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NFC NORTH: Headlines around the division

The four teams in the NFC North are coming off an 0-for-4 Week 13 showing, which has kept things relatively tight within the division. Chicago (8-4) still holds a game and a half lead over Minnesota (6-5-1), but this thing is far from over.

Detroit’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams Sunday dropped them to 4-8 on the year and out of contention for the division title based on Chicago having beaten them twice already this season.

In a jumbled up NFC playoff race, all four teams are still mathematically in the hunt for the playoffs heading down the home stretch of the season. It will be an interesting final month, so let’s take a look at the big headlines surrounding each team as they prepare for the season’s last quarter.

CHICAGO

Record: 8-4

Last week: Lost to Giants, 30-27

Headline: What is the status of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky?

Trubisky was injured Nov. 18 after a scramble when he landed awkwardly and then took a late hit that buried his throwing shoulder into the turf. He’s missed the last two games. The Bears are 1-1 without him, beating Detroit on Thanksgiving and losing to the New York Giants last week.

Trubisky threw passes in practice for the first time last Friday, and also threw before the game against the Giants.

The Bears have a marquee matchup against the 11-1 Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night Football this week. With Minnesota still on their heels in the division race, if Trubisky is close, it stands to reason he plays.

Quotable: “I can’t say that for sure,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy told the Chicago Tribune of Trubisky’s availability for Sunday. “I hope he is. The last several days, he’s getting better and feeling better. So I think it’s only fair ... that we just keep seeing him throw and see how he feels and then he tells us.

“If he feels – and we feel – like it’s an opportunity for him to go out there and he’s going to be good and safe and our team is good and safe with him in there, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Next up: vs. Rams (11-1)

MINNESOTA

Record: 6-5-1

Last week: Lost to Patriots, 24-10

Headline: Zimmer wants to see more ground and pound in Vikings' offense

After Sunday's loss to New England, a loss in which the Vikings averaged 7.3 yards per carry, but ran the ball just 13 times total, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he wanted to see more commitment to the run game moving forward. It’s actually the second time he’s made such a request in the last three weeks.

On Monday of this week, Zimmer said he needed to do a better job helping with the offense, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but he also praised the job offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was doing. It would certainly be wise for DeFilippo to try and find a way to get the run game much more involved this week.

Quotable: “We talk all the time,” Zimmer said of DeFilippo, via the Star Tribune. “We talk about things that I think are important and I think he tries to do those.”

Next up: at Seahawks (7-5)

GREEN BAY

Record: 4-7-1

Last week: Lost to Cardinals, 20-17

Headline: Packers part ways with head coach Mike McCarthy

McCarthy became the first Packers coach in 65 years to be fired during a season, but after four straight losses, the latest at home to the two-win Cardinals, it was clear a change needed to be made in Green Bay.

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin has been named the Packers’ interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Philbin will also call the plays for a Packers’ offense that ranks eighth in total offense and sixth in passing.

Can Philbin rally the Packers this last month to start playing good football? In doing so, would he become a candidate for the job permanently? It should be an interesting offseason in Green Bay as McCarthy was a staple there since 2006.

Quotable: “I don’t think we’re going to put any kind of parameters on anything as we go forward,” Packers GM Brian Gutekunst told the Green Bay Press Gazette of the upcoming coaching search. “I don’t think we’re going to close the door on anything.”

Next up: vs. Falcons (4-8)

DETROIT

Record: 4-8

Last week: Lost to Rams, 30-17

Headline: Lions' offense key to final month success or failure

The offense Detroit started the season with looked very different than the one trying to keep pace with the high-powered Los Angeles Rams. Wide receivers Golden Tate (trade) and Marvin Jones Jr. (IR) are gone. There was no running back Kerryon Johnson, who’s missed the last two games with a knee injury. Guard T.J. Lang has also been on IR.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford is short-staffed on offense, and it’s shown with both his play and the play of the offense.

Stafford’s passer rating of 90.0 ranks 24th among quarterbacks who have played at least half the season. It would be his lowest rating since 2014 if it stays there. His touchdowns (17) are down and his interceptions (11) are up. Most importantly, the wins are down from the last two seasons.

Stafford’s playing with a backup cast of weapons – though Detroit is hoping he gets Johnson back soon – but he has to find a way to make it work and get this 23rd ranked offense scoring more points down the stretch, with the help of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

Quotable: “He’s the guy that leads our team, leads our offense,” head coach Matt Patricia said this week of Stafford. “And he’s put in some really tough situations and he sticks them out and pushes through and just does a great job of continually going after it.

“For us, that’s what we’re banking on, and that’s what he gives us and we’re pushing forward with that.”

Next up: at Cardinals (3-9)

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