It's the final stretch. As we move ever closer to the end of the season, the playoff picture is only slightly more clear than it was in Week 1, but there's a distinct sense of urgency to all the games from here on out.
First things first, let's take a look at where the NFC sits right now. Then we'll work backwards through the rankings as we analyze each team's final five weeks.
Lions: Short words, they're done for. They're unlikely to win 5 games in a row, particularly against that schedule. Even if they did, 9 wins is unlikely to get them into the playoffs. Should everything else on the planet work out for them, they're still coached by Jim Schwartz, who will likely break some obscure rule about the width of shoelaces or the color of pen allowed on sidelines.
They're looking to play spoilers for the Bears and Packers, and are unlikely to pack it in for those games. The Week 14 game vs. the Packers is at Lambeau, and they have to travel to Arizona. Even with three home games, the caliber of their opponents may just be too much. They should be able to pretty easily beat the Cardinals, but it's hard to bet against the other teams on their schedule. Prediction: 5-11
Vikings: The Vikings are a team whose schedule seems to finally be catching up to them. After jumping out to a somewhat surprising 5-2 record, they've now lost three of their last four. The last few weeks of their schedule looks tough, particularly as they've some crucial wild-card tiebreakers. Three to four wins for this team over the last weeks seems really out of the realm of possibility, but they have the tools it takes to pull out a close game. If they get back to getting AP going, they could make some surprises. Not enough to get them where they want to go, though. Prediction: 8-8
Packers: This is where it gets interesting. The Packers have four divisional games in their last five, one of which is against the Bears. I see no real reason not to think that the Packers can go 3-2 pretty easily, if not 4-1. If they want to win the division, though, each game becomes a must-win for them, as they have to play one game of catch-up to the Bears.
Their O-line has showed some holes of late, and the Vikings can still generate a pass rush. Should the Vikings upset the Packers this weekend (a big if, given the Lambeau advantage), and the Bears beat the Seahawks, it'll put even more pressure on the Packers, and take a little bit off importance off the matchup between the two next week. Ultimately, though, I think the Packers are your fifth seed. Prediction: 10-6
Bears: And now the beloved. The end of the season shows up favorable for the Bears in my opinion. Getting Seattle at Home is a real plus, as is having the Packers at home. 3 road games in the last four weeks is tough, but one of those teams is the Cardinals, who sometimes struggle on offense.
The Bears absolutely need to stick to the plan over the next few weeks, and can't take their foot off of the gas until they know they've got the division. If they can win 3 out of the 5, they shouldn't need the Packers game to take the division. Which will make it all the sweeter when they do. Prediction 11-5, Division Champs
As we get into crunch time, how do you think things will shake out? Let us know below, and tell your friends to join us.