The Pack is back — on the field, that is, after a bye. And the first chore is a big one: Green Bay needs to beat Detroit at Lambeau Field or fall far behind in the NFC North.
Not that Chicago, the other contender in the division through the first month of the season, has an easy challenge on Sunday, either. The Bears host undefeated New Orleans.
Not much has gone the way the Packers projected early in the schedule, and their only victory is against struggling Washington. The fourth-week bye helped them heal up, and now they feel it's time to make a statement in the division before it's too late.
Besides, their 21-game, regular-season home winning streak against Detroit is the longest in NFL history.
"If we were 3-0, the fact that it's a division game is pretty important, adds a little more significance to the game," defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. "We're aware that a good team is coming in here, but I believe if we play well, we'll have a good chance."
Chicago comes off a sloppy loss at Detroit, and faces the prolific New Orleans offense. Even with the Saints on a short week after Monday night's romp over Miami, the game offers little comfort for the Bears.
"Their ability to run the ball, their ability to pass the ball," Bears safety Chris Conte said, listing what impresses him about the Saints. "They have (running back Darren) Sproles, who is a big threat, and they also have Jimmy Graham; guys on the outside, Marques Colston — tons of guys who can just push the field, fast guys. And their ability — Drew Brees — to move safeties and find guys deep.
"They're doing a great job."
Browns 37, Bills 24
In Cleveland, quarterback Brandon Weeden replaced injured starter Brian Hoyer and rallied Cleveland to a 37-24 win Thursday night over Buffalo, which also lost starting rookie quarterback EJ Manuel with a knee injury.
Weeden threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon in the third quarter as the Browns (3-2) won their third straight and temporarily moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
Safety T.J. Ward intercepted rookie Jeff Tuel's pass and returned it 44 yards for a TD with 1:44 left to end any comeback hopes for the Bills (2-3).
Hoyer sustained a potentially serious right knee injury on a scramble in the first quarter, and Manuel was forced out after taking a helmet to his right knee on a run in the third.
On Sunday, it's New England at Cincinnati, Seattle at Indianapolis, Baltimore at Miami, Kansas City at Tennessee, Denver at Dallas, Houston at San Francisco, San Diego at Oakland, Carolina at Arizona, Philadelphia at the New York Giants, and Jacksonville at St. Louis.
Monday night's matchup has the New York Jets at Atlanta.
Off this week are Minnesota and Washington, both 1-3, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, both 0-4.
Detroit (3-1) at Green Bay (1-2)
The Lions can score — so can the Packers, of course — and their offense has nice balance with the emergence of Reggie Bush as a force. Bush comes off a 173-yard game, including a 37-yard touchdown run against the Bears, and has been a perfect complement for star receiver Calvin Johnson.
"Eventually teams are going to have to loosen up on Calvin or Reggie is going to continue to have big days like that," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "That's a good position to be in offensively."
Detroit leads the NFC with eight picks, so Aaron Rodgers needs to be careful.
New Orleans (4-0) at Chicago (3-1)
Careful isn't necessarily in Drew Brees' vocabulary because even when he gambles, such as throwing into triple coverage to Jimmy Graham, the brilliant tight end comes up with a TD catch.
Still, the Bears are a ball-hungry bunch on defense, leading the league with 14 takeaways, and will need to be aggressive. If they expect their offense to keep pace with the Saints, that could be a pipe dream.
New England (4-0) at Cincinnati (2-2)
Other than Tom Brady, the one player the Patriots probably couldn't afford to have go down is nose tackle Vince Wilfork. He did against Atlanta with a torn Achilles tendon, so New England will be without the heart of its improved defense.
Expect the Bengals to respond with a heavy dose of former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard running the ball.
Brady has never lost to the Bengals (4-0) and the Patriots have won six straight regular-season road games.
Seattle (4-0) at Indianapolis (3-1)
OK, no more questioning the Seahawks' road skills after that gutsy comeback victory at Houston. Seattle's defense should be good enough to win anywhere, so this will be a test because Indy is showing some versatility with the ball.
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