We're Black and Blue All Over:
So the stage is set for a wild conclusion to the 2012 season here in the NFC North.
We know that the Green Bay Packers are still competing for a first-round playoff bye. The Minnesota Vikings have been handed a win-and-in opportunity in a national timeslot on Sunday. And the Chicago Bears need some help from, of all teams, the Green Bay Packers.
That's right. The Bears' plan is to defeat the Detroit Lions in a 1 p.m. ET kickoff and then hope the Packers defeat the Vikings in a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff. If so, the Bears will make the playoffs. If not, their season will end despite a 10-6 record.
So can the Bears manage to root for the Packers? Coach Lovie Smith, who said on the day he was hired that his job was to beat the Packers, smiled Sunday and told reporters: "I've always been a big Packers fan."
Given the holiday week, I'm going to try to squeeze in as many of our regular posts today as possible. Tuesday will be light on the blog, and we'll roar back Wednesday. For now, let's take our morning tour of the division:
Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com wasn't impressed with the Bears' 28-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Isaacson: "The Bears defeated a bad team in much the same way they have won five previous games against non-playoff-caliber teams. They scored two defensive touchdowns. They overcame a clunky offensive effort in which they converted just 3-of-13 third-down opportunities. And in the end, they made mistakes -- this time with abysmal special teams play -- that would have doomed them against a decent opponent. Not to be a scrooge or anything, but optimistic about their outlook? Bah, humbug."
The victory was hardly evidence that the Bears are ready for a playoff run, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
The Bears are hopeful that linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) could return for Sunday's game against the Lions, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
Bears tailback Matt Forte departed Sunday's game because of an ankle injury but said "I can't see myself missing next week," notes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette on the Packers' 55-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans: "The Green Bay Packers might be the last team anyone wants to face in the playoffs."
The Packers do not seem concerned about Randall Cobb's ankle injury, writes Zack Heilprin of ESPNMilwaukee.com. But quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he hopes that "we can get him off special teams soon."
In a telling statistic, Rodgers threw to tight end Jermichael Finley eight times Sunday, notes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Finley caught five of them for 70 yards.
The Vikings have matched their win total from their previous two seasons combined, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com, but they don't think they're done yet.
Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder's performance in Sunday's 23-6 victory over the Houston Texans: "It's difficult to say whether his marriage or his success proved more surprising to Minnesotans this week."
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, via Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "That was probably one of the best defensive efforts I've been around. This type of opponent, on the road, to be able to play this way was pretty fun for us."
Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press on Calvin Johnson's new record for receiving yards in a season: "It can’t be that impressive of a historical benchmark if it had no profound effect on the direction of the team’s overall season."
Schwartz on that topic, via Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com: "I think if it's late game and you're down multiple scores and you're doing it against prevent defense [that the records are hollow.] We've had very few of those where they were just willing to give up yards. Almost every one of our games has been close where they've been challenging all those plays. I mean, even this last game. Up until the final possession, the game was certainly still in the balance, so I don't see that. I mean, it's hollow in the fact that we only have four wins. You'd like for that production to translate to wins, and you'd like to be able to celebrate that production with wins, but we haven't been able to do that."
According to Lions guard Rob Sims, Schwartz told players to wait in the team's locker room so they could congratulate Johnson on his achievement. John Niyo of the Detroit News has more.