Could this be Separation Sunday in NFC North?

The NFC North could be cut in half if things go the Minnesota Vikings’ way in Week 3.

In the NFL, coaches and players claim that no game is more important than any other and winning is the goal regardless of opponent. But, as the Vikings and the other 31 NFL teams prepare for Week 3 of the NFL season, there may be no more important week than this when it comes to the fortunes of the 2015 season and determining who will be the haves and who will be the have nots.

By the time the lights go out at Lambeau Field Monday night, the NFC North could be a four-team race, a two-team race or a one-team race as the elimination/hole-digging begins for a lot of teams.

The Vikings are at home against San Diego on Sunday, which, at face value, looks to be the best of the options for NFC North teams. The Chargers are coming off a road loss at Cincinnati and have to come back east to play the Vikings in a game that, for them and their fans, will be played at 10 a.m. The Chargers have proved they can be had. Their only win of the season came at home against Detroit after San Diego fell behind 21-3. If the Vikings get an 18-point lead, it will likely be more difficult to come back than it was against the defensively challenged Lions.

The other teams in the NFC North look to have a more difficult road to the “W” column. Detroit is at home in prime time against Denver (2-0). Detroit has been unable to stop the run without Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley around to collapse pockets. Vikings fans have been through what Lions fans are facing Sunday night – a must-win in their home opener or they drop to 0-3 and the hole they dug themselves suddenly starts to look like a grave. Given Detroit’s history of imploding when things take a southward turn, a loss to Denver could be devastating for their 2015 hopes.

Even worse off is Chicago. At 0-2 after home losses to Green Bay and Arizona, the Bears face the unenviable challenge of heading into Seattle, where the two-time defending NFC champs are also 0-2 after a pair of road losses to start the season. Pete Carroll is likely going to be pushing his players with the “us against the world” sort of motivation and reminding the players that their home-field advantage is as a strong as any team in the league – which isn’t false. If Seattle plays its game and Chicago plays like it has the first two games, the Bears will be 0-3 with three conference losses and two home defeats already in the “L” column of the ledger.

The Packers are at home in prime time again, this time facing the Kansas City Chiefs. Not only are the Chiefs (1-1) going to come in fired up after handing a win to Denver last week, they’re coming in with extra rest, having played last Thursday night while Green Bay was getting physical with Seattle on Monday night. A motivated team with four additional days of preparation can give Kansas City a competitive advantage over a Packers team that won’t start installing its game plan until tomorrow. The Packers will be favored to remain unbeaten, but the Chiefs could be the team that puts a blemish on Aaron Rodgers’ stunningly good home record over the last six-plus years.

When all is said and done, the Lions and Bears could be close to self-elimination after just three games. Anyone who has witnessed the Vikings of recent vintage knows that trying to get out of a below-.500 hole isn’t an easy climb out. You start taking chances. You start making changes. You get desperate and, by the time Week 3 is over, any team that is 0-3 is all but assured of being a team playing out the string the final 13 games of the year. If things go as they well might, by Monday night, you could have the Vikings and Packers being the last two teams standing with the Bears and Lions looking up … way up.

It isn’t just the NFC North that could see big changes on what could be termed Separation Sunday, which actually begins Thursday.

If the Giants lose to Washington Thursday night, they will drop to 0-3 and their season will be on life support. Cincinnati (2-0) will go on the road to Baltimore (0-2) with a chance to bury the Ravens and put them deep in the rearview mirror.

Philadelphia (0-2) goes on the road to play the New York Jets (2-0), where Chip Kelly’s struggling pinball offense goes up against a potent Jets defense that stymied Andrew Luck and the Colts on Monday night. A third straight loss won’t sit well with the calm, cool and collected fan base of South Philly.  The Saints (0-2) are coming off a home loss to prohibitive underdog Tampa Bay, the sixth straight loss at the Superdome by the once-mighty Saints. With Drew Brees ailing as the Saints head to Carolina (2-0), they could be rendered irrelevant with a third straight conference loss and a second straight divisional loss.

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There are no givens in the NFL. Just look back at Week 2. A lot of teams won that weren’t expected to, but much of the logic behind the point spreads was based upon the expectation of what teams had shown in 2014, not what they actually have in 2015. As things stand today, every 0-2 team is no more than two games out of first place. The ship can be righted and sent off in the proper direction.

But for those teams still looking for their first win and those looking to remain undefeated, Week 3 is historically where the separation begins and the season starts to take on its own particular look. The longer it takes for a team to lose, the more national attention they’re going to receive. The longer it takes for a team to get a win, the more likely there will be turmoil in the locker room and among the coaching staff to explain why their team is so bad.

All the Vikings can control is taking care of their own business at home against San Diego. The other 15 games will play out on their own. But when all is said and done Monday night, the Vikings have a chance to be in a two-team race with Green Bay while Detroit and Chicago may be wallowing in the position of having fans giving up on them and already wondering who the top college prospects are in the 2016 draft.


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