NFC North breakdown: Week 15

The Packers and Lions are fighting for playoff positioning, while the Vikings and Bears are left to play the spoiler role.

Green Bay Packers (10-3)
The Green Bay Packers had a bit of a scare at home last Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons. The Packers jumped out to an early lead and seemed to have the game easily won early on, but the Falcons were able to make a comeback. Atlanta even brought the game back to within one score, but they were not able to keep the Packers from running out the clock.

Aaron Rodgers continued the MVP-like run he has been having as of late, throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns. His primary targets continued to be Jordy Nelson, who went for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

Monday’s win also meant that the Packers stay in front of the Detroit Lions, and that they remained undefeated at home. Unfortunately for the Packers, though, they will have to leave the confines of their beloved Lambeau Field to head to Buffalo to face off against the Bills. Even though the Packers are 10-3, all three of those losses have come on the road.

The Buffalo Bills have had an up-and-down season this year. They are currently 7-6, and have been on no real winning or losing streaks. Their longest winning and losing streaks are just two games, and they’ve even had a game postponed in Week 12 against the New York Jets.

The Bills have the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL, only allowing 311.9 yards a game, but they also have a struggling offense that is ranked 22nd in the league, averaging 327.2 yards per game.

Lucky for the Bills, their strength matches up well with the strength of the Packers. The Bills also have one of the best run defenses in the NFL, which should help against Eddie Lacy, who has seemed to find a groove late in the season, scoring seven total touchdowns in his last five games.

In those same five games, Rodgers has accounted for 16 touchdowns, not a good sign for the Bills defense. Buffalo is currently ranked as fifth in the league against the pass, averaging 212.8 yards allowed through the air per game, but there is only so much that a defense can do when they are forced to go up against a quarterback that is as red-hot as Rodgers is right now.

The Packers also have a chance to clinch a playoff birth this weekend. They need to win, and have the Dallas Cowboys lose, and they are in.

Detroit Lions (9-4) vs. Minnesota Vikings (6-7)
The Detroit Lions still remain in control of their own destiny, and this weekend’s game against the Minnesota Vikings plays a huge role in it. If the Lions win all of their remaining games, they will make it into the playoffs and clinch the NFC North.

Right now, it appears the division title will be going to the Green Bay Packers, but the Lions only have one less win that the Packers do and they have a better divisional record – the Lions beat the Packers in Week 3, and the Lions are undefeated against divisional opponents. So if the Lions win out and beat the Packers in the final game of the regular season, the two teams will have the same record but the Lions will hold the tie-breaker.

That is one thing that makes this weekend’s matchup against the Minnesota Vikings so important. It is a divisional game, and if the Lions want to stay in control of their own destiny they need to win it so they can hold their edge over Green Bay. If they lose this game, they will need to hope Green Bay loses one of their final games of the season, and at this point in time that seems like wishful thinking as the Packers have won five straight games and are winners of nine out of their last 10.

The Vikings also need this game, but for a different reason. Win it and they will get move to .500 while securing their first divisional win. Technically they are now out of the playoffs after the St. Louis Rams lost on Thursday night.

The Vikings and Lions have met once this season already. It was played at TCF Bank Stadium and was a game that saw few points scored. The Lions won the game 17-3, but it was their defense that shined that day.

Minnesota’s offense couldn’t get anything going that day, and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was under duress the entire game as the Lions defense totaled eight sacks and was able to intercept Bridgewater three times.

This will be a different game than the one played during Week 6 of the regular season. The Lions offense has been playing better of late. They are on a two-game winning streak, have scored 34 points in both of those wins, and they will have their No. 1 receiver – and possibly the best receiver in the NFL – Calvin Johnson back. He was out with an injury the first time these two teams met.

The Vikings are also a different team than they were when these two teams first met. The Vikings are also riding a two-game winning streak and Bridgewater has a quarterback rating over 100 in both of those games. He also has a 9-to-4 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio since the bye week, and two of those interceptions have come on Hail Mary plays at the ends of the first and second halves. He has also thrown for two or more touchdowns in each of the four games since their bye week.

Chicago Bears (5-8)
After a 41-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last week, the Chicago Bears are once again the lone bottom-dwellers of the NFC North. With that loss, their playoff hopes have also disappeared as they can only reach 8-8 if they win out and that record will not get them into the playoffs.

For the remainder of the season they will have to play the role of spoiler, as all three of their remaining opponents currently have a chance at making the playoffs, and that starts this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints are currently tied for first in the NFC South with the Atlanta Flacons at 5-8 – although the Falcons hold the tiebreaker with a better division record. If the Saints hope to make the playoffs they will need to win as many of their three remaining games as they can and have the Falcons lose more than they do.

Both of these teams are 2-1 when facing off against the other division, as the NFC North and South play each other this season, but the Bears might hold the advantage as they are 1-0 at home against the NFC South, and the Saints are 0-1 on the road against the NFC North.

New Orleans has also struggled on the road all year this season, and the Saints are 2-4 this season while on the road, but they have won their last two road games. Since the beginning of the season the Chicago Bears were struggling at home – 0-3 in their first three home games – but have seemed to turn it around since the bye week going 2-1.

Even though both of these teams are 5-8, there is a lot riding on this game in terms of the playoffs. Whatever happens to the Saints, win or lose, will affect the NFC South, as there are still three teams in the hunt for that division title.

The Bears have been up and down all season, so depending on which team shows up could make the difference in this Sunday’s game. They could be the dominant team that beat the Minnesota Vikings 21-13, or they could be the team that lost to the Green Bay Packers 55-14 just a week earlier.

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