Kevin Kugler on Packers-Lions, Colts-Patriots and 49ers-Bears

11/16/2012

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Welcome to Week 11 of the NFL season! We’ve established a little tradition at our house as I try to indoctrinate my daughters into the pleasures of enjoying football. Monday nights have become BWW night at our place. We enjoy the delicious wings from Buffalo Wild Wings (they always insist on Honey BBQ) while we enjoy Monday Night Football. This week, the game is one of the highlights… some weeks, that may not be the case. We’ll talk about that game in just a bit, but let’s look at three games I’m watching this weekend…. First….

1. Packers at Lions. This is where I’ll be spending my Sunday, calling the game with my partner Mark Malone on Westwood One Sports. Mark and I saw Green Bay against Arizona the week before their bye, and this Packers team was a banged up bunch. The bye came at a great time for Green Bay, but the bye week didn’t do a whole lot to solve these injury problems. Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson are still out. Clay Matthews has already been ruled out for Sunday, which is a huge loss for the Packers defense. And Bryan Bulaga became Packer #11 on the IR list when he went on this Monday.

Now, Green Bay has done a great job battling injuries to bounce back to a 6-3 record, just one game out of 1st place in the NFC North. And Packers fans will remind you that Green Bay had 15 players on IR at the end of the Super Bowl season just two years ago. But these Packers are a hurting unit, and now start the stretch run with key players still on the shelf.

For Detroit, it’s almost do-or-die at this point. Sunday is the first of two games in the next five days for the Lions, who host Houston in their traditional Turkey Day game (which you can also hear Mark and I call on Westwood One), and at 4-5, they don’t have much room for error anymore. Head coach Jim Schwartz called it “wiggle room” this week, as he talked about not having much of it! The good news… Detroit still has a top-10 defense, and an offense that can score with anybody, when Matthew Stafford is hot. Also, the Lions have five of the final seven games at home. But the bad news… only Arizona remains on the list of opponents without a winning record. In other words, if they win enough to rebound and make the playoffs, they’ll have earned it.

2. Colts at Patriots. This game used to be the AFC’s marquee rivalry. Manning vs. Brady. AFC home field advantage on the line in many years. Close, hard fought battles that culminated in some risky moves made by head coaches (i.e., Bill Belichick going for it on 4th down inside his own 30-yard line). Last year, though, the game didn’t mean much and some steam was taken out of the rivalry aspect. Maybe this is the year that it bounces back. My colleagues Tom McCarthy and Tony Boselli will be in New England for this game on Westwood One, and they’ve got what should be a great game again.

These two teams have met only once in the Tom Brady era when both teams didn’t have a winning record and that was last year. But Andrew Luck and the Colts have vaulted out to a surprising 6-3 record, having won four straight games entering Gillette Stadium. Luck is 8th in the league in passing yards, and has thrown just six interceptions since the opening game of the season. He’ll face a Patriots defense that ranks 29th against the pass, and gave up 337 yards passing last week to the Bills. If Luck can buy some time with his mobility, he’ll find open receivers and should be able to move the ball.

The real question in this game is can the Colts stop the Patriots? Or can anyone? New England’s offense is tops in the league in yards and points, and the run game has been a huge part of the Pats’ offensive success. New England is the 5th-best rushing offense in the NFL, the highest they’ve been ranked since Tom Brady took over at QB in 2001. That improvement in the run game (from 20th last season) has given the Patriots the most balanced offense in the league. Add to that the pace at which the Patriots can operate offensively (ask Peyton Manning and the Broncos about that) and the task for the Colts defense becomes especially tough on Sunday.

3. Finally, we get to that game on Monday night. Bears and 49ers. San Francisco enters this game after a disappointing tie at home with the Rams on Sunday — the first tie in the NFL since the 2008 season. They also suffered a big loss in that game, losing Alex Smith to a concussion. Now at the time of writing this blog, word is that Alex Smith has passed all the concussion tests and is on pace to play on Monday night in San Francisco. Colin Kaepernick did a solid job in relief for San Francisco, but there’s little question that this offense runs more effectively and efficiently with Smith under center.  Smith’s solid ball handling will come in handy against a Bears defense that has forced 30 turnovers this year, 19 of those interceptions. Smith has blossomed under Jim Harbaugh, and has been exceptional in avoiding costly turnovers, a big key on Monday night against the ball-hawking Bears.

Chicago has QB issues on its side as well. Jay Cutler also suffered a concussion against Houston last week, and because he can’t go, veteran Jason Campbell gets the chance to solve the 49ers defense, one of the best in the NFL.  Campbell is one of the most experienced backups in the league, having started 70 games in the past several seasons during his time in Oakland and Washington. He last faced the Niners in 2010 with the Raiders, a game that won’t go on his highlight reel. Campbell was just 8 for 21 for 83 yards, throwing two interceptions and posting a QB rating of 10.7. It was one of the worst starts of his career. The Bears defense is good, but it’s unlikely they’d be able to overcome a repeat of that kind of performance against these 49ers.

Should be another good weekend for games… and with Thanksgiving looming, fill up early on wings from Buffalo Wild Wings while you enjoy the games all weekend long. They go best with football!

– Kevin Kugler

Westwood One NFL play-by-play announcer Kevin Kugler tackles subjects that are interesting to him each week in his blog. The Football Insider Report is brought to you by Buffalo Wild Wings. Protect the Football. This weekend, Kevin and Mark Malone are in Detroit to bring you all the action as the Lions host the Green Bay Packers. Coverage begins at 12:30 PM Eastern on Sunday.

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