The North is the Packers' to lose

So says the standings and schedule, but the Packers have to take care of business in a far-better-than-expected division, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence notes.

Type in the words "NFC North" and "weak" into Google, and 173,000 results pop up.

Maybe the Packers (7-1) have divine intervention on their side, like our Harry Sydney suggests. Maybe Detroit (6-2) is a paper lion.

All I know is when I look at the NFL standings, the NFC North's 19 wins trail only the NFC East's 21 and the AFC South's 22.

What that shows is the foolishness of thinking about last season too much when you're trying to figure out this season. In a league where the difference between winning and losing often is small, bad teams become good and good teams become bad practically overnight.

I bring this up because the Packers were supposed to be about to start the easiest three games in a challenging schedule. That stretch starts Sunday with a home game against Minnesota and ends on Thanksgiving at Detroit, with a home game against Carolina sandwiched in between.

Now, Minnesota is 3-5. Not exactly poised to threaten the Packers and Lions for NFC North supremacy. Not with Tarvaris Kelly Bollinger setting the quarterback position back 60 years. But after watching Adrian Peterson treat the rest of the NFL like its some scrub team his Oklahoma Sooners would play in the nonconference schedule, the Vikings are yet another challenge for the Packers.

As is usually the case, the more games you win, the bigger the next game becomes. Thus, Sunday's game becomes the biggest game on the schedule. At least for this week.

Detroit is 3-0 against the division while the Packers are 1-1. Green Bay can't afford to go 1-2. If the Packers and Lions tie for the division title and split the season series, then division record is the next tiebreaker. A two-game gulf would be pretty tough to overcome.

At the end of this commentary, you'll find the remaining schedules for the Packers and Lions. The edge clearly goes to Green Bay. (Wait until you see the combined record of Detroit's remaining foes.)

First, the Packers have already taken care of the Giants and Chargers. Detroit hosts New York next Sunday and travels to San Diego on Dec. 16.

Second, the Packers have four sub.-500 teams left on their schedule while the Lions have only two. While the Packers host Oakland and travel to St. Louis (combined 2-14) for their two "easiest games," the Lions' sub-.500 schedule includes trips to Arizona (3-5, but 2-1 at home) and Minnesota (3-5).

The only thing not in the Packers' favor? Both teams have Dallas on their schedules, though it's a home game for the Lions and a road game for the Packers.

With that said, the Packers have to take care of business in the better-than-expected NFC North. Now that Brad Childress has figured out the Vikings are better served giving the ball to Peterson 30 times a game instead of 12, Minnesota is a lot more formidable. A win puts the Vikings in the playoff race. A loss, and they can start planning for next year. A Thanksgiving trip to Detroit is never a holiday, even when the Lions are their usual lousy selves. And Chicago is the only team to have figured out a way to beat the Packers.

The standings and schedule suggest the NFC North is the Packers' to lose. That statement, however, means about as much as those preseason prognostications.

Packers schedule

Nov. 11 vs. Minnesota (3-5)

Nov. 18 vs. Carolina (4-4)

Nov. 22 at Detroit (6-2)

Nov. 29 at Dallas (7-1)

Dec. 9 vs. Oakland (2-6)

Dec. 16 at St. Louis (0-8)

Dec. 23 at Chicago (3-5)

Dec. 30 vs. Detroit (6-2)

Combined record: 31-33.

Lions schedule

Nov. 11 at Arizona (3-5)

Nov. 18 vs. New York Giants (6-2)

Nov. 22 vs. Green Bay (7-1)

Dec. 2 at Minnesota (3-5)

Dec. 9 vs. Dallas (7-1)

Dec. 16 at San Diego (4-4)

Dec. 23 vs. Kansas City (4-4)

Dec. 30 at Green Bay (7-1)

Combined record: 41-23.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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