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NFC North Division Doubleheader in Week 14

With four weeks left to play, the NFC North serves up a divisional doubleheader this weekend. Minnesota welcomes Chicago on Sunday afternoon while Sunday Night Football sees Detroit travel to Green Bay.

Chicago Bears (8-4) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

Sunday, 1 PM ET

With Brian Urlacher on the shelf for three weeks or more, a suddenly-struggling Chicago side could be in for a rude awakening this weekend in Minnesota.

Four weeks ago Chicago (8-4, 3-2 road) was sitting pretty at the top of the NFC North with a 7-1 record. Only Atlanta had a superior record across the entire conference while the Bears’ defense was harassing everyone. Now, in the wake of three losses from four, the Bears are balanced precariously on a precipice that could lead to all-out season failure.

Sunday’s 23-17 overtime loss to the Seahawks coupled with a Green Bay victory saw the Bears relinquish sole control of the division lead. The Packers now sit alongside Chicago, with the Wisconsin team breaking the tie by way of a 23-10 head-to-head victory in Week 2.

Over the past four games, the Bears have averaged a meager 10 points per game. Compare that to the 29.5 points averaged over the opening eight games. What’s more, that defense that scored touchdown after touchdown is now banged up, with Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman nursing ailments while news surfaced this week that Brian Urlacher will be missing for the next three games at least.

This week the Bears head northwest to take on the Vikings at Mall of America Field.

Minnesota (6-6, 5-1 home) is currently on the outside of the playoff hunt looking in. A 4-1 start to the season has been thwarted by a 2-5 record since, and with home games against Chicago and Green Bay, and a road visit to Houston still on the schedule, it will be tough for the Vikings to make the playoffs, but not impossible. And that’s the key. As long as there is a chance, Leslie Frazier’s side will continue to fight, something that has not always been said of the Vikings.

With league-leading rusher Adrian Peterson (120.5 yards per game) looking rejuvenated, the Vikings will like their chances against the ailing Bears this weekend.

The Bears however have won six straight against the Vikings, including a 28-10 victory on Nov. 25, and will be looking to continue the trend. The Vikings will be without leading receiver Percy Harvin, who was somewhat cryptically placed on the Injured Reserve list on Wednesday after severely spraining his ankle at the beginning of November.

Bookmakers like Chicago to bounce back from Sunday’s loss to Seattle. The Bears opened as two-point favorites, a number that has subsequently risen to three.

Neither team has been a friend of the spread this season, with Chicago tallying a 6-6-0 ATS record compared to Minnesota’s 5-6-1 ATS record.

The over/under opened at 40 and has already dropped to 39. Chicago has seen the total go over in seven games this season, while Minnesota has seen an over five times. The last two meetings between these sides have failed to produce 39 points.

Detroit Lions (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-4)

Sunday, 8:20 PM ET

Calvin Johnson could make NFL history this weekend if he catches for 125 yards or more.

The second of this weekend’s NFC North divisional doubleheader sees Detroit (4-8, 2-4 road) make an unwanted journey to Green Bay (8-4, 5-1 home). With rain and sleet in the forecast, the Lions will look to win in a very cold Green Bay for the first time since Dec. 1991.

Green Bay took a share of the division lead last weekend, defeating Minnesota 23-14. The Packers – winners of six of the last seven – may now have destiny in their own hands. The Packers enjoy a soft schedule down the stretch, and a win over Chicago next weekend could be enough to stake a claim to the division.

Detroit – losers of the last four – will try to forget the poor numbers it has posted against Green Bay in recent years. The side has lost three straight, 13 of 14, and 22 of 25. The Lions haven’t won in Green Bay in 21 tries. Another loss this weekend will add to an already dire season.

The Packers are banged up both on the offensive line and in the backfield. With Cedric Benson (foot) out for the rest of the year and James Starks (knee) likely to miss a few weeks, Green Bay has re-signed Ryan Grant.

Grant, who spent five years with the Packers before leaving in the summer, was most recently employed by Washington, where his contribution this season was one rush for five yards, way back in Week 2. The Packers’ running game – which ranks 20 in the league at 105.0 yards per game – has played second fiddle to the passing offense, meaning Grant will not be expected to pile on the yards, merely set up the play action pass with a few solid runs.

For Detroit, Calvin Johnson – the league-leading receiver (119.0 yards per game) – will look to make history by being the first player to catch for at least 125 yards in six straight games. For the Lions, a team that won’t be heading to the postseason, ‘Megatron’ has been a rare bright spot.

Oddsmakers have Green Bay as one touchdown favorites, but the Packers are just 6-6-0 ATS this season. Before you get excited though, the Lions are a woeful 4-7-1 ATS.

The over/under is 53. The total has gone over in a whopping nine Lions games this season as well as six Packer games. The two teams combine for an average of 49.7 points per game offensively and give up a combined 47.9 points per game. Only two of the last eight meetings between these sides have topped 53 points.

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