By Tom Pollin (@tjpollin)
Black and Blue Division Yellow-Eyed Bully
The Vikings took a big step towards clinching a Wild Card spot in the playoffs with a dominant 23-6 win over the Houston Texans. Minnesota has recovered from a dismal 3-13 record in 2011 to nine wins in 2012 with one game left to play.
The Vikings not only put themselves in the driver’s seat for the final NFC playoff spot, they became the second NFC North team to dominate Houston on their home field and denied their attempt to lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC with one week to go.
At Lambeau Field, the Packers hit the gas at kickoff and didn’t take their foot off the accelerator the entire game in a 55-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans. After their four games against the NFC North this season the Titans have given up 177 points, or just over 44 points per game.
In Arizona, the Bears rode two defensive touchdowns to a 28-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The victory kept the Bears’ playoff hopes alive going into the final week.
On Saturday night the Lions were the only team in the division to lose this weekend after falling to the Atlanta Falcons 31-18. The Falcons locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC with the win.
With one week left in the 2012 NFL season and playoff possibilities flowing from the 5,000 internet experts like beer from a tap, here are the five things we learned this week in the NFC North.
1. The Vikings made another big statement.
Just when the NFL was ready to present the Vikings with a consolation prize and a version of the home game, Minnesota let everyone know that they weren’t finished yet.
The Vikings were the first team to bring the now 10-3-1 49ers back to Earth in Week Three with a 24-13 victory at home. They went one better by dropping the Texans, on their home field, to a 12-3 record to tie them with the Broncos at the top of the AFC with one game left.
The Vikings’ won the battle of the Defensive Hogs to keep the Texans from playing their way back into the game. They shut down Arian Foster and Ben Tate, allowing them only 34-yards on 18 carries, sacked Matt Schaub four times and hit him eight to keep him off balance in the passing game and held the Texans to one conversion in 11 attempts on third down.
On the other side of the ball, while Houston held Adrian Peterson to 86-yards and a 3.4-yards per carry average the Vikings still gained 174-yards rushing for the game, their offensive line only allowed one sack by the Texans’ feared pass rush and the Vikings converted 50 percent of their third down attempts.
The Texans were the No. 3 scoring offense in the league, averaging 28.1 PPG but the Vikings held them to two field goals. They may be going home but only to play the Packers in Week 17 to try and lock-up their first playoff spot since 2009.
2. The Packers end the Titans’ afternoon early.
The Titans were victimized on their third drive of the game by an inexcusable Intentional Grounding penalty against Jake Locker, a call that the officials should get fined for making, if the NFL were fair about such things. His screen pass attempt was barely out of the reach of intended receiver Chris Johnson.
That call didn’t ultimately make a difference in the game though. The Titans were over matched nearly from the time the two teams came out of the tunnel until the final gun.
The Packers were leading 14-0 after the first quarter and led 20-0 at the half after two second quarter field goals by Mason Crosby.
The only spoiler to the Packers’ afternoon was when the Titans were able to avoid the shutout with a two-yard touchdown pass with just under two minutes to play.
3. The bum beaters are back.
The Bears are 8-0 against teams with sub-.500 records this season after beating the Cardinals in Arizona. Their defense took advantage of one of the worst offenses in the NFL to score two touchdowns to match the two that their offense scored.
The Bears’ offense sputtered and coughed the entire game but most noticeably in the first half. Jay Cutler had one completion in 11 attempts before going 5 for 5 in a crisp, sharply executed 2-minute drill to put the Bears ahead 21-6 at the half.
The high point of the game was the defense converting two more turnovers into touchdowns. Zack Bowman picked up a fumble in the end zone for the first score of the game and in the third quarter Charles Tillman grabbed his third, and the Bears defense’s eighth pick-6 of the season to close the team’s scoring.
4. Lions teed themselves up for the Falcons to finish.
As dominant as the Falcons were in the first half in opening up a 21-6 lead on the strength of three Matt Ryan touchdown passes, the Lions had put themselves back within striking distance by the end of the third quarter.
By the open of the fourth quarter the Lions had closed the score to 21-13 and were set up with first and goal at the Falcons’ 6-yard line. They gained four yards in three plays and on fourth down, made the decision to kick the chip shot field goal to draw within five at 21-16. That’s as close as they got.
Matt Ryan responded by leading the Falcons on a touchdown drive of their own, then added a field goal after Stafford threw an interception on the first play of the Lions’ next drive. Halfway through the fourth quarter the Falcons had
Matt Ryan finished the game with his second consecutive game with a 140+ Passer Rating on 25 completions in 32 attempts, 279-yards, 4 TD’s and 0 INT’s and an 8.2 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average.
5. The playoff picture for the NFC North after Week 16.
The Packers put themselves in position to slide into the No. 2 seed in the NFC with their victory. If the Seahawks finish their Sunday night thrashing of the 49ers the Packers will have a chance at a first round bye in the playoffs.
To hold that spot the Packers will have to beat the Vikings next Sunday since it’s highly unlikely the 49ers will lose to the Arizona Cardinals at home next week.
The Vikings also need to win that game to lock up the No. 6 seed. A loss means that they would need the Lions to beat the Bears at Ford Field next Sunday or the Bears would slip back into the playoffs at No. 6.
With the Seahawks dominating the 49ers so far on Sunday night the only playoff scenario for the Bears is a victory over the Lions while the Vikings lose to the Packers.
6. An NFC North “Major Award” bonus, Week 16 record breakers.
With Tuesday being Christmas Day it's a good weekend to hand out a few leg lamps in recognition of 2012 record setting performances.
Calvin Johnson ended his record chase a week early with 225 receiving yards to pass Jerry Rice for the single-season record. Johnson now has 1,892-yards this season and has an excellent chance to be the first receiver to surpass 2,000 receiving yards in a season.
Johnson also set two more records, the game was his eighth consecutive 100-yard game and fourth consecutive game with 10 or more catches.
Blair Walsh of the Vikings set a record against the Texans when he kicked his ninth field goal of 50-yards or more this season.
The Bears defense has eight interceptions returned for touchdowns this season, one behind the 1961 San Diego Chargers. They need one next week against the Lions to share the all-time team record.
To all CHHF and Football Nation fans, have a wonderful, and safe, Christmas holiday.
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