Swing Time In The NFL

It's time for the Vikings and other teams to prove whether they are playoff-worthy or just another average team in a league full of parity.

The NFL is entering the meaty part of its schedule, a time when contenders are closing in on division titles and pretenders could be fading. This weekend, the only team that can clinch a division title is Philadelphia. The rest of the divisions are still up for grabs.

The pretenders in the NFC North again are shaking out as Chicago and Detroit. Both are 4-7 and stand almost no chance of winning the division.

After falling to the Vikings 22-19 last Sunday, the Lions were blown out over Thanksgiving and have lost five in a row. Chicago also lost on Thanksgiving, making it two in a row. Worse yet, the Bears are showing just how weak they are at quarterback with the signing of Jeff George to a one-year contract.

That brings us to the Packers and Vikings, embroiled in a tight race for the division. Both teams are 6-4 and tied for the lead in the division.

The Vikings appear to have the easier schedule to close out the season, but Vikings fans remember what happened on a West Coast road trip last year, with losses to San Diego and Oakland. The Vikings have only a one-game winning streak, barely ending a three-game losing streak with their tight win against Detroit last Sunday.

The Packers, meanwhile, have many of the advantages over the Vikings. They won the first meeting of the two teams and have a 5-2 conference record, compared to the Vikings' 4-3 NFC mark. But while Brett Favre goes for his 200th consecutive start on Monday night against St. Louis, the Packers could be playing without their star running back, Ahman Green.

It's a critical stretch in the NFC North race, and it starts today for the Vikings, who host Jacksonville and head coach and former Viking Jack Del Rio. Incidentally, Jacksonville is also 6-4 and trying to make up a two-game deficit on Indianapolis in the AFC South.

It's time for the playoff push, with or without a fully healthy contingent of starters.

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