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Checking in on the NFC North: the final stretch ahead

Lets see where the division stands

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The north is about to heat up
Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Sunday night’s loss to the Denver Broncos was disappointing in many ways, including a very bad call to start the game (The NFL even said so) and a demoralizing loss-by-comeback. For good measure a quiet but good defensive tackle in Dean Lowry is on season ending-IR, the 3rd Viking in 4 weeks to have their season cut short.

It was a sharp dive back to reality. I guess astronauts have to come back to earth at some point.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the NFC North as we cross into the back 1/3rd of the NFL regular season.

  1. Detroit Lions (8-2, 2-0 Division)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (6-5, 2-0 Division)
  3. Green Bay Packers (4-6, 1-2 Division
  4. Chicago Bears (3-8, 0-3 Division)

Sunday’s loss, combined with a late game collapse from Chicago, means the Lions are in absolute cruise control of the NFC North entering the final stretch. Personally, I think the Vikings and Lions will split their series, but that will be a consolation before the playoffs loom.

With a weak bottom half of the NFC North standings, and the other division standings around the conference, the Vikings are still on track to make the postseason with only the Seahawks to contend with for the last wild card spot behind the Cowboys.

*Update - 6PM*

The Green Bay Packers beat the Detroit Lions today - and with it the NFC North Playoff picture gets lightly shaken with Detroit’s loss. The Vikings still remain 2 games back, instead of 2.5, so there is still a lot of work to do to think about winning the division. The Packer win also brings them to within 2 games of the Vikings and a potential wild card spot.

Detroit

Sunday the Lions benefited from a massive two-game swing on the standings chart by winning a game late in the 4th and the Vikings losing one in the 4th quarter. It cannot be overstated how much that changes the complexion of the North’s title outcome.

Detroit is virtually a lock to take the North, with a 2.5 game lead on the Vikings with a game in hand and 7 left to play. Yes, the Vikings play Detroit twice, but as much as that could be a blessing, the opposite is true if Minnesota drops both those games.

The Lions are also having none of the major injury struggles the Vikings are having. Jared Goff, Aidan Hutchinson, and the potent receiving corps of Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond are putting up stellar numbers.

That isn’t even to talk of Jahmyr Gibbs and the stellar rookie season he’s having or the raw strength of David Montgomery. Gibbs is at 512 yards on 98 carries, with 5 TDs and 0 fumbles. His 5.2 Y/A is 16th in the league and has also caught 37 of the 44 balls thrown his way.

The Lions have allowed enough points to rank just 22nd in the league - in the bottom third - but only 5 teams have scored more than them.

Minnesota

The two season long rollercoaster of momentum swings seems very far from over.

Powering this ride is the Vikings inability to play at a level clearly exceeding (or clearly falling short) of the quality of their opponents. 23 of their last 30 games have been one-score contests.

Last year it was a team that many around the league derided as fraudulent, and the naysayers were proved right come the playoffs. This year, an existential injury crisis took away all the positive momentum, seriously testing the mettle of the team and perhaps the most tortured fanbase in the NFL.

For the most part, they have been rising above it, the fans included. If you would have told me at 1-4 that the Vikings would be 6-5 with a serious shot at the postseason, I would have laughed, even before you told me about all the injuries.

Instead, the Vikings have hobbled together a team that is giving the fanbase and organization *just* enough hope that they can contend seriously. We saw it against the 49ers and we saw it in the first two games of the Josh Dobbs experience.

That’s not to say their 5 losses haven’t been deserved. All of the turnovers of the first 5 games, which resurfaced last week in a brutal 4th quarter collapse in Denver, have brought a lot of those results with them. The Vikings lead the league in fumbles lost with 14 and sit with the dregs of the league with a -6 turnover margin.

Combine that with a pitiful rushing performance from Alexander Mattison (3.9 Y/A - 2nd worst season in his career, 0 rush TDs in 11 games, 2 fumbles - also the worst in his career) and it is easy to see why this team is struggling to diversify it’s offense.

With a defense that has been competent (15th in the league in points against), the inevitable and much-needed return of WRs KJ Osborn and Justin Jefferson, and one of the best locker room cultures in the NFL, it remains hard to lose hope completely.

Green Bay

The Packers currently find themselves about where we all expected them to be in the first season post-Rodgers. Jordan Love is struggling in his first season under center with a QBR with 47.3 (out of 100).

Aaron Jones and AJ Dillion are also supplying little power to Green Bay’s run game, which has just 3 rushing touchdowns and 650 yards between the two. Love only complements this with 182 yards on the ground and 2 rushing TDs.

Of the 23 TDs the Packers have scored, Love has played a hand in 16 of them. This team runs though Love. Also, the Green Bay defense has not scored a touchdown this year, but remains 10th best in terms of points allowed.

What’s doing the Packers in is, like the Vikings, the turnover battle. Only Sam Howell has more INTs than Jordan Love, and Love has had 6 fumbles... But somehow didn't lose any one of them.

Chicago

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the bears Because they are frankly not worth it as still one of the worst teams in the league.

Having only beaten a bad Commanders team, A Raiders team mired in a locker room/head coaching crisis, and a very bad Panthers team, Chicago sits at 3-7.

Although coming close to beating the Lions, the Bears ultimately surrendered, mostly due to poor play calling, a 12 point lead to earn the ire of Vikings fans, who would have benefitted greatly from a Lions loss.

Justin Fields is also back in action for the Bears, who missed just over a month after picking up an injury against Minnesota but he won’t be leading the Bears into the postseason this year.

Regardless of if the Bears pull off any upsets throughout the rest of the season, the most they can hope to do this year is spoil another teams playoff chances. Let’s hope the Vikings do enough on Monday to avoid that fate.