Bears stun Packers, more wins for NFC North in Week 12


The Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings both secured victories in Week 12, but it was the Chicago Bears who had the best Thanksgiving weekend of any team in the NFC North.

Facing the archrival Green Bay Packers – led by the Bears’ boogeyman, Aaron Rodgers – the Bears avoided the expected carving Thanksgiving night and came away with a 17-13 win.

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler outplayed Rodgers – probably the first time that happened since Cutler came to the Bears in 2009 – and the Bears defense came alive after allowing an opening drive touchdown.

Nov 26, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) drops back to pass against the Green Bay Packers during the second half for a NFL game on Thanksgiving at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Tracy Porter picked up his first interception of the season in the fourth quarter, Lamarr Houston had a sack and fumble recovery and Willie Young collected another sack as the defense held the Packers’ offense to 188 passing yards.

There’s plenty of room for the Bears to improve – the run defense, which allowed 177 yards Thursday, continues to be a major weakness, and the defense struggles to generate takeaways – but there’s a sense of excitement around the Bears, especially as at 5-6 they’re not out of the playoff picture yet.

The schedule breaks down favorably for the Bears. San Francisco, Washington and Detroit all come to Chicago, while the Bears have road trips to Minnesota and Tampa Bay. The game against the Vikings projects by far as the hardest on the schedule, but the games against Washington and Tampa Bay are key, as those teams are in the running for the sixth playoff spot, which is about the only spot the Bears could get at this point. Wins against them, in addition to helping the Bears’ poor conference record (2-5), would give Chicago head-to-head tiebreakers.

Nov 26, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass under pressure from Chicago Bears linebacker Jonathan Anderson (58) during the first quarter of a NFL game on Thanksgiving at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

As for Green Bay, at 7-4 they’re still in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot, whether it’s the top wild card slot or the NFC North crown. They’re a game behind Minnesota now, but their schedule is softer than that facing the Vikings.

Nov 26, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) during the NFL game against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving at Lambeau Field. Chicago won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers go to Detroit Thursday, and host Dallas on Dec. 13. Despite losing to the Lions earlier this season, the away game is still very winnable, even against an improving Detroit squad. The Cowboys game should be a win, while the road game against an inconsistent Raiders team the following week should be more of a challenge.

The bigger problem for Green Bay is righting the ship on offense, where the team continues to struggle despite having arguably the best quarterback in the league. Davante Adams struggled against the Bears, production from the tight ends is minimal, and the running game still isn’t used enough.

Despite the struggles, Green Bay should feel good that the defense is good enough to keep the team in games while Rodgers and company figure out their offensive woes. In the past three games, Green Bay has surrendered only 48 points, an average of 16 a game. Even marginal improvements from the offense should make that mark by the defense good enough to win most games.

Nov 26, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) runs the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter of a NFL game on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

For Detroit, they looked like 2014 version of the Lions, as they smashed the listless Philadelphia Eages 45-14. Matthew Stafford threw five touchdowns on 27-of-38 passing for 337 yards, and the running game collected 108 yards. Defensively, the Lions held Philadelphia to 68 rushing yards and sacked Mark Sanchez six times.

Detroit is pretty much out of the playoffs, but their improved play should be good at wreaking havoc in the NFC playoff picture. They’ve got games left against Green Bay and Chicago, and after winning three straight, the Lions are more than capable of hindering either team’s playoff hopes or, in Green Bay’s case, chances for a better seed.

Nov 29, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) scores a touchdown behind Atlanta Falcons strong safety William Moore (25) during the fourth quarter at the Georgia Dome. The Vikings defeated the Falcons 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota, meanwhile, is back atop the division with a 20-10 win at Atlanta. It’s the same story for the Vikings: Solid defense and giving Adrian Peterson the ball usually means a win. Peterson ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns, the defense collected two interceptions and Teddy Bridgewater kept the mistakes to a minimum (one interception).

While they’re back on top of the division, Minnesota has the hardest schedule left of any team in the NFC North.

They host Seattle this Sunday, then have a road game at Arizona, home games against the Bears and Giants before a road game at Green Bay in the final week of the regular season. That’s two games against probable playoff teams (Arizona, Green Bay), and three games against teams fighting for playoff spots. The Bears already played Minnesota tough, and the Giants are incredibly unpredictable. One week they almost beat New England, and then they look horrid in a loss to Washington.

It should be an exciting close to the regular season, though, as Green Bay and Minnesota slug it out for the division crown, while the Bears need to win out to have a shot at making the playoffs.

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