday and led the Packers back from a deficit to a tie in overtime.

It is likely that Flynn will start Thursday if Rodgers does not play.

4. The mighty Flynn: He is best remembered for throwing six TD passes in a final-game victory over the Lions in 2011. Off that career performance, Flynn got a big signing bonus from Seattle as a free agent in 2012 but was beaten out by rookie Russell Wilson. He spent part of this season with the Raiders and Bills and was released by both teams.

Of Flynn's 11 career TD passes, six were in that one game against the Lions.

5. The bad Flynn: He can't just show up and beat the Lions, or any other team. He relieved Rodgers in Game 13 against the Lions in 2010 when Rodgers went out late in the first half with a concussion. In that game, Flynn completed 15 of 26 passes for 177 yards, an interception and no touchdowns in a 7-3 loss at Ford Field.

Flynn's passer rating for the game was 62.5 – less than half of his 136.4 rating for his 2011 game against the Lions.

Also in 2010, Flynn started against New England the week after his relief job and threw three TD passes in a loss.

There's no way Matt Flynn will beat the Lions at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day – is there?

6. Projecting the North with five games left, and after the Lions, Bears and Packers all failed to win Sunday:

Lions (6-5): After Thanksgiving with the Packers they are at Philly (6-5), home against the Ravens (5-6) and Giants (4-7) and at Minnesota (2-8-1) in the last game.

Win all three home games – Packers, Ravens and Giants – and they'll go into Minnesota with a chance to clinch the North.

7. Bears (6-5): at Minnesota (2-8-1), home against Dallas (6-5), at Cleveland (4-7) and Philadelphia (6-5), home against the Packers (5-5-1).

They have to finish ahead of the Lions to win the North because the Lions swept both games. Their toughest games should be at home against Dallas and on the road with Philly.

8. Packers (5-5-1): at Detroit (6-5), home against Atlanta (2-9), at Dallas (6-5), home against Pittsburgh (5-6) and at Chicago (6-5).

If they're going to win the North it starts at Ford Field on Thursday and ends in Chicago with the last game. Neither game figures to be easy, particularly if the Bears are still in the running to win the North in the last game.

Getting a tie after being behind to the Vikings, 23-7, in the first minute of the fourth quarter could be the half-game advantage that makes the difference for the Packers.

9. Block party: The Lions had a punt blocked Sunday, and two field goal attempts were blocked earlier this year. Those are new breakdowns for the Lions.

According to NFL.com's stats, the Lions have had two field goals blocked in the previous five years, and their last blocked punt was in 2004, or nine seasons ago.

10. Sam Martin's adventure: The Lions secured a solid punter for a decade when the Lions drafted Martin in the fifth round. He has a strong leg on punts and kickoffs. Sunday's block was not his fault. Nobody blocked the rusher from his right.

Martin has gone for the cycle already in misplays. Before Sunday's block, he dropped the snap on a field goal in his first game, had a short punt that set up the winning field goal against Cincinnati, and was tackled short of a first down on a fake field goal run against Pittsburgh.

11. The NFL's best after 11 weeks:

1. Seahawks (10-1): Coming off a bye, rested to win the NFC West.
2. Saints (9-2): Next game at Seattle could be a preview of the NFC Championship.
3. Broncos (9-2): You have to be good to get a 24-0 lead on the Patriots.
4. Patriots (9-3): You have to be good to rally from a 24-0 deficit to beat the Broncos.
5. Panthers (8-3): Seven-game win streak is no fluke.
6. Chiefs (9-2): Two straight losses, playing for AFC West lead vs. Denver on Sunday.
7. Cardinals (7-4): Still doubt they're built for a long run, but they've won four straight.
8. Bengals (7-4): Going to San Diego after the bye, with AFC North competition closing in.
9. Colts (7-4): Hammered by the Cardinals Sunday, and only plus 3 in scoring differential.
10. 49ers (6-4): Too far behind to catch Seattle in the NFC West, and better beat Washington in the Monday night game to get a wild card.
11. Eagles (6-5): Returning from a bye with a three-game win streak and momentum.
12. Cowboys (6-5): Too much noise for a 6-5 team, but they can win the NFC East.

12. The NFL's Worst:

5. Washington (3-8): The finger of blame is being pointed at RGIII, and he doesn't like it.
4. Vikings (2-8-1): Blew a game in Green Bay that they had in the bag.
3. Jaguars (2-9): Winning at Houston raises them two spots.
2. Falcons (2-9): They're so bad it doesn't matter if they've given up.
1. Texans (2-9): A new coach and quarterback are a certainty for next season.