How soon? Well, how does Week 12 work for you?
In an entry on his blog this morning, Kevin Seifert points out to us how the NFC North divisional race could be over before the calendar hits 1 December. How? Well, a few different things would have to happen, none of which are entirely unfeasible at this point. According to Seifert, the things that would have to happen are as follows:
1) Minnesota would have to win their next three games to move their record to 10-1.
Thankfully, Minnesota has a three-game homestand coming out of their bye week, and none of those games are against teams that are playing particularly well. After the Vikings (hopefully) beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday, they have games against the Seattle Seahawks (currently 3-5) and the Chicago Bears (4-4) at the Metrodome. The Vikings should be favored in all three of those games, and probably heavily favored in the first two. . .heck, I've seen lines that show Minnesota as a 16.5-point favorite over Detroit (for entertainment purposes only, of course). Seattle has been abysmal on the road this year as well, sporting an 0-3 mark thus far and losing those three road games by an average of 17 points.
2) Chicago would have to lose one of their next two, in addition to their Week 12 matchup against Minnesota
The Bears have to turn around on a short week and fly out to the west coast to take on the San Francisco 49ers tomorrow night. (I almost feel bad for. . .wait, no I don't.) The Niners are reeling a bit, having lost four straight after getting off to a 3-1 start, but the Bears are reeling as well, having given up 40+ points in two of the last three weeks. After that, Chicago gets a little bit of extra time to plan for a home game against Philadelphia, (tenatively) scheduled for Sunday night, part of the NFL's inexplicable "Hey, let's try to get the Bears on in prime time as much as possible" strategy.
In any case, a loss for the Bears to either of their next two opponents and a loss to the Vikings would leave them at 5-6, and incapable of finishing any better than 4-2 against the NFC North, thanks to their Week 1 loss to the Packers. Speaking of Green Bay. . .
3) Green Bay would have to lose two of their next three games
It's tough to determine how many "easy" wins are on the Packers' schedule right now, what with them just having lost to the last winless team in the NFL. However, this seems like the least likely of the three things we would need to have happen to occur. On Sunday, the Packers will host a Dallas Cowboys team that is leading the NFC East and is riding a four-game winning streak since starting the season 2-2. It's going to be some tough sledding for the Packers to win that one, and frankly I'm not sure if they can do it. A loss there would put us halfway to what we would need.
However, the Packers' two games after that are a bit easier, with them hosting San Francisco and then getting a trip to Detroit on Thanksgiving. The Niners will probably give them some trouble, and Thanksgiving in the Motor City for the Packers has always been a bit of a minefield, but there's a pretty good chance of the Packers winning both of those games, in my opinion. But if the Packers were to fall to Dallas and to either Detroit or San Francisco, they would also be staring at a record of 5-6, and they've already been swept by the Vikings head-to-head.
So, if all three of these things played out over the next couple of weeks, the Vikings could go 0-5 over the last five weeks of the season to drop to 10-6, and if either Green Bay or Chicago ran the table to get themselves to 10-6 as well. . .they can't both run the table, as they have a head-to-head matchup in Week 14. . .the Vikings would remain ahead of the Packers on the strength of head-to-head record, and they would stay ahead of the Bears on the strength of division record (a Minnesota victory over Chicago in Week 12 would mean Minnesota couldn't finish worse than 5-1 against the NFC North, while a Chicago loss in that game would mean they couldn't finish better than 4-2 inside the division). Hence, the Vikings would sew up the NFC North division title after their upcoming victory over the Bears in Week 12.
Basically, it's not a matter of if the NFC North division race is over. . .it's a matter of when it's going to be over. We're Niner fans for the next couple of weeks for sure, as they'll be taking on both of our "closest" competitors, so hopefully they can help us out a bit on that front.