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NFC North Review, Week 12: One Pride

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The Lions take a stranglehold of the North, the Vikings are in survival mode, while the Packers stay afloat.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

**NFC North**

1. Detroit Lions: 7-4

2. Minnesota Vikings: 6-5

3. Green Bay Packers: 5-6

4. Chicago Bears: 2-9

Every team in the North except the Bears - who now have 16 players on injured reserve with Jay Cutler sidelined for the rest of the season - has something to play for with postseason perspective.

The epic Turkey Bowl clash between the Lions and Vikings now has Detroit poised for it’s first division title in 23 years. Detroit’s 16-13 victory is incredibly significant. Not since the halcyon days of the early 90’s, with former head coach Wayne Fontes, Erik Kramer, and Barry Sanders have the Lions ever been sitting so pretty this late in a season.

It’s a testament to their clutch play late in games, as all seven of their victories have been decided in the fourth quarter as well as the general mediocrity of their division. But, you can’t knock Detroit for taking advantage just because the Packers, Vikings, and Bears aren’t. They’ve already swept Minnesota, and while they’ve endured a loss each to Green Bay and Chicago, both of those teams visit the Lions to close the season. Everything is in the 2016 Cardiac Cats’ hands, provided they just take care of business. It remains to be seen whether they do finish the job, but if you’re going to poke holes in their ongoing success, it only becomes more difficult from here on in.

As for the Vikings, well, it can’t get any worse. Following their crushing defeat to Detroit, head coach Mike Zimmer will now have emergency eye surgery, causing him to miss the team’s game against Dallas on Thursday night. Somehow, the divisional scene is still in front of them as the Cowboys present the biggest challenge by far down the stretch with the Colts, Bears, and Jaguars on the docket. Yet, trusting a team that’s lost five of it’s last six games to maintain any consistency would be drastic.

And the Packers aren’t dead yet. A grueling 27-13 road win against another free falling team in the Philadelphia Eagles won’t calm the masses in Wisconsin, but it does keep the Packers relevant. As mentioned, they still have the Lions to play in Week 17. If Detroit slips up even just once before then while the Packers stay hot, that would be be the de-facto North title game.

December is always a fun divisional month.

Detroit Lions (7-4): Win vs. Minnesota Vikings, 16-13

It can’t be said enough. The Lions are in sole possession of first place. Yes, the Lions. The exact opposite of every preseason prognosticators’ darling to make a run. If you include the Oakland Raiders’ success this season, these are two of the most tortured franchises in recent memory coming back to life, at least for the time being.

The last time both made the postseason in the same year was perhaps not by coincidence, 1993. Even more impressively appealing to a nostalgia, the last time both franchises won their respective divisions, was 1983. All point being, it’s been a long run of a lack of success for these two, and that makes the 2016 season all the weirder considering their rise back comes together.

Detroit’s magic this year has even produced quality national anthem moments with legendary singer, Aretha Franklin.

To finish this Cinderella run off, it won’t be easy. Four of out the Lions’ last five games are against a team currently on the bubble or mostly safely entrenched in the postseason with the Saints, Giants, Cowboys, and Packers. This magical run has yet to face it’s most crucial tests. But after gauging how it’s gone so far, who wouldn’t be surprised to see Franklin return to Detroit for another anthem in January?

Week 13: At New Orleans Saints (5-6)

Minnesota Vikings (6-5): Loss at Detroit Lions, 16-13

A decision to trade a first round pick for an objectively average quarterback in Sam Bradford, without upgrading the offensive line, looks worse week-by-week for Minnesota. Even a slight boost in protection has this team in Detroit’s position with more consistency, while albeit not being a true championship contender. When you mortgage the future, it’s best to have foresight at what your lack of success will become, and the Vikings are learning that fact the hard way.

The league’s worst offense yardage wise, even lower than the likes of the Los Angeles Rams - a team who started Case Keenum for two-plus months - is not going to get it done by any facet of the imagination. A softer schedule in December helps, but it could be too little too late.

Players never dwell on the past so they only have what’s in front of them, but with even one more win the Vikings are in a much more advantageous position to salvage this growing lost year. At this point, even the news of a running back in his 30’s returning has to be a salvo of positivity in St. Paul.

Adrian Peterson’s return should boost the league’s worst running game that’s mostly sunk the Vikings offense. Or, again, it’s too little too late, as the horrid offensive line can’t create any holes for Peterson. You know, just like they struggled to do for him before his injury in Week 2, as he had just 31 carries for 50 yards total. With all of this in mind, words can’t understate how huge of a win it would be for the Vikings against Dallas.

Highly unlikely, but monumental.

Week 13: Vs. Dallas Cowboys, (10-1), ‘Thursday Night Football’

Green Bay Packers (5-6): Win Vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 27-13

What’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers again?

Even in a relative down year compared to past expectations, the 32-year-old is sixth in the NFL in passing yards, second in touchdown passes, and has thrown just seven interceptions. Digging deeper, he’s thrown multiple touchdowns in six consecutive games with 18, and just three interceptions.

Very quietly, one of the NFL’s generational passers is comfortable again. It’s even allowed wide receiver Davante Adams to become a huge factor of late after an atrocious 2015 season. The third year player has 776 yards and eight touchdowns so far, and absolutely tore apart the Eagles on Monday with Rodgers’ help. If the Adams that appeared against Philadelphia who caught five passes for 113 yards and two scores is back, then this Green Bay passing attack is back to being a death machine.

But why are the Packers under .500?

There’s still that defense. It must have been comforting to play a Philadelphia offense on Monday night that may have the worst receiving core in the league - especially after Jordan Matthews’ early injury - and a quietly struggling rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz. Green Bay must have been pleased to have the foot off the gas pedal from other more established, stalwart passers like Matt Ryan, Marcus Mariota, Andrew Luck, and even Kirk Cousins, who all tore them apart.

You can’t just forget a defense that allowed 40 points in back-to-back weeks, along with at least 30 points for four consecutive games. Secondary injuries and an overall lack of a pass rush have plagued Green Bay of late. When a trend like this changes so much against Philadelphia, it’s probably more about the other team than the Packers defense excelling.

To boot, they’ve also had their non-existent running game. When a fullback like Aaron Ripkowski, is the first traditional backfield to score your first rushing touchdown of the year, you have problems. Green Bay misses Eddie Lacy, a lot.

Along with easing his tweaked hamstring, Rodgers should be looking for a quality defense and consistent rushing attack next time he goes into that tent.

It was no doubt a quality win for the Packers against the Eagles, but it’s quite the jump to say all of their issues are fixed even if Rodgers is playing well again. A hot quarterback can put a team on his back, but not with all of these other holes in the sinking ship.

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.