The Green Bay Packers shouldn’t feel too bad about losing running back Eddie Lacy for a minimum of eight weeks. Running backs are hurting all over the NFL. Nowhere in sight among the top five in rushing are Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Latavius Murray, Chris Ivory, Thomas Rawls, Arian Foster, Rashad Jennings, Danny Woodhead, Doug Martin, Jeremy Langford, Jonathan Stewart and Ameer Abdullah. All of them have had injury or illness and have either had very little or no impact on their teams this year. The list is getting longer, too. San Francisco’s Carlos Hyde leads the league in rushing touchdowns but won’t play Sunday because of a shoulder injury. Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy ranks second in rushing but will be a game-time decision because of a hamstring injury. The injuries haven’t really devastated anybody. Running backs might be the easiest to replace. Kansas City’s Spencer Ware (415 yards, 5.3 per carry), Seattle’s Christine Michael (354, 4.4), Chicago’s Jordan Howard (352, 4.8), Miami’s Jay Ajayi (327, 5.7), Oakland’s DeAndre Washington (219, 5.2) , Carolina’s Fozzy Whittaker (185, 5.6) and Detroit’s Theo Riddick (171, 3.4) have been solid replacements. After the Packers watched receiver Ty Montgomery rush nine times for 60 against Chicago on Thursday night, maybe losing a running back isn’t as critical as it once was.
Even though they have two losses — by a combined nine points — it’s pretty safe to say the Atlanta Falcons are a team who will have a say in how the NFC plays out. Still, their next two games — both at home — will say a lot about their staying power. After narrowly losing to Seattle on the road, the Falcons return to the Georgia Dome to host the very competitive San Diego Chargers and then the well-rested Green Bay Packers next week. Knock off those two teams and the Falcons would be sitting at 6-2 and in a very good position to run away with the NFC South. Atlanta is already 3-1 on the road, so it has some home cooking in its future. If the Falcons can hold serve at the Georgia Dome in the coming weeks, their playoff chances look pretty good. They just can’t afford to let San Diego hang around this week because the Chargers have been in several close games and finally got over the hump last week against Denver. The Packers aren’t doing much, but they seem to be better on the road than at home and will be looking to make a statement in the NFC. The Falcons have a lot to gain over the next eight days.
The Bears had to play with their third-string quarterback against the Packers on Thursday because Brian Hoyer broke his left forearm in the first half and Jay Cutler was out with a thumb injury. The Bears may get Cutler back in time for their next game or will go with Matt Barkley. The Lions have won two straight and have a chance to get above .500 with a home game against Washington. They are 0-2 in the division but 1-1 against the AFC and 2-0 against everybody else. They are taking advantage of a three-game home stretch, albeit by the skin of their teeth. The Vikings look to improve to 3-0 on the road with a meeting against Philadelphia, which will provide a much stiffer test than Tennessee or Carolina did. If the Vikings lose, the Packers will be within a game of first place.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Minnesota Vikings (5-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-2)
When: Noon Sunday (Fox).
Key injuries: Vikings — DT Sharrif Floyd (knee) and TE MyCole Pruitt (knee, back) are out; WR Jarius Wright (ankle) is doubtful; WR Stefon Diggs (groin) and WR Laquon Treadwell (thumb) are questionable. Eagles — CB Ron Brooks (calf), LB Mychal Kendricks (ribs), DT Bennie Logan (groin) and CB Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) are questionable.
Player to watch: Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox leads the team with four sacks and has had seven sacks and a forced fumble in his last five home games.
Recent history: The Eagles have won six of the last nine but lost the last meeting in Philadelphia, 24-14, in 2010.
Key statistic: The Vikings lead the NFL in turnover margin at plus-11.
Bottom line: As good as things have turned out for both teams, it shouldn’t be a big deal that the two starting quarterbacks used to be Eagles teammates. The best thing that ever happened to Sam Bradford was getting traded to the Vikings. He’s 4-0, hasn’t thrown an interception and has a 109.8 passer rating. No. 2 pick Carson Wentz was going to be a backup until Bradford got traded. Now, he’s thrown for 1,186 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception (99.9 rating). Still, this is Philadelphia and the fans won’t forget that Bradford wasn’t thrilled when Wentz was drafted. The Eagles were playing great defense, but it turns out weak competition early in the season had something to do with that. They’ll try to put some heat on Bradford and keep this game low-scoring. They have given up the fewest passing first downs in the NFL. Wentz will be facing the best defense in the league. Opposing teams have scored just seven touchdowns and are completing just 55.5% of their passes against the Vikings. They rank second overall in takeaways with 12.
BY THE NUMBERS
114 Receiving yards for Jordy Nelson in his last three games.
2 Interceptions by the secondary.
4 Times QB Aaron Rodgers has been sacked in the last four games.
6 Points scored on their six drives to open the second half.
9 Touchdown drives of 70 or more yards by the offense. The opposition has had five.
3 Victories the AFC South has against the Chicago Bears, roughly a quarter of its 11 victories. The rest of the division is 4-1 against the AFC South.
0 Times a Minnesota Vikings quarterback has thrown for 300 yards or a Vikings running back has rushed for 100 yards.
8 Times Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery was thrown the ball Thursday night against Green Bay and a completion was not made.
80 Percent opponents score touchdowns when they get inside Detroit’s 20-yard line, the highest any defense is allowing.
100 Percent the Lions offense has converted on five fourth-down attempts.
5,533 Yards Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is on pace to throw for.
17 Qualifying kickers who have missed at least one extra point.
6 Teams that have yet to lose at home.
22 Career 100-yard receiving games New England’s Rob Gronkowski has, tied for the third most in NFL history.
13 Combined touchdowns by Arizona running back David Johnson and receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Johnson (eight) leads all NFL running backs and Fitzgerald (five) is tied for the lead among receivers.