We're Black and Blue All Over:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Good morning folks. The sun comes especially early when you post your final item from the "day before" at 2 a.m., but so it goes.
Week 12, as you know by now, concluded with the Chicago Bears back atop the NFC North. At 8-3 they are one game ahead of the 7-4 Green Bay Packers and two in front of the Minnesota Vikings. But lost in the shock of the Packers' 38-10 loss to the New York Giants was this mildly uplifting fact: They are going to start getting some of their injured players back this week.
Receiver Greg Jennings, who has missed seven consecutive games because of an abdominal injury that required surgery, is expected to participate fully in practice Wednesday and play next Sunday against the Vikings, coach Mike McCarthy said. Linebacker Clay Matthew "is close" to returning, McCarthy said, but not as close as Jennings and might not see much practice time this week. The same goes for cornerback Charles Woodson.
Jennings didn't play Sunday night, McCarthy said, because the Packers wanted him to get a full week of practice in to guard against a fatigue injury in his first game back. There had been plenty of discussion about how the Packers would get Jennings back into the mix, considering the emergence of Randall Cobb. But after Sunday night's 10-point output, I don't think anyone is worried about chemistry changes to the Packers' offense at the moment.
Let's take our morning tour around the division as I start the trek back to NFC North blog headquarters:
Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "No one was going to say so afterward. Certainly not after the ugly final score – New York Giants 38, Green Bay Packers 10, the MetLife Stadium scoreboard read – and certainly not after the stir created this offseason when Clay Matthews suggested that the better team didn’t win their playoff meeting last January. But the fact of the matter was this Sunday night: The Packers (7-4) loss to the Giants (7-4), in the grand scheme of things, did not matter."
Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "If anyone thought Mike McCarthy's Green Bay Packers were immune from dreadful, they can think again."
Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "The sooner the Green Bay Packers forget about their disastrous 38-10 loss to the New York Giants Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, the better."
"[N]o one more emphatically proved their worth" this weekend than Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, writes Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com.
Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "To a team in need of some serious reassuring, the Vikings were just what the doctor ordered."
The Bears' forecast is suddenly clouded by injuries, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com: "If this is the best the Minnesota Vikings can do with their biggest game in three years, the season won't be over on Dec. 30. The season will be over two weeks from now, after two more NFC North Division drubbings to match Sunday's 28-10 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears."
Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "The Vikings could play the Bears 10 times in a row and they would lose 10 times. Vikings supporters will see for themselves in two weeks when the Bears visit the Metrodome. At this moment in time in the vast, sprawling NFL universe, the Bears are just that much better. Hey, what can you do?"
Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune: "The mess the Vikings made Sunday at Soldier Field was particularly alarming because they looked sloppy and lethargic coming off their bye on the road against a division opponent. This was a collective failure, too. Offense, defense, special teams and coaching. Just a real dud, which is now seemingly an annual occurrence in the Windy City."
Some key questions on the Detroit Lions from Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: "Was last year a fluke? Is this season, with all the bizarre losses, a fluke? Is this a team on the rise that hit a nasty speed bump this season, or did a few fortunate breaks last season fool us into thinking it was further along than it was?"
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "With five games left and enough leadership in the locker room to hold things together down the stretch, the Lions need to find out over the next month who else belongs and who can be counted on to help turn things around next year."