Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

NFC North title will be determined by last man standing

The Minnesota Vikings are desperate for a win. Any win. But the 2016 season won't be decided Sunday against Arizona. It will be won by seven games of attrition.

The NFL is a sport noted for its constant change. Made the Super Bowl last year? Good for you. Back it up this year, tough guy.

That may be a contributing reason why the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, despite their record, are in third place in their division and the defending NFC champ Carolina Panthers are in last place in their division with a sweep from division rival Tampa Bay and the potential for a double-up tonight if New Orleans proves to be a shirt-pulling Superman’s kryptonite.

Perceptions change quickly in the NFL – much quicker than any other sport. Teams can go from a bum to a king in one season. As apparently the Minnesota Vikings have proved, teams can also go from a king to a bum in one month.

The current landscape of the NFC North has one team giddy (Detroit) and three others scratching their heads – two legitimate teams and one that resides in a recently-christened baseball town creating a happy diversion.

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The Lions currently rule the roost – as it is – with a tie-breaker edge over the Vikings at 5-4 and have been recharging their batteries on their bye week.

Detroit can do some damage in the next seven days – at home against the Jaguars Sunday and hosting the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day. But, this is Detroit, where football dreams have gone to die for more than a half-century.

It’s the aspiration burial ground, where the living envy the dead.

The Lions’ closing slate after Jacksonville includes three home games – against the Vikings, Packers and Bears (oh my!). The Lions lost to both Green Bay and Chicago and, if not for a minor miracle, would have lost to the Vikings. Despite their current divisional edge, Detroit is 1-2 against the NFC North and, while controlling their own fate, are digging themselves out of a divisional hole of their own creation to become the top dog – which would be something for a kitty.

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Detroit’s closing schedule also includes three road games – at New Orleans, at the Giants and at Dallas. How many of those games do you think the boys in Vegas anticipate they’ll win? Odds are if you’re looking for a bet, the current over/under line is set at a half game. Take your side. The smart money is taking the under.

If the Lions are going to conquer the North, they’re going to earn it, but you can make a case for plenty of L’s to be splashed in among the final seven games on their slate.

Then comes the curious case of the Green Bay Packers. An alarm was sounded last season when the Packers lost at hallowed Lambeau Field to all three divisional opponents – the reason they surrendered the division crown by force last year.

Packers fans clinging to the flickering hope of returning to the top of the NFC North take solace in knowing their final three games will be against their three division rivals.

Getting there in one piece will be the problem.

The four games before the Packers get into the divisional dust-ups will include road games at Washington and Philadelphia and home games against Houston and Seattle.

All four of them have winning records, which the Packers currently do not. Again, the Vegas smarts are eyeballing a 2-2 record at best and are setting the over/under at 1½.

Of the Vikings’ final seven opponents, only one of them has a record above .500. That would be the flavor of the month – the self-proclaimed champion Cowboys.

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The best news on that meeting? Jerry and boys have to come to the house that Wilf built on God-Awful Uniform Night, aka Thursday night Color Rush, to keep their juggernaut on course.

With some Vikings fans dangling their legs over a ledge contemplating jumping and others hoping the beam they’re throwing the rope over will support their weight when the chair gets kicked out, perhaps they should take a cue from Aaron Rodgers a year ago when Packers fans were drinking more than usual – R-E-L-A-X.

The NFC North title won’t be decided on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. It likely will be decided the Sunday after Christmas – last-man-standing style.

Get your eggnog ready.

Editor’s note: No Bears were harmed in the writing of this story, because Bears just don’t matter in this scenario.


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