The 2017 season is down to just five games, which means the playoff push is upon us. Can the Vikings hold onto the division lead? Can the Lions chip into that lead? Will the Packers stay in the hunt? Do the Bears play spoilers?
This should be an interesting next five weeks.
Let’s take a look at where the Vikings, Lions, Packers and Bears stand heading into the stretch run, and what the road looks like the rest of the way for all four teams.
Division record: 3-1
Conference record: 7-1
Remaining schedule: at Atlanta (7-4), at Carolina (8-3), vs. Cincinnati (5-6), at Green Bay (5-6), vs. Chicago (3-8)
Win-loss record of remaining opponents: 28-27
Twentyman: This is where it gets a little conflicting for Lions fans. Do they want Atlanta and Carolina to win the next two weeks to keep Detroit’s hopes of a division title intact, or are they Vikings fans knowing that both Atlanta and Carolina own the tiebreaker against the Lions in any Wild Card scenario?
It’s a tough call, but I don’t see Minnesota taking any deep plunge over the next month. They are just too solid and too well coached. The New York Giants and Green Packers are proof that just getting into the playoffs is the objective. They’ve both won Super Bowls in the last decade as sixth seeds. Lions fans should root for whatever their best chance of getting into the show is.
Division record: 3-1
Conference record: 5-4
Remaining schedule: at Baltimore (6-5), at Tampa Bay (4-7), vs. Chicago (3-8), at Cincinnati (5-6), vs. Green Bay (5-6)
Win-loss record of remaining opponents: 23-32
Twentyman: The NFC playoff picture is rather congested at the top. The Lions are 6-5 on the year, and are currently just the No. 8 seed. Getting to 10 wins is usually the goal to secure a playoff spot, but it might not be good enough this year, especially if Atlanta or Carolina finishes with 10 wins as well.
The Lions need to go into these last five games with the mentality that they need to win them all. If they slip up once, it might not kill them, but it could. It’s that kind of year in the NFC.
Division record: 2-2
Conference record: 4-4
Remaining schedule: vs. Tampa Bay (4-7), at Cleveland (0-11), at Carolina (8-3), vs. Minnesota (9-2), at Detroit (6-5)
Win-loss record of remaining opponents: 27-28
Twentyman: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers went through a workout on the field before Green Bay’s game at Pittsburgh last week, and was throwing the football up to 50 yards, according to reports. He’s working his way back from a broken collar bone, but he’s still a couple weeks away from having to make a decision whether or not he wants to return for the final three games, or call it a season and get himself ready for 2018. Green Bay's playoff chances will likely impact that decision.
Realistically, Green Bay has to win out to get to 10 wins, which means they’ll have to beat Carolina, Minnesota and Detroit in a three-game gauntlet to end the year. With Rodgers back in the fold, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. But first, the Packers can’t have any slip-ups against Tampa Bay or Cleveland.
Division record: 0-4
Conference record: 1-8
Remaining schedule: vs. San Francisco (1-10), at Cincinnati (4-7), at Detroit (6-5), at Cleveland (0-11), at Minnesota (9-2)
Win-loss record of remaining opponents: 20-35
Twentyman: The Bears have an eye on 2018 with their quarterback of the future, Mitchell Trubisky, in place and gaining valuable experience as a rookie. The Bears still run the ball well and play pretty good defense. They’ll try to play spoiler down the stretch.
Chicago could certainly still wreck Detroit’s playoff chances at Ford Field Dec. 16. And who knows, maybe that Week 17 game in Minnesota means something for the NFC North title, or Minnesota getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Pride is still on the line for Chicago, and they can still play a factor in the NFC playoff picture.
One thing I think for sure this week as the Detroit Lions begin the last two weeks of the organized offseason workout program is that Peter King got it mostly right in where he placed the four NFC North teams in the NFL power rankings in a recent MMQB column.
King’s rankings were posted in two waves – first the bottom half (17-32), then the top half (1-16).
Overall it was a no-brainer that the New England Patriots were No. 1. They’re like Alabama in college football. Put them No. 1 every year, and odds are good you’ll be right – at least until the playoffs start.
