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Things change quickly in NFC North

December 23, 2010
By Keith Shelton

ESCANABA - There's a very real chance that not only could the Green Bay Packers miss the playoffs entirely, but the Detroit Lions could finish 6-10 and with the same or better record as the Minnesota Vikings. How quickly things can change in the NFC North.

Two weeks ago, it appeared Detroit was heading for their fourth top five draft pick in the last five years. Then they shocked the Packers at Ford Field and followed that up with kicking a nail into the coffin of Tampa Bay on the road last Sunday. How many dubious streaks did that snap for Detroit? Three to be exact. They beat a division opponent for the first time in 19 tries, bid adieu to a 26 game road laughing stock, and won consecutive games for the first time since 2007 when Brett Favre was still slinging passes for the Packers.

Even more mind boggling is that the Lions have done this with their barely-regarded-until-recently, third-string quarterback Drew Stanton, and kicker Dave Rayner who may have been eating potato chips on the couch a month ago for all we know.

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Keith Shelton

The Lions are considering starting Shaun Hill next week on the road against the Miami Dolphins which is of course the typical boneheadedness we've come to expect from the Lions (lack of) braintrust. Stanton should be the starter for the remainder of the season except in the unlikely event Matthew Stafford can return healthy for one of the Lions last two games. Detroit has a very real chance to win out at Miami where the Dolphins have won just one game this season, and next week when they host the the train-wreck Vikings.

The Green Bay Packers wrap up their season with two home games at frigid Lambeau Field but they're likely feeling hot under the shoulder pads from the large task ahead of them. The Packers must win both their remaining games to earn a playoff spot. That's no easy task when their final opponents are playoff contenders, the New York Giants and Chicago Bears.

What's working in Green Bay's favor is the questionable mentality of the Giants who watched a lead, that even the Lions could have held, disappear into the New Jersey skyline last Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles completed a monumental 21-point comeback.

The Packers may be able to hit the Giants while they're down. They'll have to in order to stay alive.

Working against Green Bay is the questions surrounding Aaron Rodgers' availability. Since suffering his second concussion this season against Detroit, Rodgers has been out of action. Flynn played poorly against Detroit but played leaps and bounds better against New England in his first NFL start, outdueling Tom Brady and completing 65 percent of his passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns.

Flynn may get to start again Sunday. Can he handle the pressure of a win-or-bust scenario?

Chicago, who has already clinched a share of the division title, is coming off a blowout victory against the Vikings. That game was played outdoors in Minneapolis which resembles the inside of a meat locker this time of year. Where the Vikings should have had a large advantage, Chicago's 40-14 victory proves that Minnesota has hit rock bottom on the season.

The only remaining intrigue for the Bears until playoff time is the question asked of any team that has locked up their playoff position. Will they or won't they? Rest their starters, that is. I can't speak for Lovie Smith, but if I was coaching the Bears and had a chance to knock the Packers out of playoff contention in the final game of the season, you better believe I'd be starting every one of my guys to do so. But then, I guess that's why I'm just a fan.

In that regard, hopefully Chicago won't rest anyone so we'll at least get a good game to watch when the New York Jets visit Soldier Field on Sunday.

Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota eh? What more can go wrong for this team? Their home stadium collapses, Brett Favre gets injured and ends his ironman streak and they miss expectations for the season by a mile. At least with their final two games on the road, they don't have to trouble themselves with finding a place to play.

Perhaps in the desperation of trying to stir up some semblance of intrigue for this team, the Vikings are not putting Brett Favre on injured reserve, despite his shoulder being out of whack, despite numbness in his hand, and despite him leaving the game last Sunday due to a concussion.

Will Favre get one last hurrah against his favorite punching bag, the Detroit Lions in two weeks? It sure would be fitting. Would Favre miss that for anything? I certainly hope not.

The alternative - Tavaris Jackson or rookie Joe Webb starting - is not exactly a ratings' gold mine.



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