The Detroit Lions’ Divisional Chances Will Rest Upon A Few Key Games.
Detroit Lions’ Divisional Outlook
The Detroit Lions are back two games on the Minnesota Vikings for the division lead. They are currently tied with the Green Bay Packers for second place in the NFC North. The Bears are bringing up the bottom of the division at 3-6, two games back from the Lions and Packers, and four games back from the Minnesota Vikings.
The NFC North is by no means decided. The schedule gets significantly easier for the Detroit Lions down the stretch. The Vikings are entering their gauntlet to finish out the season. The Green Bay Packers have some very winnable games coming up, even without Aaron Rodgers. The final couple weeks, divisional match ups, will likely determine the victor of the NFC North, and will have a chance to significantly change the race for the Wildcard.
Lets take a look at the NFC North teams’ next four games and see where they will likely be going into the final three weeks of the season.
The Chicago Bears
At this point, the Bears have been essentially eliminated from the divisional race as well as the wild card race. Sitting at 3-6, they would have to win all of their remaining games without faltering to even have a chance at the division or a wild card spot. Even then, they would need some help from their divisional opponents. The Vikings are already four games up on them, and both the Lions and Packers have easy schedules over the next four weeks.
The Bears face the Detroit Lions this week. Divisional games are always up in the air to a certain extent. The teams know each other. They play each other twice. They are often more battles of preparation and coaching than the non-divisional games on the schedule. Division match-ups are always games that can surprise. That said, the Lions should walk away with a victory in this one.
They follow up their divisional face-off with a game against an 8-1 Eagles team. The Eagles are playing very good football right now. They are among the best teams in the league. In a year where no team has been a truly dominant force, the Philadelphia Eagles have been about as close as anyone has come to that status. The Bears will almost certainly lose this game.
Their next game against the 49ers is very winnable. The Bears have been unimpressive for most of the year, but they haven’t necessarily been a league bottom feeder. The 49ers, coming off their first victory of the year, against a similarly bad Giants team, have been just that, a bottom feeder. The Bears should win that game.
The Cincinnati Bengals will be an interesting game for the Chicago Bears. The Bengals have not been a good team, but they are talented team. This is a game that the Chicago Bears certainly can win. This isn’t a definite win, but certainly a possibility. I would chalk this up as a Bears’ win, but I could just as easily see it as a loss.
From this stretch, I see the Bears going 2-2. I think that the Bears lose to the Eagles and beat the 49ers. They will probably lose to the Lions, and they will probably beat the Bengals. I think that either way, they probably end up splitting those two games. The Bears likely end this four game stretch at 5-8. That puts them firmly out of the divisional race and out of the playoff race going into the final three games of the season.
The Detroit Lions’ divisional aspirations will have very little to do with the Bears outside of their head to head match ups.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers, even without Aaron Rodgers, still have a decent shot at making a run at the division. I know that this isn’t what Lions fans, or any fans, want to hear, but they have a legitimate chance at staying in the race long enough for Rodgers to return. Their next four games are games that would allow the Packers to remain in contention. That brings us to week 15, the week that Aaron Rodgers is first eligible to return to the field. The timing of his return will be crucial in the battle for the divisional title.
The Packers’ first game is against the Baltimore Ravens. That is a game that, even without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers could and should win. The Ravens have been struggling everywhere this year. Flacco has been ineffective. The rushing attack, despite the emergence of both Buck Allen and Alex Collins, has failed to generate consistent offensive production. This team has significantly under-performed based on the talent that they have on their team. This is a game that I think the Packers can very much win.
The next team the Packers face is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are a good team. The Lions played them tight, and fans were ultimately disappointed, but that was a good team that the Lions faced. I expect the Steelers to dispatch the Packers with ease. I don’t think that this will be a particularly close game. Pittsburgh has a lot of talent on offense, and I just don’t think that Hundley can keep up.
The Packers follow up the Steelers game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is another team that has the talent to make for an interesting match-up. That said, I think that the Packers have a good chance at winning this. If I had to put my money on the game, I would probably still put my money on a Rodgersless Green Bay Packers.
The final game of this four game stretch for the Packers comes against the Cleveland Browns. This should be about as close to a gimme as is possible in the NFL. Obviously there are no free-wins in football, but the Cleveland Browns are bad. They shouldn’t beat any team remaining on their schedule. That doesn’t mean that I think that they won’t win a game. Crazy things happen. Bad teams beat good teams. Bad teams lose to worse teams. That said, I think that we can confidently chalk this up as a win for the Green Bay Packers.
From this stretch, I see the Packers potentially going 3-1. They could drop either the game to the Ravens or the Buccaneers, but I expect them to win those games. This is going to make the Lions’ divisional chances a little more interesting. If the Packers go 3-1, they will be sitting at 8-5 going into the final three games of the season. These are presumably the three games that the Packers could potentially have Aaron Rodgers back.
