1. Orlando Pace, Chicago left tackle: You have to wonder if the former Pro Bowler is reaching the end of the line. Before he left Sunday’s game at the Metrodome, Pace wasn’t coming close to slowing down Minnesota pass-rusher Jared Allen. The Bears signed Pace as a short-term solution to solidify their offensive line, but it looks like the gambit has been a failure. Pace, 34, appears old and brittle. It seems likely that 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Williams will return to left tackle in the near future, no later than next season. Pace might be entering his final month with the Bears -- and possibly the NFL.
2. Daunte Culpepper, Detroit quarterback: The Lions backup has been the picture of dignity this season while sitting behind rookie starter Matthew Stafford. Culpepper knows his future is elsewhere if he wants start in the NFL again, which is all the more reason he should have avoided a televised confrontation Thursday with Lions general manager Martin Mayhew. Culpepper was understandably disappointed by the decision to start Stafford against Green Bay, but his reaction was the opposite of what NFL teams will be looking for when they begin evaluating quarterbacks this offseason. The best Culpepper can hope for this winter is to sign with a team that offers him a chance to compete for a job. Some of those teams might think twice now.
3. Jerry Angelo, Chicago general manager: There has been a lot of criticism directed at Bears coach Lovie Smith. But when you take a look at the big picture, you see Angelo has steered the franchise into a tough spot. He acquired a franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler but has limited assets available to fill the numerous holes around him, on both sides of the ball. The Bears don’t have a first- or second-round pick in the 2010 draft, and none of Angelo’s top four selections from last April have offered hope for near-future impact. Angelo isn’t to blame for the Bears’ poor execution and questionable game planning, but he does share a role in the season’s collapse.
1. Jared Allen, Minnesota defensive end: This season, Allen has saved his best games for division opponents. He sacked Cutler twice Sunday at the Metrodome, giving him 10.5 sacks in five 2009 NFC North games. Overall, Allen’s 12.5 sacks rank second in the NFL behind Denver’s Elvis Dumervil (14.5). And it’s worth updating this statistic: In his first 27 games with the Vikings, dating back to the 2008 season, Allen has 27 sacks. That’s a pretty solid pace.
2. Charles Woodson, Green Bay cornerback: With apologies to Allen and Dumervil, Woodson has put himself on pace for a serious run at the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Known mostly for his coverage in the Packers’ previous defensive scheme, Woodson has embraced responsibilities around the field this season. His monster Thanksgiving game at Detroit last week -- seven tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack -- was another example of the damage he can do near the line of scrimmage. For the season, Woodson has seven interceptions, four forced fumbles, two sacks and 18 passes defensed.
3. Brett Favre, Minnesota quarterback: There’s not much more we can say after Sunday’s 392-yard performance other than to reiterate that the Vikings can now light up the scoreboard even when their running game is held in check. The Bears focused on tailback Adrian Peterson, giving Favre favorable matchups all over the field. Favre carved them up with little trouble, throwing on 46 of the Vikings’ first 65 plays. That should put a shiver down the spine of future opponents.