Charles “The Prodigy” Richey is an on-air host and producer for chicagolandsportsradio.com, he writes on the NFC North for WARR
As the Minnesota Vikings take on the Carolina Panthers this Sunday in a late season road test, they will be looking to pick up their ninth straight win with Case Keenum under center.
Many people would have been skeptical at the idea of Keenum being at the top of the depth chart entering this season. The sixth year quarterback embodied the term “journeyman,” entering his sixth season with his fourth team, but when given the ball he has been able to silence a lot of critics and perhaps most importantly, head coach Mike Zimmer.
For a time it seemed like the return of injured past franchise QB Teddy Bridgewater would ensure his placement as starter, but despite being available for about a month now, Bridgewater is still holding the clipboard and Keenum is getting ready to lead the Vikes into the NFC playoffs, possibly as its top overall seed.
More important even than Keenum in Minnesota’s newfound success has been the team’s riding of a red-hot Vikings defense, which ranks No. 2 overall in the NFL. All the challenging work and effort by the Vikings this season has translated into them sitting as the top team in the NFC. We could be getting closer each week to history and the Vikings becoming the first team to host the Super Bowl? Why not? They’re essentially two games away from that feat and both games are likely to be at US Bank Stadium as well.
So many people and pundits have highly praised the D, but Minnesota’s O is worthy of capitalization as well. Ranked fifth overall in the league today, a year ago this team was 29th in Red Zone scoring. This year they are 21 spots better, that is such an amazing turn around and it’s also been the highest seen under the Mike Zimmer era!
This Sunday the Vikes will have their hands full against the Panthers, a likely playoff team themselves who have played much better in the second half of the season than the first.
It will be a match-up decided primarily by the offensive and defensive lines, with the Vikings providing the second best unit in regards to protecting their quarterback. Coming off a 14-9 victory over the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons, Keenum feels more calm, cool, collected (and protected) than ever!
“I think we did enough — scored enough points — took advantage of our opportunities in the Red Zone,” Keenum told the media after last Sunday’s win.
If they pull off this twin NFC South win, this will be another huge statement victory to stamp the future NFC North champ’s mark as the top team in the conference. Another win, another statement and just maybe another step towards destiny!
Is Caldwell Throwing Detroit’s Season to the Lions
As the Detroit Lions prepared to face the Tampa Bay Bucs this week they may have found themselves matched with a team who needs to take as many desperate measures as they have to currently. On one hand, you have a Lions team as the eighth seed and in Tampa Bay they’re looking at being one more loss from being completely out of the NFC playoff picture.
Under coach Jim Caldwell in the month of December the Lions barely have a winning record at 7-5, that’s not the best sign going forward for a franchise who needs to do more than play .500 this month in order to keep any playoff hopes alive. One major problem is going to be the strength of Matt Stafford’s hand, an issue still in the air after his injuring it this past Sunday against the Ravens.
According to fivethirtyeight, the Lions playoff hopes have trimmed down to just eight percent. Either the Lions will become, “too hot to handle or too cold to hold,” in the coming weeks. To quote the great Bobby Brown, at some point the Lions “gotta take control,” of their situation.
Control is not something the Lions have exercised much of in their history. Think about it — how can a franchise like the Lions not take advantage of not winning the NFC North at least three times within the past five seasons? No Division Titles since 1993, no NFC North titles ever in the 15 years since they were under that division banner. What’s the excuses now? Caldwell is a very good coach, but some may have to wonder, did the Lions front office jump the gun too quickly in extending his contract in late September?
A winning culture has been developed in Detroit, but enough may be enough. At some point, all teams have got to one up their rivals if they want to consider themselves relevant.
Here’s one of the other issues that the Lions have staring them in the face — they already lost to the Atlanta Falcons earlier in the year, that’s a huge tiebreaker that can come back to haunt them, but Atlanta doesn’t appear to show any signs of letting up in their quest to conquer the NFC South and secure a playoff spot. With at least two teams still alive in each division, including the North, help is what the Lions need and tons of it!
Pack Stays Afloat, Rodgers Closer To Action
One team down and one more to go in setting up the potential return of “That Bad Man,” Aaron Rodgers, who upon his return to practice this week can still possibly salvage the Green Bay Packers’ season.
Currently the Packers still find themselves outside looking in the NFC playoffs. Jamaal Williams proved to be an enormous difference in their last game as he was able, dominating in the run game and averaging 5.38 yards per carry as the Pack picked up a big win over Tampa Bay.
The Packers haven’t had a 100+ yard rusher for over six weeks dating back to their first game without Rodgers, when they lost to the Saints at home. Now the playoffs seem doable, but like the Lions they’ll need plenty of help.
For the Packers to make the playoffs, they will need to win out, and will desperately need Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle to lose their next two games as well as the Panthers to lose one because it will set up a head-to-head matchup in Carolina for Week 15.
According to Oddsshark Green Bay goes into Cleveland as -6-point favorites. If they take care of the Browns and Rodgers is cleared to come back and beat the Panthers, they will finish up their two remaining games at home in Week 16 against Minnesota and the final game on the road against the Lions.
In the meanwhile, there is legitimate concern on how current QB Brett Hundley is using more of his running speed as opposed to passing. Going from 245 to 84 yards passing in two weeks, clearly showed how valuable the running attack was effective against the Bucs. At once the read option became key and the main igniter of the running game while they earned 133 yards total under both Hundley and Williams. Mike McCarthy utilized it most effectively late in the fourth quarter in where Hundley was able to pick up 14 yards and eventually tie the game. Another run in overtime for 18 yards by Hundley helped stem the tide for Green Bay.
The Packers should have been out of this long ago! What can you ask for at this point is to still have a shot to hold down the fort and be in position to possibly snag a Wild Card spot? This is a testament to the job that McCarthy has done in coaching his team in all situational moments. With Rodgers back in the fold somewhat, this team is getting closer to where it wants to be at the absolute best time to do so.
Follow Charles at his personal blog and on Twitter @ProdigyRichey; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio