Kevin Kugler on Vikings-Packers, Bears-Seahawks and Steelers-Ravens

11/30/2012

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Hopefully, you’ve successfully negotiated the week after a holiday break… you’ve finished off all the Thanksgiving leftovers, and you’re ready for a great weekend of football. And, there’s a better than average chance that you’ll be hungry during the games, so how about your Sunday Buffalo Wild Wings fix? Nothing goes with football like Buffalo Wild Wings! And this is an important weekend, too, because we’re talking playoffs! Already!

Do you realize that by the end of this week, Week 13, we could already know 4 of the 6 AFC playoff teams? Houston just needs to win and they clinch a playoff berth. Same with Baltimore, and they can clinch their division if they win and the Bengals lose to the Chargers. All the Patriots need to do to lock up the AFC East is beat the Dolphins, while Peyton Manning and the Broncos wrap up the AFC West with a win over Tampa. And if they beat Tampa, that would clinch the NFC South for the Falcons, the only team in the NFC that can clinch a playoff berth this weekend. So plenty at stake this weekend, but it could remove some of the late-season drama, especially in the AFC.

So obviously, there are some key games this weekend, and the NFC North is where I’ll start, with a couple of interesting games involving that division. Minnesota takes on Green Bay, while the Bears host Seattle. Green Bay has dominated the division of late, having won its last 9 games against NFC North foes. And at home, where they play the Vikings this week, they’ve won 23 of their last 25 games overall. But this Packers team is reeling a bit, having been pounded by the Giants last weekend. Protecting Aaron Rodgers has been Mission: Impossible for the Packers’ offensive line. 37 sacks allowed is the worst in the NFL, and you know that the Vikings, and specifically Jared Allen, are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to add to that league-leading total. One boost for Rodgers should be the return of wide receiver Greg Jennings, who’s expected to play this weekend after missing seven games with a torn abdominal muscle. The Vikings are a game behind the Packers, who are a game behind the Bears.

The Bears take on Seattle this weekend at Soldier Field in Chicago, and that’s where I’ll be with my Westwood One partner Mark Malone. Chicago will have no sympathy for teams suffering from the injury bug, because they’ve been bitten hard of late. Jay Cutler just came back last week after missing time with a concussion, but the win over the Vikings last weekend came at a price. On the injured list this week for the Bears you’ll find key players like Matt Forte, Peanut Tillman and Devin Hester, who suffered a concussion last Sunday, is out for this weekend. And then there’s the offensive line. Starting right guard Lance Louis is a scratch for the rest of the year with a knee injury, while Chris Spencer also suffered a knee injury. The Bears are doing an offensive line shuffle this week, trying to fill those holes quickly in preparation for one of the better defensive teams in the league, Seattle.

Seattle is sorry to see the road in front of them again this weekend, because Pete Carroll’s squad has been terrible away from the Pacific Northwest this year. Just 1-5 away from home, with the only win coming against the 3-8 Carolina Panthers, doesn’t exactly have you thinking upset when you look at a matchup against the Bears, who just happen to be 5-1 at home this season. Seattle does have familiarity with the Bears, though, as these two teams have met seven times in the past six seasons, and the Seahawks have won five of those seven games, including the last two games at Soldier Field. Last season, it was a blowout, as Seattle blasted the Bears 38-14, scoring 31 points in the second half to get the win. It’s a big game for both teams, as Chicago is trying to hang on to that slim one-game lead in the division, and Seattle is clinging to that final playoff spot in the NFC, right now just ahead of Minnesota and Tampa Bay, who share the Seahawks’ 6-5 record. There’s certainly plenty at stake in Chicago on Sunday.

The other “big” game of the day is in Baltimore, where the Ravens, as I mentioned earlier, can close out the division if they can close out their most bitter rivals for the 2nd time in 3 weeks. Pittsburgh comes calling, trying to stave off division elimination for at least a week. It’s a tough task for the Steelers regardless of who’s at quarterback, because Baltimore just doesn’t lose often at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens have won 16 straight at home, and whether or not Ben Roethlisberger is able to play on Sunday, the task appears steep for the Steelers. Of course, getting Big Ben back would help, as Pittsburgh has scored just 24 points in the last two games without him. Last weekend, against the Browns, the Steelers turned it over EIGHT times in a 20-14 loss. Pittsburgh is now battling for its playoff chances, and has to be thinking Wild Card if they are to make the playoffs this season.

There is some good news on the injury front for Pittsburgh, though. Troy Polamalu is expected to make his return to the Steelers defense this weekend, having been out since week five with a calf injury. He’ll help bolster a unit that must deal with Joe Flacco and a Ravens offense that seems to find new energy at home each week. Flacco is averaging over 320 yards per game at home this year, and is coming off one of his better road games in years, having thrown for 355 yards in the Ravens’ come-from-behind win over the Chargers last week in San Diego.

Plenty at stake this weekend… make sure you aren’t missing any of the action. Plant yourself at Buffalo Wild Wings and enjoy another great weekend of NFL 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 Chicago for Bears-Seahawks. Coverage starts at 12:30 PM Eastern on Sunday.

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