By Norm Elrod
(CBS Minnesota) -- As this most unusual 2020 NFL season enters December, the 8-3 Green Bay Packers control the NFC North. After taking down the Chicago Bears, the next five games lay out nicely for them. The reeling Philadelphia Eagles are next up. And only the Tennessee Titans in Week 16 seem to pose a real challenge.
The Packers still need to keep their foot on the gas, however, with the 5-6 Minnesota Vikings poised to make a playoff run behind Dalvin Cook. Their path will be a little tougher, with a Wild Card spot as a more realistic goal. The Vikings face the Jacksonville Jaguars, one of the NFL's worst teams, in Week 13. But matchups with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints follow later in the month.
The 5-6 Bears have dropped five straight games, after jumping out to a 5-1 start. Their most recent loss to the Packers wasn't nearly as competitive as the 41-25 score might indicate. Two of their touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, after Green Bay jumped out to a 31-point lead. They'll host the 4-7 Detroit Lions, who aren't in any better shape. After losing two straight, and many more over the last two seasons, the Lions fired head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn.
All times listed are Eastern.
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears, Sunday, December 6, 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Much of the focus of the Bears' struggles falls on the offensive side of ball. Mitchell Trubisky struggled early in the season, even as the Bears won some games. He was replaced by Nick Foles, who was marginally better, even as the losing started. Now it's Trubisky's turn again. Through it all the Bears' ground game has been abysmal. They currently average a league-low 82.2 yards per game.
But the defense also has issues. "I think most people think it's the offense, but I'm concerned with the defense now," says White. "Akiem Hicks, their defensive tackle, one of the best in the league at stopping the run, was out against the Packers. Now when he was out last year, they allowed more than double the amount of points than when he was in the game. He's such a big part of that defense. He didn't play, got to make sure he's in the lineup. So their defense is what I'm concerned about."
Meanwhile, the Lions will move ahead under interim head coach Darrell Bevell. With Patricia out, the former offensive coordinator takes over. A mid-season coaching change could actually work out in the Lions favor. According to White, "the two coaches that have been fired so far, Atlanta's coach Quinn, they were 0-5, since then they're 4-2. And the Texans firing their coach after a bad start, they're 4-3 now in the seven games without their coach. So it's made a difference for those two. I think it'll make a difference for Detroit."
The Bears are 3-point favorites at home, but momentum may favor the Lions. "I'm going to go with Detroit," says White. "I'm going to go with the new coaching staff, the team with a little more sense of urgency now. Chicago just going in the wrong direction on a losing streak. And if Akiem Hicks doesn't play, I think the Lions win this game easily."
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, December 6, 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
The Vikings have found their offense again, and that can be credited to the return of Dalvin Cook. The running back had a bit of a rough outing against the Carolina Panthers, but that followed four strong showings. Cook is second in the NFL in rushing to date with 1,130 yards; he's averaging 113 yards per game. And he has the team legitimately thinking playoffs.
"They played so well since Dalvin Cook came back from injury," White points out. "They've been one of the top five offensive teams in football over that time, and a top-10 defensive team. There's not too many teams in the league that can say that. I like the Vikings chances. I think they're going to make the playoffs."
The expanded playoff format will certainly help. But the first step is beating the Jaguars. The Vikings are 10-point favorites, and the Jaguars probably don't want to win anyway. "Jacksonville [is] still tanking for Trevor" says White. Even though they played well last week with Mike Glennon, this team still wants that number-one pick, I think, to get Trevor Lawrence. I'm going with the Vikings to win this one by two touchdowns."
Philadelphia Eagles @ Green Bay Packers, Sunday, December 6, 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
While the Packers comfortably lead the NFC North, the Eagles have lost three straight to fall to third in the NFC East. They still have plenty of time to regain the division lead, especially in a division where seven wins might be enough to take the title. The real issue is whether or not they're capable. The Eagles offense managed -4 yards in the first quarter of their recent loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and their first five possessions were three-and-outs.
The Packers, on the other hand, drove for touchdowns on their first three possessions against the Bears and led 41-10 by the start of the fourth quarter. Green Bay is favored by 8.5 points over Philadelphia, and judging by their most recent performances, it's easy to see why. These teams seem to be headed in opposite directions.
But it may not be that simple. The Packers have been a little inconsistent lately. And as White points out, people, "...remember what they saw last. So they're going to remember Green Bay and a big win. They may not remember the Eagles coming back and scoring a touchdown late to cover against Seattle. But I do, and I think the Eagles still have life, and I think they'll still play hard. I think this could be a letdown game by the Packers after beating the Bears. So I'm going to be one that will be taking the points with the Eagles."
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