The saying “Any Given Sunday” has given a new meaning to the NFC North this season. Fans of any of these teams should be prepared to expect the unexpected.
This division has come a long way since the preseason, when the Green Bay Packers were not only predicted to win the division, but had Super Bowl expectations. Not only have the Packers fell out of the talk of competing for a title, but they are currently struggling to even stay in playoff contention, standing at a very disappointing 4-5.
Speaking of a head-scratching season, the Minnesota Vikings jumped out to a 5-0 start despite losing their starting quarterback in preseason and their future hall of fame running back in the second game of the year. All of this, only to drop four games in a row, including key division losses to the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.
The Lions on the other hand started off 1-3, and now lead the division with a 5-4 record.
While the Bears are in no position to make a run at the playoffs, they have managed to make the NFC North standings a little more intriguing as their only two wins have come against teams in the division.
With the playoffs getting closer, there is no doubt this division will come down to a few key games. Here is a preview of each team’s upcoming schedule, and what it will take for each of them to win the division.
Chicago Bears: (2-7), 4th place in NFC North
Winning the division may not have been achievable for the Bears this season, but winning games against divisional rivals always helps the morale. The Bears have been susceptible to injury this year, and have used three different quarterbacks: Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, and Matt Barkley. Losing Alshon Jeffery for a month due to PED use won’t help this offense either. Looking forward, the Bears will probably only be favored to win against the 49ers, but don’t count out their games against divisional teams. While the playoffs may be seemingly impossible for the Bears, they could make things interesting in the division by taking another game or two from their rivals.
Predicted Record: 4-12
Detroit Lions: (5-4), 1st place in NFC North
The Lions benefited from a bye week, watching both the Vikings and the Packers lose, which propelled Detroit to first in the conference. To add to this, Detroit’s schedule to finish out the season is extremely manageable. They play only three teams with a winning record, and one of them is the Vikings, who haven’t won in over a month. Matt Stafford has been carrying this team with very little assistance, as the Lions rank 27th in the league in rushing yards, and really don’t have another weapon on offense that can be given credit for their success. On the bright side, the defense has slowly but surely improved, as they haven’t given up more than 20 points in their last three games. If Stafford continues to dominate and the defense can stay consistent, this team may control their own destiny heading into the playoffs.
Predicted Record: 10-6
Green Bay Packers: (4-5), 3rd place in NFC North
Justifying the Packers’ losing record is more difficult that simply blaming the exorbitant amount of injuries. There have been questions of McCarthy’s coaching decisions, the offense remains stagnant, despite Rodgers having plenty of weapons, and the impressive run defense to start the season was clearly just a fluke. The three-game losing streak can be blamed on the defense, especially the devastating loss to the Titans. Not many teams can get a victory when giving up 47 points. If the Packers cannot establish a running game their offense may continue to be held in check. Rodgers has averaged 41 passes per game, and has been attempting and failing to carry the team on his own. The Packers’ schedule doesn’t get much easier either, with road games against two NFC East teams with playoff potential, followed by games against the Texans and the Seahawks, who are both winning their respective divisions. They will then finish out the season with three crucial divisional games, and playing the Bears at Soldier Field is never a guaranteed win, regardless of how bad the team is. This could be the Packers first season sitting out of the playoffs since 2008.
Predicted Record: 8-8
Minnesota Vikings: (5-4), 2nd place in NFC North
Packer fans can blame injuries for a lack of success all they want, but the Vikings have suffered just as much, losing arguably their best two offensive players in Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings have been carried by their defense, which is 3rd in the league in yards per game, and they’re 1st in scoring defense. Sam Bradford appeared to be a perfect fit for the Vikings, as he led the Vikings to a 5-0 start. While he continues to play well, he clearly cannot do it all. Minnesota is second-to-last in rushing yards per game with just 628 total yards. Bradford has also been sacked 25 times this year, which is the fifth-most in the league. While the defense remains steady, it has clearly dropped off from its pure dominance at the start of the season. The losing streak may continue if the Vikings don’t turn it around, as they square off against some of the top tier teams in the NFC in the near future, having to play Arizona, Detroit and Dallas in their next three games. A repeat of the division title may be difficult, but the wild card race is still open for the Vikings, as they are only a half of a game out from getting the first wild card spot.
Predicted Record: 9-7