Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:
Green Bay has put itself in playoff contention by pulling back its big-play plans on offense, focusing instead on tailback Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley. But the Packers might be tempted to draw up some deep passes Sunday. Pittsburgh has struggled to compensate for the loss of safety Troy Polamalu, who will miss another game because of a knee injury. Opponents have seven pass plays of at least 40 yards against the Steelers, more than triple the number against them in 16 games last season. The Packers should be judicious in that area, however. Earlier this season, their offensive line couldn’t protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers consistently enough to allow long passes to develop.
We’re about to find out if there is any merit to recent discussions about Brett Favre’s interest in and aptitude for playing in winter weather. Minnesota has the first of two consecutive outdoor night games scheduled for Sunday at Carolina, where the temperature is expected to be in the 30s at kickoff. Next week, the Vikings play on "Monday Night Football" in Chicago. The good news for Minnesota: Favre’s cold-weather performance should have minimal impact, one way or the other. Assuming they clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff picture, the Vikings wouldn’t have to play outdoors again until the Super Bowl if they were to extend their season that far.
If receiver Percy Harvin misses extended time because of continuing migraine issues, Favre will need to find a new favorite target on third downs. A likely solution is receiver Bernard Berrian, who has caught 15 passes in the Vikings’ past three games. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Berrian has demonstrated exceptional reliability all season. Everyone measures receivers differently, but according to Elias, Berrian hasn’t dropped an “on-target” pass all season. In fact, Berrian has the most receptions (47) of any NFL receiver without a drop by that definition.
I don’t like Chicago’s chances of limiting tailback Ray Rice in Baltimore on Sunday. Tackling has been an issue for the Bears all season, and Rice continues to lead the NFL in yards after contact. Rice also doesn’t fumble often (three in 402 career touches), so it will be interesting to see if cornerback Charles Tillman has any luck knocking the ball loose once Rice gets into the secondary. A typical Rice performance is going to make it hard for the Bears to win. If the Ravens put up some early scores, the Bears' offense isn’t going to keep up.
Quick. Name how many of Detroit’s Week 1 starters have made it to Week 15 (in the same position). I came up with 11, and that’s not taking into account whatever personnel moves coach Jim Schwartz might be planning for Sunday’s game against Arizona. That figure includes only four offensive players, and in essence means that injuries and performance have forced the Lions to turn over half their lineup during the course of the season. Every team makes changes, either by choice or necessity, but 50 percent is a huge number. It’s no wonder that many of the Lions’ games have looked like their first of the season.