If the Packers are sitting at 8-5, I think that it is a lot more likely that the Lions see Aaron Rodgers in week 17. If the Packers botch these upcoming four games and stumble out of contention for the division or the wild card, Rodgers may not risk his health to return for the final few games of the season. As always, but now more than ever, Lions fans will be rooting vehemently against the Green Bay Packers.
The Detroit Lions’ divisional chances may be tied to the Green Bay Packers if Aaron Rodgers decides to return before week 17.
The Vikings are currently atop the NFC North. They control their own path to a divisional championship. If the Lions hope to win the division, they will need some help from the Minnesota Vikings’ opponents. The Vikings currently hold a two game lead, but go into a tougher stretch of their schedule. The Vikings are a good team, and have a legitimate chance of making it out of the gauntlet without giving up significant ground to the Detroit Lions. That said, each of the next four games are games that the Vikings are capable of losing.
The first of the Minnesota Vikings four game stretch is a match up against the LA Rams. The Rams are currently 7-2 and playing very good football. This will be a test for both teams. I think that, while the Rams are a good football team, the Vikings match up very well with them. This game could go either way. It will be the first of a series of important games for giving shape to the Detroit Lions’ divisional chances.
The next game, likely the most important game of the season for the Detroit Lions’ divisional aspirations, is the head to head match up between the Vikings and the Lions. The Lions beat the Vikings in Minnesota earlier in the year. This will be two very different teams that face each other. Both teams were dealing with injuries to key positions that will likely be rectified by the time this game happens. The Vikings offense has had more time to get comfortable with Case Keenum than they had in the previous game. This is probably going to be a tough game for both teams. My gut feeling is that the Vikings win in Detroit on Thanksgiving.
Beyond the obvious record implications, this is the most important game for the Lions’ divisional chances in terms of tiebreakers as well. Back two games, it will be tough for the Lions to finish up a game on the Minnesota Vikings. Their most likely path to the divisional championship is to pull even and make the playoffs via tiebreaker. With a win, the Lions would secure the tiebreaker. With a loss, the head to head match up would be tied. That would push the tiebreaker to divisional record. That would be a tie as well, but the Lions would still potentially have a game against the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers. I’d rather not leave that up to chance.
The next two games for the Vikings are against the Falcons and Panthers. Both of these games are potential losses. I think that the Vikings walk away with at least one loss from those two games. With one loss between the Lions and Rams, that would put the Vikings at 9-4 going into the final three games of the season, still likely at least a game ahead of the Detroit Lions. That makes the head to head tiebreaker even more important for the Detroit Lions’ divisional chances.
The Lions next four games come against the Bears, the Vikings, the Ravens, and the Buccaneers. Outside of the game against the Vikings, these are all games that I expect the Lions to win. Will they win all three of those games? It is impossible to say, but I think that fans should expect that.
The game against the Vikings is going to be a tough one. The Detroit Lions’ divisional chances rest heavily on this game. It is easily the most important game of the year thus far, and will likely be the most important game of the regular season in retrospect when the season comes to a close. I think the Vikings win this one, but it is very much in the realm of possibility for the Lions to pull it out.
I think that the chances of the Lions winning against the Vikings are probably about on par with the chances of the Lions dropping one of the other three games over this four game stretch. That would put the Lions at 3-1 over the next four games and 8-5 going into the final three games of the season.
Detroit Lions’ Divisional Chances
If everything shapes up the way that it looks like it will, the NFC North title is not going to be easily attainable for the Detroit Lions.
With my current projections, the Vikings will be sitting at 9-4 and holding the tiebreaker over the Detroit Lions. That would put the Lions two games back from a chance at the first Detroit Lions’ divisional title in the NFC North. That is not where you want to be going into the final three games of the season. That would mean that the Vikings could win a maximum of one of their final three games. With games coming against both the struggling Bengals and Bears in the final three weeks, this is a tall order.
The Lions need to beat the Vikings in their head to head match up to have a reasonable chance at a Detroit Lions’ divisional title. Without that, the only hope is that the Minnesota Vikings severely struggle down the stretch and sink to a level of football that we haven’t seen from them yet this year. That is not something that you want to pin your hopes to.
The Packers will be sitting at 8-5, along with the Lions. While they will be tied with the Lions, their final three games are tough. They face the Vikings, the Panthers, and finish the season off in another week 17 match up against the Detroit Lions. If Rodgers is back, these final three games become more interesting. If he isn’t back, I think that Packers fail to keep themselves in the conversation for the NFC North.
The bottom line is that the Lions need to beat the Vikings on Thanksgiving. They obviously need to continue to beat opponents that they should beat, but without a win on Thanksgiving, it may not matter. The Detroit Lions divisional chances rest heavily upon earning a tie breaker over the Minnesota Vikings.