Final month ignored in NFC North predictions

The Vikings aren’t getting much love in preseason predictions, but they were the best team in the NFC North in December.

As the preseason projections start to come out and prognosticators read the tea leaves, rub their crystal ball and pretend to know everything worth knowing about all 32 teams, there’s one thing that will be consistent – the Vikings will be picked to finish last.

There is a lot of love being spread around to the other three teams in NFC, despite the fact that, over the final six games, the Vikings had the best record in the division (3-2-1), including a record of 2-0-1 against the teams in the NFC North.

The year before Detroit made its rare playoff run – only to get done in their last two games by Matt Flynn and Drew Brees – the Lions had the best record in the NFC North over the final month of the season, despite being eliminated from playoff contention by their loss on Thanksgiving Day. A strong finish was a precursor to the following year.

In Aaron Rodgers’ first year as the Packers’ starter, the team wheezed to a 6-10 finish and fans were constantly questioning Ted Thompson’s decision to exile future Hall of Famer Brett Favre to the Jets. The Packers have held sway over the NFC North ever since.

The Vikings started winning in December last year, despite entering the month with a 2-8 record. History will tell us that the Vikings finished 5-10-1 and were in last place in the NFC North. Reality tells you that, of the four teams in the division, the Vikings were the best in the final month – even though they were the only team that knew pre-Thanksgiving that they were toast – or stuffing, if you will.

Yet, when you make the case for the Vikings, with many players having gone through a 3-13 season two years earlier, they weren’t going lay down and repeat that experience. Those who lived through it learned from it.

Yet when it comes to making 2014 predictions, the Packers, Lions and Bears all have their share of supporters heading into 2014, but the bigger question may be why.

Green Bay PackersSure, the Packers were without Rodgers for half the season, but it wasn’t offense that had Green Bay struggling. It was defense. In their final nine games of the regular season, the Packers went 3-5-1 and allowed 26 or more points in nine of their final 10 games. If you’re consistently allowing that many points, winning doesn’t come easily – whether you have Rodgers or not. Yet the bandwagon for the Packers is taking on passengers and quickly filling up.

Chicago BearsThe Bears missing the playoffs in 2013 was of their own design. In the driver’s seat at 6-4 in mid-November, the aging Bears defense collapsed late and Chicago dropped four of their final six games to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs. In those games, the Bears allowed point totals of 42, 23, 28, 31, 54 and 33. While their offense may be as potent as any Bears offense in the last 20 years, like the Packers, if you allow that many points in games, you’re not going to rattle off too many wins.

Detroit LionsThe Lions are known for dropping games late in the season and packing in their tent. 2013 was no exception. Sitting atop the NFC North with a 6-3 record, Detroit lost six of their final seven games, including each of the last four, to finish 7-9. Classic Lions. Like the Packers and Bears, they have offensive firepower to win shootouts, but they find ways to lose in December too consistently to put too much faith in them.

When the preseason predictions come out, there will be a fair share of supporters for Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit because the field is wide open for someone to take charge in the NFC North. The only sure thing is that there won’t be many on the bandwagon of the Vikings. But if you look at how the teams closed out the 2013 season, the bigger question should be this: Why not the Vikings?

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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