Saturday, March 8, 2014
By Barry Wilner
Ap Pro Football Writer
(Continued from page 1)
Injuries have taken a huge toll on the Bears (6-6) and Packers (5-6-1), who were tied atop the North at 8-4 last year. Both lost their starting quarterbacks, with Aaron Rodgers’ absence in Green Bay perhaps the most devastating loss in the entire league.
Minnesota (3-8-1) is playing out the string instead of surging to the playoffs behind Adrian Peterson’s 2,097 yards rushing in an MVP season.
No division has seen more flux. Atlanta, ravaged by injuries, with a lack of blocking on offense and little pass rush on defense, already had won this group in 2012. The first team eliminated from contention in the NFC, the Falcons made star tight end Tony Gonzalez’s decision to play one more season a waste.
The Saints were 5-7 with coach Sean Payton suspended for the bounty scandal, and now are in the division lead. Carolina, which was 3-9 at the beginning of last December, is 9-3, has won eight in a row, and looks formidable for the stretch run.
Tampa (3-9) had twice as many wins a year ago, and a lot less turmoil.
All Seattle, which has become even stingier on defense and has a solid lead on San Francisco. The Niners controlled the division at 8-3-1 last year, but already have four losses in 2013 and must play the Seahawks on Sunday.
Arizona, under new coach Bruce Arians — the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year in an interim role in Indianapolis — has gone from 4-8 to 7-5 and in the playoff mix. St. Louis (5-7 after 5-6-1 last year) has been a tough out even minus starting QB Sam Bradford.