Monday, November 17, 2008

The NFC North: Path to Nine

The Vikings, Packers, and Bears are tied atop the NFC North at 5-5. It's hard to make predictions about what a .500 team is going to do over the remaining six games of the season; teams get to .500 by being inconsistent, after all. Look at each team's units. Can you guess which Packer offense will show up one week? Or which Bear defense will show up the next week? Or whether the Viking special teams will botch another play? Nope, you can't.

I think it will take nine wins to take the NFC North.  The division winner may get to 10-11 wins, but I'm doubtful the second place team will get past eight wins.

So which team has the easiest path to nine wins?

When looking at the remaining schedules (each team plays three more home games and three more away games), there are a few things to consider:

Gimme Wins: there are no sure thing wins in the NFL, but there are some truly awful teams. If you're fighting for a division title, and you see a team that is .300 or worse on your schedule, you should win that game: if you don't, you don't deserve to win a division title.  Just to be clear, any of these three teams could lose its gimme games, but I suspect the eventual division winner will win its gimme games.

Division Breakers: when there's a three-way tie for a division title, the remaining games when two of those teams play each other are really important.

Division Record: fair enough: two teams could get to nine wins.  If that happens, what matters is head-to-head matchups and division records.

Vikings (2-2 division, loss to Bears, split with Packers)

@ Jacksonville, Chicago, @ Detroit, @ Arizona, Falcons, Giants

Gimme Wins: 1
Division Breakers: 1 (home against Bears)

Lucky for the Vikings: their only remaining division breaker is at home.

Team Assessment: The Vikings have played in a lot of close games all season. Perhaps they'll get significantly better or significantly worse, but probably they'll continue to find themselves in a lot of close games. They should expect to win and lose half of their close games, so I think this is a 7, 8, or 9 win team depending on their luck. But I actually think the remaining matchups are favorable. Furthermore, the Vikings are much better indoors on turf; five of their remaining six games are on turf, and four are indoors (and the Arizona game barely counts as an outdoor game). I also think that between the Bears, Packers, and Vikings, the Vikings currently have the biggest homefield advantage.  I keep forgetting that Pat Williams and Kevin Williams may get suspended, too, which would devastate the team's chances.

Best Path to Nine: win home games against Chicago and Atlanta, road game against Detroit, and any one of the remaining three games.

Bears (3-1 division, win against Vikings, loss against Packers)
@ Rams, @ Vikings, Jaguars, Saints, Packers, @ Texans

Gimme Wins: 2
Division Breakers: 2 (at the Vikings, home against Packers)

Are the Texans really a gimme win? No, they're frisky, but they are .300. The Bears have the most in their control: the Packers and Vikings are done playing each other, but the Bears still get a chance to play both the Vikings (away) and the Packers (at home). If they win their two gimme wins, and beat the Vikings and Packers, the division should be theirs.

My take: I think perhaps the Bears revealed themselves in their 37-3 loss to the Packers. Their defense has been inconsistent this season (the freakin' Vikes laid 41 on them at Soldier Field), and the offense doesn't have a lot of talent. They should beat the Rams, but after that, they could lose to any team remaining on their schedule.

Best Path to Nine: Win the gimmes against St. Louis and Houston, beat both the Vikings and the Packers.

Packers (3-1 division, win against Bears, split with Vikings)
@ Saints, Panthers, Texans, @ Jaguars, @ Bears, Lions

Gimme Wins: 2
Division Breakers: 1 (at Bears)

The Packers get the Texans and Lions at home: that should be two wins (though like I said, the Texans are frisky).

Team Assessment: The Packers have a dynamic offense: they can throw deep, they can throw short, and they can run. They have a great secondary and the defense scores a lot of points on its own. They're probably the best team in the division, and they have the talent to beat anybody they play. One problem: they struggle to stop the run, so in particular the Panthers, Texans, and Jaguars could be tougher matchups.

Best Path to Nine: Win gimme home games against Texans and Lions, beat the Bears, and win one of the remaining games.


  1. Anonymous9:34 AM

    As a Saints fan...

    I give the Saints a 50% chance of beating the Packers this week.

    I give the Saints a 10% of beating the Bears in the cold in December, its not going to happen.


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. The Packers main issue aside from run D is their inability to have strong left side blocking. The weak spot in the line has been exploited by most teams this year (Allen coming off the left side comes to mind). If Rodgers is able to release the ball quickly, the line is able to block sufficiently enough to stop the surge in the backfield, and Grant is able to duplicate what he did on Sunday against the Bears for the rest of the season, the Packers ARE the best team in the NFC North. That's a lot of “if’s.”

    9-7 Packers
    8-8 Vikings (Fire Childress Now guy gets his wish)
    10-6 Bears
    1-15 Lions (they have to win one)