BBAO: 'Defining moment' for Ponder

We're Black and Blue All Over:

Sorry about the delay, folks. Technical problems in cyberspace.

One of the more frequent long-term questions in the NFC North is whether Christian Ponder will be the Minnesota Vikings' unquestioned starting quarterback next season. After opening the year with clear signs of development, Ponder has taken a step back and left the Vikings to rely more than ever on tailback Adrian Peterson.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, coach Leslie Frazier said the Vikings' final three games will be "in a lot of ways, a defining moment for where he is in his development as a quarterback," via Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. But Frazier also said "we're not looking to next season or trying to figure out who our starter is next season."

As we've discussed many times, Ponder is positioning the Vikings for a difficult decision this offseason. There have been some encouraging moments this year but his relative lack of production in a run-based offense has left his long-term viability something short of clear. The Vikings almost certainly will have to make projections of future progress -- even after 25 career starts -- if they give him another unchallenged year as their starter.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • The Vikings' path to the playoffs has no margin for error, writes Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.

  • Vikings cornerback Chris Cook is nearing a return from a broken wrist, writes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.

  • Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews on his return from a hamstring strain, via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "We'll do a good job of keeping it warm, staying warm, and monitoring the situation. But ultimately I have to be my biggest coach, and if I start to get fatigued and tired, instead of maybe pushing it, maybe take myself out for a play here or there. But when I'm in the game it's going to be full speed."

  • Packers coach Mike McCarthy on why defensive back Charles Woodson (collarbone) won't play this week, via Sarah Barshop of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "Charles was ready to play, he's ready to go. But based on the information over the last two days, we're going to hold him out of the game. Trust me, that's not easy. He's been preparing himself. He practiced last week. I know he's extremely frustrated."

  • A small fire caused $5,000 in construction damage Thursday at Lambeau Field, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

  • Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith canceled practice Wednesday because of the number of injured players on the roster, writes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.

  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune: "Brandon Marshall walked into Halas Hall with a Christmas tree and an agenda Wednesday."

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Lovie Smith ought to give Brandon Marshall a big hug. On Wednesday, the Bears wide receiver very publicly counted the ways he despises the Packers, this week’s opponent. By doing so, he took all sorts of attention away from Smith’s shaky job status."

  • The "biggest deception" about the Detroit Lions, writes Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press, is that the "level of talent isn't as strong as many believed."

  • Lions center Dominic Raiola said that everyone on the roster should be "fighting for their professional life" over the last three games of the season, according to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.

  • The Lions hope to capitalize Sunday on the Arizona Cardinals' problems in pass protection, writes Ansar Khan of Mlive.com.