NFC North: Final Word

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday’s games:

Hate to break this out right off the bat, but I know you’re thinking about it. Chicago wants to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday for all sorts of reasons, obviously. But here’s a big one: Going back to 1990, only 13.8 percent of NFL teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-2. (We won’t even go to 0-3 unless we have to.) It happened as recently as last season, when Minnesota won 10 of its final 14 games to clinch the NFC North. But suffice it to say, you don’t want to put yourself in that position -- especially in what most of us believe is a much-improved division. Here’s one bit of history: The Bears are 11-1 all-time against the Steelers when playing in Chicago.

The Chicago Park District re-sodded Soldier Field this week after it got torn up by a number of high school games as well as a U2 concert. While it’s better than the alternative -- dirt -- it’s hard to imagine the new sod will be anything other than loose for this game. We’ve already heard a cascade of complaints about the surface, most notably from Bears tight end Desmond Clark. Ironically, Clark isn’t expected to play because of a cracked rib suffered last Sunday at Green Bay.

If you’re into probability, you (probably) know that Sunday’s matchup with Detroit bodes well for Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson. He has surpassed the 100-yard plateau in three of his four career games against the Lions. Moreover, Peterson has done a disproportionate amount of his career damage in the month of September. Last week’s 180-yard performance in Cleveland was his sixth 100-yard performance in nine career September games. When you combine Peterson’s fresh legs, his history against Detroit and the Lions’ weak defensive performance last week in New Orleans, you can safely count on another big game Sunday.

A loss would extend the Lions’ streak to 19 consecutive defeats, which would tie them for the second-worst losing streak in NFL history. (The longest, in case you’re wondering: Tampa Bay went down 26 consecutive times between 1976-77.) That said, the Lions usually play Minnesota tough at home. Of the nine games the teams have played this decade in Detroit, seven have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Lions have won two of them. The Vikings swept the Lions last year but only by a total of five points. And this week, Minnesota coach Brad Childress specifically warned his team against taking the Lions lightly. “Call a spade a spade,” Childress said this week.

There will be quite a collection of former USC linebackers Sunday at Lambeau Field. Cincinnati starts two of them, second-year player Keith Rivers and rookie Rey Maualuga, while the Packers are using rookie Clay Matthews in a number of sub packages behind starter Brady Poppinga. I was actually surprised at how much Matthews played Sunday against Chicago, considering how his sore hamstring limited him in training camp, but coach Mike McCarthy said: “He responded very well.” It will be interesting to see if Matthews will soon be challenging Poppinga for the starting job.