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Division couldn’t run any deeper in contentious NFC North

Updated: January 31, 2013 6:44AM



Just how adversarial is the NFC North?

Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton suggested that the Green Bay Packers would intentionally lose to another rival, the Minnesota Vikings, just so the Bears wouldn’t make the playoffs.

‘‘I wouldn’t be surprised,’’ a grinning Melton said.

Of course, Melton was joking.

‘‘Hopefully, they go out there and handle [their] business,’’ he said.

Melton knows the Packers are playing for the second seed in the NFC, home-field advantage and a first-round bye. A win over the Vikings on Sunday would secure that and allow the Bears to sneak into the postseason if they beat the Lions in Detroit. If the Vikings win, they’re in.

It’s a perfect mess for the NFC North. The Bears and Packers are the favorites going in, but both are on the road. Nothing will come easy.

‘‘Our job’s to go out there and get a division win and keep them from being in the running,’’ Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.

The divisional animosity was on full display after Melton ignited a war of words with Lions center Dominic Raiola, something Bears coach Lovie Smith says he has no problem with.

‘‘It’s a division opponent,’’ Smith said. ‘‘We have a history with them. I don’t think that matters at all —what they say, what we say. The game will be won on the football field, and we all realize that.’’

The Packers have won four consecutive games. But the Vikings have won three straight since losing 23-14 at Lambeau Field on Dec.  2 and are 6-1 at the Metrodome. They’re coming off an impressive 23-6 dismantling of the Houston Texans on the road.

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 210 yards on 21 carries in the first meeting, and the Packers are expecting the same this week. Pounding Peterson straight at opponents and relying on an underrated defense to do just enough has keyed the Vikings’ success the last three weeks.

Peterson has 1,898 rushing yards this season and needs 208 to break Eric Dickerson’s long-standing record of 2,105. The Packers, of course, don’t want to be the team he gets the record against.

Like Peterson, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — with a 106.2 passer rating, 3,930 passing yards and 35 touchdown passes — is having an MVP-worthy season. He has been the one constant for a team that has dealt with numerous injuries on both sides of the ball.

It’s all those injuries — notably to receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson and safety Charles Woodson right now — that make getting the first-round bye important for the Packers.

They’re 5-0 against the NFC North this season,

‘‘I can root for Green Bay. That doesn’t mean that I like Green Bay,’’ Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. ‘‘Everybody in Chicago is going to be pulling for Green Bay. That’s just the way it is.’’



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