It is coming close to the home stretch of the season with just a month and a half remaining in the NFL’s regular season. These next five or six games, depending on this last bye week, will decide a close race atop the NFC North between Green Bay and Minnesota. It will also tell us a lot about the resolve in Chicago and Detroit, and whether or not those franchises can finish strong and change the course of their seasons.
This week’s NFC North column takes a look at the headlines surrounding each of the four teams in the NFC North heading into Week 12 of the season:
Last week: Bye
Up next: at San Francisco (9-1)
1. Packers can take over top spot in NFC with win Sunday night
It’s a powerhouse matchup this week in front of a national audience as the two top teams currently in the NFC playoff standings square off in San Francisco on Sunday Night Football.
The 49ers have the league’s No. 2 scoring offense and defense, while Green Bay comes in with the NFL’s ninth best scoring offense led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
San Francisco can put a stranglehold on the No. 1 seed with a win. Green Bay can take over the No. 1 seed and have a crucial tiebreaker over the 49ers with a win. Awesome matchup Sunday night.
2. Rodgers vs. the 49ers rush
Four players along San Francisco’s defensive line have at least five sacks on the year. As a team, the 49ers have amassed 39 sacks, which leads the NFL. They also own the league’s No. 1 passing defense (142.5 passing yards per game).
Rodgers is playing at his typical MVP level with 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions, while throwing for 2,718 yards (271.8 average). Rodgers doesn’t throw interceptions, but the 49ers have caused 15 fumbles this year.
3. Green Bay is rested and ready
Green Bay is coming off a bye and has had a chance to see the 49ers play two games since the Packers beat Carolina on Nov. 10. That’s two weeks to get healthy and devise a game plan against a team head coach Matt LaFleur knows very well. It’s an ideal situation for the Packers to be in heading out west for a big NFC showdown.
Last week: Minnesota 27, Denver 23
Up next: Bye
1. Can Cook win league’s rushing title?
The Vikings have been able to put running back Dalvin Cook in the zone scheme he ran at Florida State, and he's averaged 4.8 yards per carry this season. Cook currently trails Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey by 42 rushing yards for the league lead, but McCaffrey is expected to extend that lead this week with Minnesota on the bye.
Cook plays just one more opponent (Chicago) with a rushing defense ranked in the top 10. McCaffrey has three games remaining against opponents with a top 10 rushing defense (New Orleans twice and Indianapolis).
2. Late bye week good timing for Vikings
The Vikings are one of the last four teams in the NFL to take their bye in Week 12. It gives them a chance to rest up late in the year, when bodies are starting to feel the effects of a long NFL season, and come back fresh for a crucial five-game stretch that includes three prime-time matchups and two west coast road trips (Seattle & Los Angeles Chargers).
Instead of keeping players for a day or two of practices into the bye week, head coach Mike Zimmer decided to cut back on the workload sensing the players needed the rest after 11 straight games.
3. Minnesota’s 20-point comeback win vs. Denver showed resolve
Denver came out with their foot on the gas pedal and took it to the Vikings' defense early on Sunday. They scored on four of their first six possessions (two TDs & two FGs), while Minnesota’s offense started punt, punt, punt, punt, fumble, fumble, punt.
Credit the Vikings for making all the right adjustments at the half, however. All four of Minnesota’s second-half possessions resulted in touchdowns. The defense stepped up too, allowing just one Denver field goal in the second half. Good teams are able to make the right adjustments.
Last week: Los Angeles Rams 17, Chicago 7
Up next: vs. New York Giants (2-8)
1. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky full participant in practice
Trubisky left Sunday’s game against the Rams in the fourth quarter with a hip injury. Backup Chase Daniel finished the game. Trubisky was diagnosed with a hip pointer and his availability for Sunday was immediately put into question.
But Trubisky was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, and it looks like barring any setback he’s in line to start Sunday vs. the Giants.
2. Nagy not giving up play calling
The Bears' offense is 28th in scoring and 30th in total offense, but Nagy said this week play calling is not the problem.
“If there’s things in the scheme that the other team is getting you or it’s not there, I’ll be the first to tell you,” Nagy told the Chicago Sun-Times this week. “Then we need to be better ... I have zero ego and I have zero care of giving play-call duties to somebody else.
“I really do not care about that, and if that’s what we feel like from going through it ... then I would do that, I really would.”
3. Bears not looking for a new kicker after latest misses
Kicker Eddy Pineiro missed field goals from 48 and 47 yards in Chicago’s 17-7 loss to the Rams Sunday. Pineiro was 12-for-15 kicking field goals before Sunday. Nagy said the Bears didn’t plan to explore other kicking options at this time.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.
Last week: Dallas 35, Detroit 27
Up next: at Washington (1-9)
1. Detroit travels to Washington in need of a win
Detroit’s lost three straight and six of their last seven games after starting 2-0-1. The biggest concern with this team right now is a defense that ranks 30th overall and 27th in scoring and has been lit up by opposing passers going on five straight weeks now.
This week, that unit travels to Washington to face a Redskins' offense that ranks 31st overall, 32nd in scoring and 32nd in passing. Which unit can get right?
2. Quarterback Jeff Driskel likely to make third consecutive start
Quarterback Matthew Stafford began the week as a non-participant in practice Wednesday, just as he did last week when he was ruled out of the Cowboys game due to the back injury he’s been dealing with.
Driskel looked much more comfortable under center last week with a full week of first-team reps under his belt. He threw two touchdowns and ran for another and didn’t turn the ball over.
The Redskins' defense ranks 22nd in points allowed and total defense.
3. Head coach Matt Patricia’s role in making defensive play calls changes week to week
“My role, really, on game day it differs game by game,” Patricia said Monday when asked about defensive play-calling duties moving forward. “So, some games it’s been more, some games it’s been less, and that’s been consistent throughout the season. That’s true.”
It remains to be seen if Patricia will take on more of a role in making the defensive calls moving forward.