We're Black and Blue All Over:
We spent much of Sunday discussing the Green Bay Packers' suddenly simple playoff picture. (As you know by now, the Packers can clinch at least a wild-card berth if they win their final two games, both at home, against the New York Giants and Chicago Bears.)
But let's not bury the lede (too far, at least). The Bears can win the NFC North title Monday night by defeating the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. A division championship would cap a surprising and impressive season for a Bears nucleus that seemed down to its final gasps last winter.
Bears fans concerned about the field conditions and snow forecasts -- up to eight inches is expected to fall by Tuesday morning -- should consider that the Vikings' recent history has been terrible in such weather. In fact, they won only one December/January outdoor game in a northern climate during the entire decade of the 2000s. That came in a January 2005 playoff win at Lambeau Field. The Bears might not have looked good in the snow last week against the New England Patriots, but their opponent Monday night is a dome team through and through.
Continuing around the NFC North:
Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has a sack in four consecutive games, notes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
The root of discontent with TCF Bank Stadium's playing conditions has been the NFL's crackdown on player safety, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
The Bears should be thrilled to have escaped the Metrodome, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. They have lost five of their past six games there and have been outscored by an average of 13 points.
David Haugh of the Tribune: "When NFL players expend so much hot air talking about cold feet, you know times have changed."
A massive traffic jam is expected near TCF Bank Stadium, which is on the University of Minnesota campus, in the hours before the game. Bill McAullife of the Star Tribune explains.
The Vikings named the 50 greatest players in their history Sunday night, and Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has the names.
Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com explains why the NFL and Vikings have been so adamant about the playing conditions at TCF Bank Stadium: "[B]oth have a vested interest in selling the point, since it's too late to make another venue change, the marketability of the game revolves around its novelty and coaches don't want anyone playing in fear of getting hurt."
Pelissero previews the Vikings' upcoming offseason roster overhaul.
Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News after the Detroit Lions snapped their streak of 26 consecutive losses on the road with a 23-20 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: "If you questioned whether the 4-10 Lions were making progress, this was much-needed evidence they are. They used all they had to beat an opponent that came in at 8-5 and was scrapping to stay in the playoff race."
Lions tailback Maurice Morris played an inspired game, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
Quarterback Drew Stanton took a pain-killing shot in his left shoulder at halftime of the game, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel examines the confusing final moments of the Packers' 31-27 loss to the New England Patriots.
The Packers' six losses this season have come by a total of 20 points, notes Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum on Patriots offensive lineman Dan Connolly's 71-yard kickoff return, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "It shouldn't happen."