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NFC North: Week Fourteen

NFC North Standings

1. Green Bay Packers 9-3 (4-1)

2. Detroit Lions 8-4 (3-0)

3. Chicago Bears 5-7 (1-3)

4. Minnesota Vikings 5-7 (0-4)

Chicago Bears vs Dallas Cowboys (Bears are the underdog at +3.5; over/under: 51)

Both of these teams lost on Thanksgiving Day in embarrassing fashion and they are rewarded by playing each other on Thursday night football this week.  Soldier Field will be the battleground for a NFC match up pitting two teams in very different situations.

The Dallas Cowboys were caught off guard by Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles, who put an unexpected 33-10 whooping on the Cowboys.  That game subsequently put Dallas in second place in the NFC East behind Philly and made Dallas one of three teams with an 8-4 record vying for a wild card spot.  Early in the season there was talk of Dallas’ defense “coming around” but the truth behind that was that the Dallas defense was being kept off of the field.  The Dallas offensive line is their strong point.  It is the offensive line that has made the talented Demarco Murray the best running back in the league and also has stopped Romo from running for his life after every other snap.  Dallas has been able to manage the game clock for most of the season and with that, keep their defense fresher and more importantly – off of the field.

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The Chicago Bears were actually up in the first quarter 14-3 against the Lions then came three touchdowns in the second quarter followed by an offensive showing by the Bears that lacked any imagination and / or heart.  The Bears defense is atrocious and their offense looks defeated, maybe because every starter on this offense KNOWS they should’ve been an elite group this season.  Whatever it may be – the Bears have unfortunately turned into a team that seems to have “packed it in.”

The Cowboys should walk into Chicago and look like a playoff team, which is something Chicago is far from resembling at this point in the season.  The Cowboys are 5-0 on the road this year and that streak should remain in tact against a team that has no answer on defense and no identity on offense.  Regardless, some Bears players should get in the endzone for those in fantasy football playoffs – so there’s that.

Prediction: Dallas 43, Chicago 20; Better’s Pick: The Over

Minnesota Vikings vs NY Jets (Vikings are the favorite at -6; over/under 40.5)

The Vikings are currently one of the top five toughest teams to watch on TV.  The Jets on the other hand are must see TV – and not at all for football reasons.  The Jets are a team that when they make one mistake they compound it with another, and another, and another.  If their Monday Night Football performance showed anything, it’s that with two minutes left in the game, their quarterback Geno Smith, was 4-8 passing – and with that – they have no faith in their quarterback.  When it’s third and long and your offensive coordinator calls a counter play, it’s time to consider benching yourself and saving yourself the embarrassment.

As hard as the Vikings are to watch at times, the fans and organization understand that this is a throw-a-way year anyhow.  With the off-field drama involving Adrian Peterson, the team starting rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a new coaching regime getting their system together – it’s more about taking away the positives from this year more than focusing on the negatives.  A loss to the Jets would be a negative that would be hard to ignore though.  The Panthers for what it’s worth have a better offense than the Jets and the Vikings took care of business last week – but in this “week to week” league it’s hard to call anything predictable based on the level of your opponent.

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The Vikings are nearly a touchdown favorite at home verse the Jets but it will be interesting to see how Rex Ryan fares against the Vikings rookie QB.  Bridgewater will have to rely on a running game to help take the pressure off of him, but that’s easier said than done against this Jets front line.  Expect a lot of “three and outs” from both teams as this should be filled with a lot of “nothing.”

Prediction: Vikings 17, Jets 9;  Better’s Pick: The Under

Detroit Lions vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Detroit is the favorite at -10; over/under 41.5)

Detroit’s offense needed to play a bad defense like the Bears to end their drought of two games without scoring a touchdown.  Matthew Stafford finished with 390 passing yards and two touchdowns – both TD passed were to receiver Calvin Johnson who chimed in with 146 yards receiving.  The Lions offense took advantage of the weak opponent in front of them and used this game to hopefully get this struggling unit back on track.

This week they face the Tampa Bay Bucs who enter this week riding a two game losing streak – but when you have 2 wins to 10 losses – those are the only kind of streaks you’ll see.  The Bucs have been an obvious struggle all season long, but they have found reliability in their young receiver Mike Evans, who leads the team with 890 yards receiving.  Running back Bobby Rainey is their most talented player in a backfield that rotates mediocrity as if it’s going out of style – but Rainey won’t find much running room against this Detroit front line.

This game can get ugly quickly.  McCown will face pressure all day and pretty much throw jump balls up to his big targets at receiver Vincent Jackson and the previously mentioned, Evans.  Detroit needs to take advantage of the next three week against Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Chicago before their season ending show down at Lambeau.

Prediction: Lions 34,  Tampa 17     Better’s Pick: Lions

Green Bay Packers vs Atlanta Falcons (Packers are the favorite at -12; over/under 56)

The Green Bay Packers held down Lambeau field in what was the game of the week by defeating the New England Patriots 26-21.  Although New England held the Packers to only a field goal in the second half, it ended up being a chess match between the two coaches and field position played the biggest factor.  Green Bay’s defense shows improvement each week and in a game where Rodgers couldn’t get into the endzone for the entire 2nd half – they held Tom Brady’s offense to only one score in the same time frame.

The Packers now share the best record in the NFC with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals.  All three teams are 9-3 but the Packers are in the best position. The Packers already beat the Eagles head to head, and the next two weeks Philadelphia finds themselves facing the Seahawks and a rematch with a Cowboys team looking for revenge; while the Arizona Cardinals have games against Kansas City and each team in their hard nosed NFC West division.

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The Arizona Cardinals are a team that just may “lose it’s way,” and lose a lot along the way.  Last week they lost at the hands of an Atlanta Falcons team that at 5-7 finds themselves in first place of a disgusting NFC South division.  Most teams can run, pass, stroll through and skip around this Falcons defense so there should be no reason that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense won’t get theirs.

The line may be too big though.  The Monday Night Football stage is known to exhibit the unexplainable at times and what seems to be an “easy” win on paper can end up being far from it in reality.  Some “trends” to watch out for (according to sportschatplace.com): The Falcons are 4-0 against the spread in their last four meetings in Green Bay and the road team is 7-1 against the spread in their last 8 meetings.

Prediction: Green Bay 33, Atlanta 28;  Better’s Pick: The over

 

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

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