NFC North race starts over

After 10 games, three teams are tied at the top of the NFC North, making it a six-game spring to the division title. Here are the games left for each of the three contenders, including the Minnesota Vikings.

With six games to go in the 2008 regular season, the top three teams in the NFC North are starting over. With the Vikings, Bears and Packers all at 5-5, it's anyone's race to win or lose. With the probability being quite high that only one team will come out of the division to make the playoffs, trying to handicap the finish isn't easy. Each team has some potential road blocks in the way, but here is a breakdown of what each team faces down the stretch.

MINNESOTA – The Vikings head to Jacksonville next week to face a Jaguars team that has been a disappointing 1-4 at home. Their playoff hopes are fading, but a playoff team that has fallen on hard times is always dangerous. The Week 13 matchup with the Bears has become a must-win in order to keep tie-breakers, both head-to-head and within the division, in order, since a win will likely have all three teams finishing 4-2 in the division. The Lions have been stiffs all year, so that should line up as a win. The Vikings got the short straw by drawing the Cardinals as their one opponents from the NFC West. They are very difficult team to beat at home and will present a lot of problems for the Vikings defense. The final two games will be at home against Atlanta and the Giants. With the potential that the Giants could have home field locked down, there is a chance New York won't put its best effort forward and sit down some of their starters, which would be a huge benefit for the Vikings.

CHICAGO – The Bears are one game into a three-game road trip, but next week playing at St. Louis should be a good chance to get a win. A win over the Vikings could cripple Minnesota's chances and enhance the Bears', since the Packers split with the Vikings. Chicago plays Weeks 14-16 all at home, hosting the Jaguars, Saints and Packers. None of those games will be easy, but having Jacksonville and New Orleans in the potentially brutal elements at Soldier Field should be a plus. The Bears end their season at Houston, where the Texans have been much stronger at home. If they can take of their business against the Rams and hold home field against the Jags, Saints and Packers, the Bears might be the odds-on favorite to win the division.

GREEN BAY – The Packers have a tough road in front of them, starting next Monday at New Orleans. They come home to face Carolina and Houston before going on the road to play at Jacksonville and at Chicago. If the division comes down to the final week, getting the hapless Lions at home could play heavily in their favor. The Packers may be the one team that has the most control over its own destiny since it plays both the Bears and Lions to close out the season and a sweep of the Bears could give Green Bay the divisional tie-breakers.

Essentially, you can wipe the slate clean through the first 10 games. This appears to be a six-game sprint for the division title. All three teams have some potential land mines along the way, but it may well end up being the games that are won and lost against divisional opponents that decides who keeps playing and who goes home when the calendar flips to 2009.


  • The prognosis on Jared Allen doesn't look as positive as it did a week ago. Following the game, Allen reportedly had his injured shoulder in a sling and was in obvious pain. He will likely be used sparingly again in practice in hopes that rest during the week will allow him to continue playing through the pain.

  • Allen is scheduled to fly to New York at some point this week to meet with Commissioner Roger Goodell concerning his fines for hits on Texans QB Matt Schaub that drew a $50,000 fine two weeks ago.

  • Allen may not be alone in New York when he visits the commish. The appeals for Pat Williams and Kevin Williams over violations of the league's steroids policy are expected to be heard this week as well.

  • Ryan Cook had a pretty dismal showing Sunday, so much so that Brad Childress was asked if he would benched in favor of Artis Hicks next week against the Jaguars. Childress said he doesn't make such decisions in the heat of the moment.

  • The Vikings ran just seven offensive plays in the fourth quarter, which makes it difficult to make up a deficit down the stretch.

  • The Packers' rout of Chicago Sunday included a fumble return for a touchdown – the ninth return TD of the year for Green Bay, which ties a franchise record.

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