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NFC North Review, Week 11: Turkey Bowl Showdown

Detroit is the epicenter of the NFC North Universe, as the Lions and Vikings meet on Thanksgiving for first place.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

**NFC North**

1. Detroit Lions: 6-4

2. Minnesota Vikings: 6-4

3. Green Bay Packers: 4-6

4. Chicago Bears: 2-8

Just as everyone predicted, the Lions and Vikings have an effective NFC North “Super Bowl” on Thanksgiving for primary control of the division.

Two supremely flawed teams that have taken advantage of the downfall of previous “juggernaut”, but now floundering Packers.

The Lions - much like the Cowboys- have their own Thanksgiving tradition in hosting a home game on the holiday every year regardless of team quality. This is one of the rare years in the past few decades where the game actually means aplenty to both teams playing on the field.

Detroit has won three straight games on Turkey Day, but none were for the pole position in the division - something the franchise hasn’t won since 1993.

Who knows how many opportunities they’ll have in the future to keep these games relevant, aside from the novelty of Thanksgiving football. A ringing endorsement of a statement win would be perfect for this season’s Cardiac Cats, while the Vikings - well, at least their defense, still has a shot to redeem themselves for control of the vaunted North.

While the Packers and Bears effectively dig deeper and deeper into the division cellar, we’ll soon know who the “King in the North!” really is.

Let’s preview this epic Turkey Day showdown and lament everything possible in Green Bay and Chicago.

Detroit Lions (6-4): Win Vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-19

At some point, the Lions’ luck has to run out, right?

It seems like they can’t keep doing this in eking out close wins. And yet, here we see them making clutch plays in fourth quarters again and again - a quality plenty of teams would appreciate possessing.

The Jaguars are far from quality competition, but a win is a win in the NFL. Another fourth quarter comeback counts whether it’s against Jacksonville or New England. A pessimist would be alarmed as to how the Jaguars held a 19-16 lead so late on Detroit, but it doesn’t matter.

Matthew Stafford just seems to have that magic this year and whatever bad luck the Lions have had previously, is canceling itself out now. This team has a barely positive turnover margin and is floating around. That’s because yet again, while they fumbled twice, they also picked off Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles, twice.

And you know things are really going your way when you call a tight end, end-around for Eric Ebron to take the effective final lead. That’s confidence in your players, coaching, etc. That kind of trickery or savvy doesn’t go unnoticed.

It feels like the Lions in any other season, would be on their way to a mediocre finish. But, here they are literally doing everything just enough to win, and that might be all it takes against the Vikings and a middling division. You can bet Ford Field will be rocking should Detroit actually pull ahead of Minnesota on Thanksgiving.

Given how close each of the Lions first 10 games have been as noted above, Thanksgiving should be well worth the time. If the Lions’ success made more sense, more insightful analysis would be warranted, but at the moment, it doesn’t.

That’s always fun.

Week 12: Vs. Minnesota Vikings, (6-4), Thanksgiving Day

Minnesota Vikings (6-4): Win Vs. Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1), 30-24

Objectively, any of the Lions’ magic won’t matter, if the Vikings’ superb defensive and special teams units flex their muscles the way they did against Arizona.

The Vikings took advantage of a declining Carson Palmer and horrifically unbalanced Cardinals offense, to right the ship on their 2016 season for now. Two interceptions - one a pick-six from the NFL’s current best cornerback in Xavier Rhodes - to go with four sacks in tearing apart the Arizona backfield all afternoon is a virtuoso performance. The Minnesota defense returned with a bang.

Speaking of the now reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Rhodes, he’s entered that elite conversation with other shutdown corners such as Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, etc.

New York Jets cornerback, Darrelle Revis, had “Revis Island” while “Rhodes are closed” when you throw in Rhodes’ direction. There’s no reasonable opposing argument to take away from his rise.

Regardless, a competent quarterback likely makes the Vikings defense pay more this past Sunday, but you can’t fault them for taking advantage. The one consistent this team has is it’s defense and when it’s rolling, they can beat anyone. The only question is whether the offense can keep them afloat enough for the defense to go out and finish games.

On Sunday, quarterback Sam Bradford and company did just that.

While Minnesota only had 217 net yards, the time of possession was kept close enough at 28:58, to where the defense wasn’t running on fumes by the end. Bradford managed the game with 169 passing yards and a passing touchdown, and he didn’t turn over the ball. Bradford’s offensive line also kept him relatively upright as he was sacked just twice.

This kind of formula might not result in a deep playoff run for the Vikings, but it’s definitely enough for a division title.

Only time will tell how the Vikings manage to harass Stafford and use this equation effectively in their second opportunity against the Lions this season.

Week 12: At Detroit Lions, (6-4), Thanksgiving Day

Green Bay Packers (4-6): Loss at Washington Redskins (6-3-1), 42-24

Well, there go the needed reinforcements in the backfield and on the back-end.

But hey, the North is still wide open, right?

Oh, Aaron Rodgers has actually played well of late. And oh, that defense is absolutely horrendous.

How the mighty have fallen.

Much like the Bears, Green Bay has been decimated in key areas, such as their secondary. It’s sunk their season in retrospect. Back-to-back weeks with 400-plus yards and 40 points allowed reflect a defense that isn’t ready to stop or slow any offense. It doesn’t matter if Rodgers returns to the form of the NFL’s best quarterback if he has to win a shootout every single week.

Head coach Mike McCarthy might have an excuse with the defensive injuries and loss of a true tailback, but the Packers could still look at finding a fresh perspective.

This franchise seems like it’s on the pinnacle of a complete teardown should they make the wrong decision. Or, everyone could be wrong and this is just a down year that has them return to Super Bowl glory soon.

We’ll see what Ted Thompson and “ownership” decide on that matter for the future.

Given that the winner of the North Turkey Bowl could have a three-game division lead after this week with Green Bay visiting the always tough Philadelphia, it’s probably safe to bury the hatchet on the 2016 Packers.

Week 12: At Philadelphia Eagles, (5-5)

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.