(CBS Chicago) — The NFC North is looking a little messy going into Week 9. The Green Bay Packers still hold the division lead, but they’re coming off a loss to the last-place Minnesota Vikings. The Chicago Bears dropped their second in a row, this time to the New Orleans Saints on an overtime field goal. And the Detroit Lions were overwhelmed by the Indianapolis Colts.
The Packers could extend their division lead moving into a relatively easy second half of the season. That is, assuming they play, given all the COVID issues surrounding the team and their opponent. Things could get still messier, with the Bears lurking and an intra-division matchup for third place. CBS Chicago sports anchor Steve Zahn gives his picks for Week 9 in the NFC North.
All times listed are Eastern.
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers, Thursday, November 5 @ 8:20 (FOX)
The Packers have a few issues heading into this week’s matchup with the 49ers. For starters, the game is scheduled for Thursday night, which gives both teams a short week. Also, multiple players will miss the game for reasons related to COVID, including running backs Jamaal Williams and A.J. Dillon. Starter Aaron Jones is already nursing a calf injury that has him questionable should the game be played on Thursday.
The injury-riddled 49ers have COVID issues of their own. The team had to shut down its practice facility Wednesday after a positive test. It has since learned that offensive tackle Trent Williams and wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Kendrick Bourne have all tested positive and will miss the game. San Francisco will also be without starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle.
The 49ers will probably look to focus on the run, despite their limited success last week. The Packers didn’t have an answer for Dalvin Cook in Week 8. The Vikings running back picked up 226 yards from scrimmage and found the end zone four times. Maybe they’ll have better luck against a 49ers run game that’s struggled at times this season.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers will likely rely on Aaron Rodgers to carry them, as they have so many times before. The future Hall of Famer already has 20 TD passes on the season and is averaging close to 280 yards passing per game. The game may depend on how he performs against a 49ers pass defense that’s been a little hit-or-miss of late.
Chicago Bears @ Tennessee Titans, Sunday, November 8 @ 1:00 (FOX)
The Bears have injuries and COVID issues of their own, with offensive lineman Germain Ifedi and Jason Spriggs on the COVID-19 list. Bobby Massie is already out until Week 13 and Cody Whitehair has also been sidelined. That doesn’t leave much in the way of an offensive line, especially with reserves also affected.
“If we’re going to talk about this game, the big question we have to start with is who’s going to be on the offensive line for the Chicago Bears,” wonders Zahn. “Obviously they’re dealing with injuries, they’re dealing with COVID issues. So it could be a big problem, especially with Nick Foles back there, who’s not exactly the most mobile quarterback in the world. This is going to be a big challenge for the Bears.”
Teams with offensive line issues tend to focus on the run. But the Bears have been among the NFL’s worst rushing teams this season, averaging only 85.6 yards per game. “They haven’t been able to run the ball, even when their O-line is healthy,” Zahn notes. “Their offense hasn’t been very good, even when their O-line is healthy. The Titans don’t have a great defense themselves. But, for the Bears, I think this is going to be a challenging week for them to get anything done offensively. It’s going to be on the Bears defense to try to do something.”
Unfortunately for the Bears, their middling run defense will be facing the NFL’s rushing leader. Derrick Henry, who fuels the Titans ground game, is averaging 110.7 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry.
Both the Bears and the Titans have lost their last two games. According to Zahn, “the way their offensive line is shaping up right now, I do not see this current Bears team going into Tennessee and beating them.”
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, November 8 @ 1:00 (CBS)
This is yet another game affected by COVID. Lions QB Matthew Stafford went on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday, putting his status for Sunday’s game in question. He could become available on Sunday, but he would still miss the week of practice and preparation. That ultimately may not matter for the experienced veteran. But his absence would surely have implications for the game.
“This is an interesting one as well, because we just had news that Matthew Stafford is on the reserve COVID-19 list,” says Zahn. “Of course, he could still play in the game. Assuming Matthew Stafford does play for the Lions, I actually kind of like the Lions in this matchup. The Vikings obviously coming off that huge win over the Green Bay Packers, where Dalvin Cook ran wild. But the Lions are sort of a sneaky team. They have talent. They’ve been in the lead in some of those games. I think that they’re actually a little bit better than their record is.”
Dalvin Cook has been tearing it up for much of the season. The Vikings running back, and the NFL’s second-leading rusher, picked up 163 of his 226 total yards on 30 carries. It was his third 100-yard game of the season, and he has since been named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
The Lions defense hasn’t had that much success against the run on the season, allowing 130 yards per game. But they’ve been decent the last few weeks. The Vikings, of course, don’t have much else going for them besides Cook. And their defense, especially given their thin secondary, will likely struggle to slow down Stafford, should he play.
“These are two pretty equal teams,” says Zahn. “I’m going to say the Lions actually go in and get this win over the Vikings, coming off their big surprising win over the Packers.”