- Detroit Lions: 9-4
- Minnesota Vikings: 7-6
- Green Bay Packers: 7-6
- Chicago Bears: 3-10
This will be the third straight season where the Chicago Bears will finish last in a now increasingly weak NFC North. That’s what injuries and a general lack of capitalizing on opportunities will get you.
But that doesn’t mean there sn’t a lot to be decided down the stretch among the relevant trio in the “Norris” division. While the Bears have settled in the cellar, there’s drama abound among the Lions, Vikings, and Packers. All of these events potentially set up for a climactic Week 17 NFC North title game between Green Bay and Detroit at Ford Field, but let’s not count our chickens before we roost.
The Lions have one of the toughest three game stretches to finish the year with a wounded MVP candidate, even while they inherently have a leg up.
The Bears can play spoiler for the Packers and Vikings while they both hang around.
Settle in and buckle your seat belts.
Detroit Lions (9-4): Win vs. Chicago Bears, 20-17
A more complete squad stomps the absolute life out of an inferior Bears team, instead of letting them hang around on Sunday. But these kinds of close and “ugly” wins are what Detroit has been doing for awhile. In the end, the final score is all that matters, not how it happened. When you can cash in while given an opening, that spells good events for postseason football. That’s how games are won in January.
It’s cliche, but maybe you forget all of their less than flattering statistics in Football Outsiders’ DVOA (26th overall) and just accept this isn’t a small sample size anymore.
Take a look at the current league landscape. Is there a true juggernaut without inherent flaws? Is there a complete team you can’t see the Lions having a bit of fortune in beating come deep winter? No. They have a chance, as unimpressive their wins may seem to some.
It’s not going to be easy to clinch the division and a first round bye though, with the Giants, Cowboys, and Packers all on deck. A true murderer’s row of contenders or teams on the bubble. The Lions could easily go 0-3 to close the year. However, given all of the adversity they’ve already been through, they could just as much eke out each victory and sneak in. Crazier things have happened. This very much looks like the kind of season where an unexpected non traditional team rises to the occasion.
Though, the Lions will have to rise with their oh so crucial Luke Skywalker ... I mean Matthew Stafford at less than 100 percent. Leonard Floyd injured Stafford’s throwing hand in tearing some ligaments on a pass rush Sunday, and it obviously affected him.
Matthew Stafford is wearing a single-finger glove in first practice after injury. pic.twitter.com/cSwEPzFPlf— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) December 14, 2016
Stafford struggled with accuracy issues after the initial hit through the rest of the game against the Bears. How he compensates with a glove will determine Detroit’s ultimate fate.
Week 15: At New York Giants (9-4)
Minnesota Vikings (7-6): Win vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 25-16
Did everyone conveniently forget about the Vikings? I guess that’s what happens when you’re 2-3 in your last five games while rivals such as the Packers begin to rise. It’s odd, considering Minnesota is very much alive for a playoff berth.
Based off of strength of schedule, the Vikings have the easiest path of their counterparts through the rest of the season and could come out on top in the end if matters bounce their way. Beating other flawed teams like the Jaguars, Colts, and Chicago counts. They control their own destiny too considering Minnesota has a win against Green Bay in their back pocket. A sweep in Week 16 would do wonders.
"I know everybody says we need to win out. I just want to beat Indianapolis this week." - Coach Zimmer— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 12, 2016
That’s the proper mentality. The Vikings aren’t looking ahead, and rightfully so. You can only control what’s in front of you. Plug away, and maybe you’ll have the necessary fortune. December is typically a month where someone rises from the ashes to seize the day. This organization has done it before, in both 2015 and 2012. Maybe this year, the Vikings do it again.
One would be fair to count out a team currently 14th in DVOA. Much like Detroit, believe what you want to believe in a wide open division up for grabs.
The Vikings announced RB Adrian Peterson will return to practice today. He's eligible to play as soon as this Sunday.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 14, 2016
Adrian Peterson’s return will help tremendously and comes with perfect timing. A dominant defense now potentially boosted by the return of Peterson - the offense’s bell cow - could make for an interesting flourish in St. Paul. Minnesota isn’t out of it, and they’ll have plenty of say in how the playoff race book-ends.
Week 15: Vs. Indianapolis Colts (6-7)
Green Bay Packers (7-6): Win vs. Seattle Seahawks, 38-10
Maybe perennial All-Pro safety Earl Thomas means that much to the Seahawks. Maybe the Packers are finally clicking after a season of frustration. Maybe both. Whatever the case, not many could have predicted an absolute beat down of Seattle in frigid Lambeau Field by Green Bay. A defense that was torn asunder in the midseason, has now humbled, Carson Wentz, Brock Osweiler, and to an extreme effect, Russell Wilson.
Think back to the last time Wilson turned the ball over six times. The last time he had a binge close to what the Packers forced of him, was also against Green Bay in the 2014 NFC Championship game. A legendary comeback happened for Seattle back then. This time, the Packers effectively and emphatically slammed the door shut instead of giving the Seahawks life.
The implication now is: no one can make sense of Green Bay.
One week, Aaron Rodgers and the defense is terrible and they should be buried. The next, they’re an unstoppable death machine. Anything but consistent. Is this recent streak where they’ve allowed just 36 points combined in the past three games along with Aaron Rodgers dominating, a mirage? Or are they to be truly feared?
Probably a mix of both, considering this run might have come too late compared to other surprise hot streaks.
Green Bay still has just a 38 percent chance of making the playoffs. They have to beat both Minnesota and Detroit to have a prayer. Even then, they’re not guaranteed a wild card, let alone the NFC North. There’s no margin for error as Wisconsin faithful just have to hope that destiny smiles on the Packers.
Otherwise, this recent stretch is all for naught and will be looked upon with regret at what 2016 could’ve been.
Week 15: At Chicago Bears (3-10)
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.