The Gridiron Geek: Previewing Week 8 in the NFC North

    Detroit Lions (4-2) @ Chicago Bears (3-4)

    The last time these teams met, Detroit incinerated a beefy Chicago defense for 34 points in the fourth quarter, setting an NFL record. The Bears defense is looking to prove itself and, from what Tommie Harris said this week, I have a funny feeling that Jon Kitna is going to spend much of Sunday on his back. On the offensive side of the ball, the much-maligned Brian Griese is walking on clouds after last week’s thrilling last-minute win over Philadelphia. I always grumble when it comes to Cedric Benson, but with fantastic field position since teams refuse to kick to Devin Hester, I think Chicago’s O will get it going.

    The Lions’ passing game has the potential to be explosive, and they were glad to have Kevin Jones return at tailback. But I don’t expect to see their defense put on an epic performance like last week. Both of these teams are so inconsistent and unpredictable, I have no idea how to forecast the outcome. But, hey, why not: I bet neither team scores a single point until the fourth quarter, then one goes bananas and scores at least 50, while the other flops over, Pop Warner-style. After all, that’s what the NFC North is all about.

    Key to the game: Blah blah blah turnovers, blah blah blah red-zone production. Both these teams need to figure out what they’re doing when they look like geniuses and when they look like morons.

    Prediction: Chicago 27, Detroit 24

    Philadelphia Eagles (2-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (2-4)

    These teams must start winning now if they want to play at the end of the year. Both teams rely on the running back position. The Eagles’ Brian Westbrook is one of the most underrated backs in the league, regularly breaking arm tackles and catching passes. And when I see Vikings rookie tailback Adrian Peterson running, all I can hear is Chris Berman saying “WHOOOOOP!” To the dismay of Minnesota fans, head coach Brad Childress only gave the ball to Peterson 12 times in last week’s loss to Dallas. That has to change.

    Although Donovan McNabb has been struggling lately, tight end L.J. Smith is back this week and makes a bigger target for McNabb’s floaty passes.

    Key to the game: The Eagles need to use Andy Reid’s West Coast offense to get around Minnesota’s Pro Bowl tackles. McNabb must look for Smith and Westbrook early and often. The Vikings need to test what their young star can do. Childress needs to stop putting Peterson on returns and just hand him the ball 40 times.

    Prediction: Philadelphia 23, Vikings 17

    Green Bay Packers (5-1) @ Denver Broncos (3-3)

    This cross-conference showdown on Monday night is reminiscent of the good old days of Brett Favre vs. John Elway. Unfortunately, Elway has moved on to Circuit City commercials.

    This game has important divisional implications. Denver is very much alive in the AFC West, and the Pack can feel the Lions’ zebra breath in the North. The Broncos got an impressive win last week against the AFC powerhouse Steelers, but that was in contrast to the 41-3 shellacking they got from the Chargers the week before. So far this season, the Broncos haven’t won a game by more than three points, and the games they’ve lost have always been by two scores or more.

    The Packers have been winning the close, ugly games, and this game isn’t going to be any Super Bowl XXXII. The Broncos have an awful run defense, but the Packers have no running game. They boast one of the better passing attacks in the NFC, but the Broncos have the two best shut-down corners in the league in Dre Bly and Champ Bailey. Charles Woodson and Al Harris will play well for Green Bay at corner, but Jay Cutler has got a gun to tear through Green Bay’s inexperience at the safety position. This is an all-around great matchup, but probably won’t be thrilling anyone’s socks off on the scoreboard.

    Key to the game: The Packers need to establish the run to attack Denver’s weakness, and finish off drives with seven points, not three. Crafty, old man Favre needs to keep an eye on Bly and Bailey.

    Prediction: Green Bay 24, Denver 21


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