Lions lone winner as NFC North freefalls


By Chris Havel

Special to EVENT USA

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFC North and the Packers have this much in common: Both invite criticism but defy meaningful analysis.

Eleven weeks in and it’s difficult to believe they can be this bad.

They can’t, can they?

Upon further inspection, the polite response is, “Uh, don’t ask.”

Misery is the NFC North’s and the Packers’ shared circumstance, subject to change given the NFL’s razor-thin margin between Ok and awful. That said … I wouldn’t count on a major rebound any time soon.

The NFC North isn’t very good right now. Neither are the Packers.

The sorry state of the division can be summed up thusly: The Lions (4-6) were the NFC North’s only team to taste sweet victory in Week 11. The Bears (3-8) were the only team to compete before losing by one score.

The Packers (4-7) had the momentum of a win over Dallas shoved down their face-masks by Tennessee. Green Bay’s 27-17 loss to the Titans at Lambeau Field came in front of a Thursday Night Football audience.

It was a low-point in a Packers’ season all too full of them.

The Packers came into the season with what felt like reasonably high expectations. I will be the first to admit I was right there with the prognosticators that believed an 11- or 12-win season was in the offing.

Now, the Packers must win out to get to 10-7, although an NFC team qualified for the playoffs at 9-8 last season. But the reality is four teams sit between Green Bay and the Commanders, which is a lot of teams to leapfrog with six games to play. It’s possible, to be sure, but a longshot.

The Packers mauled Dallas a week ago, but that was with Aaron Rodgers directing a run-oriented attack that featured 39 rushing attempts to just 20 passes. It produced Rodgers’ highest-rated passing game of the season and featured three TD passes to Christian Watson.

Against the Titans, the Packers reverted back to a “pass first” mentality, attempting 39 passes while exploring the run game sparingly. The result was a 10-point Titans win that wasn’t really that close.

Meantime, the Vikings (8-2) endured their worst home loss since U.S. Bank Stadium opened in 2016. The Cowboys embarrassed them 40-3 in an epic rout that saw Dallas score – get this – 37 unanswered points.

Ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy had his Cowboys (7-3) ready to avenge a 31-28 overtime loss at Green Bay. Dallas’ dominance of the Vikings showed in third-down conversions. The Cowboys (12 of 17) converted more third downs than the Vikings (1 of 11) attempted.

The Vikings’ Kirk Cousins completed just 12 of 23 passes for 105 yards and a 64.6 passer rating. He was sacked seven times for 49 yards, which was more yards than any of Minnesota’s receivers (T.J. Hockenson had 34 receiving yards, Justin Jefferson had 33 and Adam Thielen had 25).

Obviously, Minnesota is positioned to absorb such an ugly loss. On the other hand, despite the Vikings’ 33-30 overtime victory at Buffalo, a lot of NFL fans are suspicious and doubtful despite the win-loss record.

The drubbing by Dallas will escalate that vibe.

The Vikings have precious little time for self-pity. They play host to future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots on Thanksgiving in a 7:20 p.m. game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Patriots are coming off a thrilling 10-3 victory over the Jets in which Marcus Jones’ 84-yard punt return provided the game’s only touchdown. It was the NFL’s first punt return for a touchdown this season, and it came with five seconds in regulation to stun the Jets.

The Vikings need to figure it out or risk looking really bad in consecutive games. Belichick’s been known to do that to teams.

The Bears racked up 24 points but it wasn’t enough in a 27-24 loss at Atlanta on Sunday. It was a familiar refrain for the Bears. They’ve finally discovered an offense behind quarterback Justin Fields, only to see their eroded defense fail to stop anyone.

Fields gives Bears’ fans hope.

He is easily the franchise’s most talented quarterback since Jay Cutler, and the second-year quarterback’s upside is considerable. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 153 yards, a touchdown and an interception against the Falcons. He also rushed 18 times for 85 yards and another TD.

Fields’ 14 first-half carries were the most in a half by a quarterback since at least 2000. He ran four times for 12 yards in the second half, including twice on the final drive, but didn’t run nearly as much after the intermission. Then, late in the game, Fields injured his left shoulder. After the game, he said the pain was “pretty bad.”

Fortunately, it’s Fields’ non-throwing shoulder.

The Lions are the surprise of the division so far.

Detroit’s 31-18 victory over the Giants at East Rutherford, N.J., accounted for the team’s first three-game winning streak since November of 1017 when Jim Caldwell was the head coach.

The Lions’ Dan Campbell has his team believing right now. One of the catalysts is former Packers’ running back Jamaal Williams, who lit up the Giants’ defense for three rushing touchdowns.

In fact, Williams’ 12 rushing touchdowns are eight more than the Packers’ offense has mustered all season.

The Lions play host to Buffalo (7-3) on Thanksgiving Day. Common sense and Josh Allen’s talent suggest the Lions’ winning streak is due to end. Then again, in this crazy season, it would be a holiday treat – at least in my opinion – to see the “lowly Lions” rise up and bite the Bills.

It wouldn’t hurt the Packers’ draft position, either.

If there is a shred of good news to be cleaned for Green Bay from Sunday’s games it’s that the Eagles looked ordinary in Indianapolis. Philadelphia (9-1) escaped with a 17-16 victory over the feisty Colts and second-week head coach Jeff Saturday.

The Eagles struggled offensively throughout the game. It was apparent they dearly missed tight end Dallas Goedert, who is sidelined by a shoulder injury until later this season.

At this juncture of a Packers’ season, fans are typically talking about playoff seeding. Today, Green Bay is 12th in the conference and trails Washington (6-5) by two games, including the head-to-head tiebreaker.

This season the conversation is more likely to be, “So where is Green Bay picking in the draft if it were held today?”
The Packers would be selecting 11th overall, just ahead of the Lions (12th) and after the Saints (10th), in case fans want to know which teams to root for or against.

Despite the disappointing loss to the Titans, the Packers can fan the flames of hope with an upset of the Eagles at Philadelphia. The Packers opened as 6 ½-point underdogs. The total is 45 points.

The game will be featured on Sunday Night Football. It will be an opportunity for Rodgers to remind the NFL that the rumors of his demise have been great exaggerated. A late, game-winning drive capped by a laser to Watson in the back of the end zone ought to do it.

Prediction: Packers 27, Eagles 26.