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Audibles: NFC North Week 12 preview

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Chicago Bears (5-5) at St. Louis Rams (2-8), 1 p.m. ET Linebacker Lance Briggs attempted this week to smooth over indications of tension in the locker room. Speaking to Chicago-area reporters, Briggs said the Bears will improve defensively "if we want it bad enough." This Sunday might be a good day to want it.

The Bears will face a St. Louis team whose offensive firepower has dwindled to a few sparks. The Rams rank 29th in total offense among NFL teams and 30th in scoring. Who knows? It's possible that even the Bears' anemic pass rush can get to Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, who has been sacked 29 times in nine games. Finally, the Bears' beleaguered defensive line has a favorable matchup, one that could produce a domino effect for the rest of the defense.

The soulless Edward Jones Dome is an ideal place for the struggling Bears to get well. Or, put another way, if the Bears can't win Sunday, they must have really not wanted to.

Detroit Lions (0-10) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3), 1 p.m. ET Example No. 857 of Detroit's cursed football franchise: Quarterback Jeff Garcia has been largely successful at every stop of his five-team career -- except a horrific season with the Lions in 2005, when he compiled a career-low 65.1 passer rating. In the three seasons since, Garcia's passer rating has never been lower than 90.

The Lions actually defeated Garcia and the Bucs last season at Ford Field, and coach Rod Marinelli is well versed in the Bucs' defensive scheme after his long career as a Tampa Bay assistant. On paper, you would have to think that Tampa Bay isn't in position to exploit the biggest of the Lions' weaknesses -- run defense -- with Earnest Graham injured and Cadillac Williams still working his way back from a major knee injury.

But given the way the Lions' season has gone, none of it will matter. If the season-long pattern continues, Garcia will establish a career high in some category and the Bucs will rush for 200 yards. That's how things have worked this season for the Lions.

Minnesota Vikings (5-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6), 1 p.m. ET There has been plenty of talk this week about Troy Williamson, Brad Childress and Mike Tice -- both in Minnesota and in Jacksonville. But that trio has one thing in common: None of them will play Sunday at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

One of the real issues in this game is whether the Vikings will be able to exploit what should be a key advantage: Their elite defensive line should dominate the Jaguars' ragtag offensive line. But after a busy week for 75 percent of the Vikings' starting linemen, it's hard to be sure.

How drained will Kevin Williams and Pat Williams be after flying to New York late this week for an arduous hearing to appeal four-game suspensions? And how much did a separate trip to New York set back defensive end Jared Allen, whose sprained right shoulder continues to limit him? Consider it a case of unfortunate timing for the Vikings.

Green Bay Packers (5-5) at New Orleans Saints (5-5), 8:30 p.m. ET, Monday Could the path to the NFC North title go through New Orleans? Two of the division's top three teams, Green Bay and Chicago, still must play the Saints this season. Minnesota defeated them earlier this season.

(On the flip side, New Orleans could make a playoff run at the expense of the NFC North. It also has an upcoming game against Detroit. But that's a topic for the NFC South blog.)

We'll bring you more on this issue Sunday afternoon, but on paper Monday night's game appears to be a strength vs. strength matchup. The Packers' pass defense will pose a strong challenge to Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who might get his yards but will have to contend with a secondary swarming with players looking to intercept him.