But focusing specifically on the NFC North in this week’s Monday Countdown, it was no real surprise where King ranked the North: 6. Green Bay Packers; 16. Minnesota Vikings; 17. Detroit Lions; 28. Chicago Bears.
King’s bottom line: The Packers are favored to win their second straight North title and seventh in the last eight years; the Vikings and Lions will compete for second place and a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, with a slight edge to the Vikings; and the Bears are out of the playoffs for a seventh straight year.
From the bottom up, here’s my take on how Peter King has the NFC North stacked in his power rankings – why they’re fair, what I think he has wrong, and what, if anything, I would change.
We work from the bottom up:
28. Chicago Bears.
Why their ranking’s fair: Six straight years out of the playoffs, four straight years without a winning record and three straight last-place finishes don’t leave much hope for the Bears to move up in the North.
Position to watch: The quarterbacks. With Jay Cutler retiring, the Bears signed free agent Mike Glennon, then drafted Mitchell Trubisky third overall. On the face of it, it’s an overload of assets – money and a high draft pick – at one position. But the positive side of that is that the Bears should have a building block for the future.
Point by King: He references the 1-7 record in the second half of the season as evidence that Bears didn't build any momentum to take into the 2017 season as a contender. It’s a valid point.
Bottom line: Pass rusher Leonard Floyd and running back Jordan Howard are back from big rookie seasons, but there just isn’t enough to go with them to overcome roster-wide major shortcomings.
The Bears’ position is the reverse of Green Bay’s. Until proven otherwise, they’re last in the division.
17. Detroit Lions.
Why their rating’s fair: It cannot be forgotten how the Lions ended the season with three regular-season losses and one to Seattle in the playoffs. All four losses were to playoff teams – the Giants, Cowboys and Packers before the Seattle game.
The Lions’ 9-7 record was good enough to get the sixth seed in the NFC. However, three other teams with 9-7 records did not make the 12-team postseason field. The Lions were on the edge.
Position to watch: Offensive line and linebacker. The Lions signed free agents T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner to beef up the offensive line, which in turn should help improve the running game and give Matthew Stafford better protection. And drafting middle linebacker Jarrad Davis in the first round has the potential of adding a playmaker at a position that needed one.
Point by King: The Lions will be competitive as long as they have Stafford, but the offense needs to be more diverse. Agreed.
Bottom line: No complaint with where the Lions are ranked, but I’d put them ahead of the Vikings. Stafford has proven he can win games. Vikings QB Sam Bradford never had a winning record in his six pro seasons as a starter.
Regardless of what changes the Lions make or don’t make up front, they’ll be better in the closing stretch this year if they have their top two running backs – Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick – around for the finish. That was not the case last season.
I see the Lions as the biggest threat to Green Bay, not the Vikings.
16. Minnesota Vikings.
Why their ranking’s fair: A year under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur should help Sam Bradford, as should upgrading a running game that ranked last in 2016.
The Vikings parted company with franchise icon Adrian Peterson and added fresh legs to the backfield by drafting Dalvin Cook in the second round and signing free agent Latavius Murray. The offensive line also was upgraded and stabilized by signing free-agent tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers.
Point by King: He expects Cook to be a top five running back by midseason. I think he’ll help as a dual threat runner-receiver, but top five is a stretch.
Bottom line: Bradford puts up nice stats, and he led the league with a 71.2-percent completion rate last season. But he’s never had a winning season, and his track record shows that too much has to go right for him to win.
6. Green Bay Packers.
Why their ranking’s fair: The record speaks for itself: Eight straight playoff appearances, and five division titles in the last six years. They’re kings of the North, until proven otherwise.
Point by King: There are worries about the offensive line, secondary and the health of key defenders Nick Perry and Clay Matthews. But there are no worries about QB Aaron Rodgers.
Bottom line: Tom Brady is the biggest winner, but Rodgers is the most efficient quarterback of this era. Three times in the last four years he’s led the Packers to a victory in a final-game showdown for the North title, and twice it was against the Lions – in 2014 and 2016.
Game 17 this season is at Ford Field vs. the Lions.
The Lions want to make the third time their charm.