Halfway through the NFL season, we are beginning to see who the contenders, pretenders, and bottom dwellers of each division are. Throughout the next week I will be predicting the outcomes of each division, starting with the NFC North, and working my way clockwise around the conference (North, East, South, West). These predictions are based on remaining schedule, injuries suffered, and current level of play (how well they’ve been playing lately).
Minnesota Vikings (6-2)
Division Winner (12-4)
Led by journeyman quarterback Case Keenum, the Vikings are tied for second place in the NFC conference, with the surprising New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams at 6-2. Looking at the remaining schedule, we see the Vikings play a slew of 4-4 teams, including the Redskins, Lions, Falcons and Packers. They also play the Panthers and Rams, both of which happen to be their respective division leaders. That leaves only the Bears and Bengals as teams with losing records. Looking at the schedule as is, the Vikings should at least beat the Bears, a Rodgers-less Packers and the Bengals, giving them at least three more victories. The remaining games are all very winnable, but we have to assume they will drop a few.
The Vikings need to beat the Lions to win the division, plain and simple. Detroit has had the Vikings number the past few years and have already beaten them once this season. The reason it is so important for the Vikings to beat the Lions is because the Lions have one of the easiest remaining schedules of any team, and it could very well come down to the last few games to determine the division. Out of the remaining games, the Lions play one winning team, who of course happens to be the Vikings.
Best-Case Scenario: Vikings go 13-3, win the division, and get the second seed in the NFC.
Worst-Case Scenario: Vikings go 9-6, get over taken by the Detroit lions, and miss the playoffs.
Detroit Lions (4-4)
Wildcard team in the NFC (10-6)
As I stated while talking about the Vikings, the Lions have one of the easiest remaining schedules of any team. The only remaining team with a winning record is their division rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. All of their remaining games come against teams at 4-4 (only Green Bay) or worse. This makes them by far the biggest threat to the Vikings, who they beat back in week 4, and makes their week 12 matchup that much more important for both teams. If the Lions do beat the Vikings for a second time, it will give them the tiebreaker for the division. This together with their strength of schedule could allow them to leap frog the Vikings for the division, and potentially kick them out of the playoffs.
The easy rest of the season schedule will probably gain them entry as a wildcard team in the playoffs, but I don’t think they have enough to win the division.
Best-Case Scenario: Lions go 12-4, win the division, and kick the Vikings out of the playoffs.
Worst-Case Scenario: Lions inconsistent play continues, the lions go 8-8, and miss the playoffs.
Chicago Bears (3-5)
Miss Playoffs (6-10)
The Bears have actually put together a few nice games, beating two teams that currently lead their divisions (Carolina and Pittsburgh). The problem with Chicago is that they have been one-dimensional all year, only being able to run the ball after injuries to their top wide receivers. While there seems to be hope for the future with Mitchell Trubisky running the show, the Bears simply don’t have enough to compete this year. They have a few more winnable games left on the ledger, but look for much of the same from the Bears going 3-5 the rest of the way.
Best-Case Scenario: Bears end up with 8-8 record.
Worst-Case Scenario: Bears improved play is a mirage and only win one or two more games.
Green Bay Packers (4-4)
Miss Playoffs (6-10)
My-oh-my have the tides turned since Aaron Rodgers injured his collarbone in week six. The once mighty Packers, who looked to be the favorites for the division title, now look to be one of the worse teams in the NFL. Obviously it has been a small sample size, but as a Packer fan, this trend cannot leave you with much hope for the remainder of the season. Thus far, Brett Hundley has looked very mediocre and has not been able to move the ball through the air effectively. If the Packers have any chance to reach a wildcard spot, they need Hundley to be more Rodgers-esque, or at the very least complete a few passes downfield.
Best-Case Scenario: Hundley figures it out and the packers squeak out enough wins to remain in wildcard contention.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Packers struggles continue behind Hundley, they lose to the Browns, and they finally get rid of GM Ted Thompson.