At the Bye: The State of the Division

In the Vikings quest to defend the NFC North, two teams stand in their way. The 6-3 Chicago Bears are in first place, a half game ahead of the Vikings, and the Green Bay Packers are 4-4-1, a full game behind Minnesota. The Lions are as good as dead. Let’s look at what the rest of the season holds for the teams:

Chicago Bears 6-3, 1st in NFC North

Wins: vs Seahawks, at Cardinals, vs Buccaneers, vs Jets, at Bills, vs Lions

Losses: at Packers, vs Patriots, at Dolphins

The Bears are a darling of the NFL right now. They have a rookie head coach in Matt Nagy, a second-year quarterback in Mitch Trubisky and made an offseason splash by trading for Khalil Mack. Their 6-3 start is impressive, no doubt about it, but consider me somebody who (is biased?) is not sold on them.

The Bears are 6-0 against teams with a losing record, and are 0-3 against team with a Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 9.50.52 PMrecord of .500 or better. You do have to give credit where it’s due though- they’re winning the games they should and they are doing it handily. Also, they only lost by a score to the Patriots, Packers and Dolphins. The win against the Seahawks is definitely their best of the season and it may provide vital down the stretch if the Seahawks go on a run for a tiebreaker.

The Bears have also been relatively untested when it comes to opposing defenses. With that said, not many teams boast a top defense so it’s fair to question how many teams have actually been tested. One team that we know has a solid defense, though, is our own. I’m extremely interested to see Chicago play against the Vikings and see how Trubisky fairs against an upper echelon defense. If the Bears win, or even if they admirably fall, it might be enough to consider me a believer.

On the flip side of things, the Bears have one of the NFL’s best defenses. Khalil Mack is a true game wrecker and one of the NFL’s best players. Regardless of how their offense performs, their defense is good enough to keep them in games. This team will go as far as Trubisky will take them.

Rest of Schedule: vs Vikings, at Lions, at Giants, vs Rams, vs Packers, at 49ers, at Vikings

This is what gives the NFL so much parity on a year-to-year basis – the Bears have a far more favorable schedule than the Vikings and the Packers. Looking at the remaining games, it’s fairly easy to count three wins (but you never know). The Bears are winning the games they should and that might be just enough to get them to 10-6. Regardless of how they do against the Vikings, the Bears look like a strong bet for the playoffs. I still think they’re a year away (if Trubisky keeps improving) from being a legitimate threat once they get there.

Prediction:

Wins: at Lions, at Giants, vs Packers, at 49ers

Losses: vs Vikings, vs Rams, at Vikings

Finish: 10-6, Wild Card.

 

Minnesota Vikings 5-3-1, 2nd in NFC North

Wins: vs 49ers, at Eagles, vs Cardinals, vs Jets, vs Lions

Losses: vs Bills, at Rams, vs Saints

Ties: at Packers

I previously shared my optimism of the Vikings this season, as watching them play each week makes me believe they are back to the 2017 version of themselves. However, for all of my optimism, their resume is awfully similar to the Bears: The Vikings are 5-1 against teams with losing records and 0-2-1 against teams that are .500 or better. The win in Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 9.52.08 PMPhiladelphia is by far their best, though the Eagles recent struggles are taking the air out of that one (and if i want to card stack, which I’ll do, as this is my column and I make the rules, their win against the 49ers was with a formidable Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback). The real optimism comes from seeing how they were able to play against the NFC’s best in the Saints and the Rams.

The other difference I give the Vikings is that their talent level is proven. This is a team that has shown they have what it takes to make a playoff run. They still haven’t put a complete game together, which is something they’ll have to do if they want to defend their division crown.

Rest of Schedule: at Bears, vs Packers, at Patriots, at Seahawks, vs Dolphins, at Lions, vs Bears

The Vikings season will come down to how they play against the division. I think the bye week preparation gives them an advantage in Chicago, as they begin to distance themselves from the division. Including that game, they have four divisional games left, two of which are against the Bears. Looking at the rest of the slate, there are two games they can’t lose against the Lions and Dolphins. They have fought through their schedule (with a major hiccup against the Bills) and are in control of their own destiny. None of these games will be easy, and it’s up to them to show they belong.

Prediction:

Wins: at Bears, at Patriots, vs Dolphins, at Lions, vs Bears

Losses: vs Packers, at Seahawks,

Finish: 10-5-1, NFC North Winner

 

Green Bay Packers 4-4-1, 3rd in NFC North

Wins: vs Bears, vs Bills, vs 49ers, vs Dolphins

Losses: at Redskins, at Lions, at Rams, at Patriots

Ties: vs Vikings

Although I predict the Bears to finish ahead of them, the Packers are still the team I Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 9.51.38 PMwould least want to face in a head-to-head matchup. While the rest of their roster leaves a lot to be desired, Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers. They were arguably two fumbles away from being 6-2-1 (beating the Patriots and the Rams), showing that they are a team that can win any given week. They are currently undefeated at home and winless on the road.

One other bright spot for the Packers has been rookie CB Jaire Alexander. Their defense is steadily improving, especially in the secondary. This youthful impact will be something to watch in the future, I just don’t think it’s in the cards for them this year.

Remaining Schedule: at Seahawks, at Vikings, vs Cardinals, vs Falcons, at Bears, at Jets, vs Lions

The Packers early season woes are going to haunt them. This remaining schedule is no cake walk, and they will have to grind to get to the playoffs, as they sit at 4-4-1 (bad losses in Washington and in Detroit). With their 0-4 road record, I see them continuing to falter on the road, even if they snake one away from Minnesota.

Prediction:

Wins: at Vikings, vs Cardinals, vs Falcons, at Jets, vs Lions

Losses: at Seahawks, at Bears

Finish: 9-6-1, Miss Playoffs

 

Detroit Lions 3-6, 4th in NFC North

Wins: vs Patriots, at Dolphins, vs Packers

Losses: vs Jets, at 49ers, at Cowboys, vs Seahawks, at Vikings, at Bears

The Lions won’t receive much of a write up, but they’re here to serve as a reminder why Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 9.52.46 PMthe NFL is the NFL and why most of these predictions will be moot. The Lions are one of the most volatile teams in the NFL, as they have fallen to the lowly Jets, but also have wins over the Patriots and Packers. They have looked especially awful the past few weeks, but perhaps they can knock off the Bears on Thanksgiving or the Packers in Week 17, while allowing the Vikings to walk all over them in Week 16.  One can hope.

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