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.