The standings don't lie.
Nor does the Packers' upcoming schedule.
The Packers (4-4) are tied for second place in the NFC North Division with the improving Minnesota Vikings and are one game behind the surprising Chicago Bears (5-3).
With the Packers making their annual trek to Minneapolis to take on the Vikings at the Metrodome on Sunday, then returning home for their first Lambeau Field date in four weeks against the Bears the following Sunday, Green Bay is embarking on its biggest two-game stretch of the season.
"We're aware of the standings and where we are in the standings," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "Those are secondary focuses, is the way that I speak to the team. I can't speak for the players. I'm sure they're well aware of what everybody's record is. Everything is so publicized. But we're more in tune with what our record is, 4-4, and the things we need to improve on to keep moving forward."
Based on what can be gained and lost these next two weeks, it's clear the Packers' season is reaching a tipping point.
Lose to the Vikings, and the Packers will be in third place, meaning they'll have to climb over two teams in the remaining seven games to win the NFC North.
Beat the Vikings, and the Packers all but eliminate Minnesota, since the Vikings will be the team in third place and the Packers will have earned a crucial tiebreaker because of a season sweep.
"Both teams are kind of up against the wall," running back Ryan Grant said of the Packers and Vikings.
The game against Chicago obviously will be important, too, and especially so if the Packers lose at Minnesota. But at least with the Bears — who get their crack against undefeated Tennessee on Sunday at Chicago — there will be a Dec. 22 rematch at Soldier Field.
"Division games are very important, no doubt about it," McCarthy said. "Division road games are probably the toughest road games that you play throughout the year, in my opinion. So, this week's challenge will be big for us, no doubt."
The remaining schedules favor the Packers, though not by a huge margin. Green Bay's opponents have a cumulative 30-34 record, thanks in part to having another matchup with winless Detroit. Chicago's opponents are 32-32, with the Titans (and no more games against Detroit) beefing up that figure. Minnesota's opponents are 35-30, even with Detroit on the schedule.
The Packers and Bears each play three teams with losing records, while the Vikings play just two losing teams.
All teams have four home games and four road games remaining. The Bears start a three-game road trip at Green Bay, then return home for three straight.
Green Bay plays at Minnesota (4-4), hosts Chicago (5-3), plays at New Orleans (4-4), hosts Carolina (6-2) and Houston (3-5), visits Jacksonville (3-5) and Chicago (5-3) and closes at home against Detroit (0-8).
Chicago hosts Tennessee (8-0), visits Green Bay (4-4), St. Louis (2-6) and Minnesota (4-4), hosts Jacksonville (3-5), New Orleans (4-4) and Green Bay (4-4), and finishes at Houston (3-5).
Minnesota hosts Green Bay (4-4), visits Tampa Bay (6-3) and Jacksonville (3-5), hosts Chicago (5-3), visits Detroit (0-8) and Arizona (5-3) and closes with home games against Atlanta (5-3) and the New York Giants (7-1).
Interestingly, NFC North teams have just two victories over teams with winning records: Minnesota over Carolina and Chicago over Philadelphia.
That the Packers had chances to win at Tampa Bay and Tennessee either shows they're close to being an elite team or that they're not good enough to get over the hump. Separating the fact from fiction starts Sunday.
"Enough to know what's going on," Grant said when asked if he pays attention to the standings. "Divisional opponents are important, because that's why you play. We're not just out there playing games just to play games. We want to win, and you want to win in the regular season and you want to win to go to the playoffs and so forth. Of course you pay attention. It's not the main focus, because we need to take care of our business, but of course we pay attention."
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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