NFC’s best fall flat – Packers News @ PFT

Bye came at good time for Packers

Green Bay Packers News – It was a good weekend to have the bye, especially if you entered Week 10 ranked among the NFC’s top teams.
While Green Bay (6-3) enjoyed some rest, relaxation and rehabilitation, the rest of the NFC’s finest took its lumps. The carnage was widespread with lingering consequences a real possibility.
Previously unbeaten Atlanta (8-1) is no longer burdened by the pursuit of perfection. Highly motivated New Orleans edged the Falcons, 31-27, to put an end to the 16-0 speculation. The Saints’ Jonathan Vilma said Atlanta showed disrespect toward ex-Falcon Curtis Lofton in warm-ups. New Orleans retaliated with its best performance of the season.
The Chicago Bears (7-2) and quarterback Jay Cutler took it on the chin strap, both figuratively and literally, in a rain-soaked 13-6 loss to Houston on Sunday night at Soldier Field. Cutler played poorly before sustaining a concussion late in the first half. Backup quarterback Jason Campbell was shaky at best, and the Bears never seriously threatened.
Elsewhere, the New York Giants (6-4) got whipped 31-13 at Cincinnati, the Philadelphia Eagles (3-6) were beaten by Dallas, 38-23, in a game that saw Eagles quarterback Michael Vick knocked out with a concussion, and the Detroit Lions (4-5) fell below .500 after a disheartening 34-24 loss at Minnesota.
Meantime, the San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1) lost their quarterback, Alex Smith, to a concussion before finishing in a 24-24 tie with St. Louis.
No one was spared.
Well, almost no one, as the Packers were able to stay out of harm’s way and gather themselves for what should be a wild seven-game stretch run.
The Packers’ challenge begins Sunday at Detroit.
The Lions will be in desperation mode, especially after being run over by the Vikings and star running back Adrian Peterson. Detroit’s defense was abysmal against the run and only slightly less so against the pass. The Lions lost cornerback Chris Houston (ankle), who was carted off, although Houston did say he’d “be OK” for the Green Bay game. Defensive end Cliff Avril left with a concussion, so his status is unknown for Sunday’s game at Ford Field.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 28 of 42 pass attempts for 329 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings. Those numbers included 12 completions for 207 yards to Calvin Johnson, whose dominance was off-set by his fumble near the Vikings’ goal line.
Clearly, the Stafford-to-Johnson combination remains dangerous, but the Lions continue to be thwarted by their lack of balance in the passing game and an inability to sustain anything meaningful on the ground.
Look for the Packers’ defense to double-cover Johnson, blitz sparingly and play conservatively with playmakers Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Charles Woodson (collarbone) sidelined with injuries.
On offense, look for James Starks to take over as the Packers’ primary ball carrier on early downs. The season-ending hip injury to right tackle Bryan Bulaga forces Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy to shuffle his offensive line. It is likely Evan Diedrich-Smith will step in at left guard, while starter T.J. Lang kicks out to right tackle.
The Packers’ offensive line depth truly is being tested, and another injury in that unit could be disastrous.
Aaron Rodgers remains the Packers’ trump card. While the league awaits word on concussions to Cutler, Smith and Vick, the Packers continue to focus on keeping their star signal caller healthy. That means hoping Bulaga returns, getting tackle Derek Sherrod healthy and up to speed ASAP, and it means continuing to develop a reliable run game.
Defensively, coordinator Dom Capers must devise creative solutions until Matthews and Woodson return.
After seeing the Bears’ offense struggle and watching the Falcons reduced to mere mortals, the Packers appear to be in good position for the seven-game stretch run.
The Packers’ bye weekend surely helped.
This week’s prediction: Packers 31, Lions 28
Season: 6-3
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.