Monday, October 24, 2005

Making sense of the NFC North

As you all know, the NFC North is a disaster. The Lions have moved into first place in the division two different times after a loss. The four teams in the division are separated by a mere two games. Even Green Bay, at 1-5, has a chance of winning the division. With a Wild Card birth virtually an impossibility for these teams, the only way to the playoffs is winning the division. With ten games left for each team, the winner of this division will be a result of who has the most favorable schedule, rather than who has the best team. I’ll take a look at the remaining schedule for each team and predict how things may unfold. One thing I’m quite sure about is that if any of these teams can get to 8-8, they will win the division.

Detroit Lions:

W Chicago
L @ Minnesota
W Arizona
L @ Dallas
L Atlanta
W Minnesota
L @ Green Bay
L Cincinnati
W @ New Orleans
W @ Pittsburgh

Predicted record: 8-8

Summary: The biggest game of the season for the Lions is this week at home against Chicago. I can see the Lions finishing the season at 8-8, but, that is only IF they can beat the Bears this weekend. If they lose to Chicago for a second time, then all bets are off and the Lions will be in serious trouble. I went ahead and gave the Lions a loss for their remaining road games in the division which includes @ Minnesota and @ Green Bay. If the Lions can somehow win one of those two, then that’s great but I’m not counting on it. I don’t think it’s a stretch to see the Lions win at home against Chicago, at home against Arizona, at home against Minnesota, and on the road against New Orleans. That would put the Lions at 7-8 going into the last game of the season at Pittsburgh. You might think I’m crazy for picking the Lions over the Steelers on the road but I have my reasons. In all likelihood, the Steelers will have the AFC North wrapped up by then and will give the obligatory day off to their starters. Anyone who plays fantasy football knows about this. Everyone else in the division still has to play Pittsburgh but, unlike the Lions, nobody else gets to play the Steelers on the last day of the season. This will allow the Lions a shot at a win and potentially an 8-8 record.

Chicago Bears:

L @ Detroit
L @ New Orleans
W San Francisco
L Carolina
L @ Tampa Bay
W Green Bay
L @ Pittsburgh
L Atlanta
L @ Green Bay
W @ Minnesota

Predicted record: 6-10

Summary: I have Chicago at 6-10 and Detroit at 8-8. That’s if Detroit wins this week. If Chicago wins, then that moves my prediction for both teams to 7-9. Since Chicago has already beaten Detroit once this year, a Chicago win this week would give them the tiebreak over the Lions. The game between the Lions and Bears this week is one of the most important games in the NFL this year. It’s just that nobody knows it and nobody cares. I don’t see Kyle Orton winning any games on the road this year with the exception of at Minnesota to end the regular season. Chicago always beats Minnesota. As for the predicted wins, I don’t think it’s a stretch for Chicago to beat San Francisco at home and Green Bay at home. The Bears have a rough schedule. But, they can take a strangle hold on the division with a win at Detroit this week.

Minnesota Vikings:

L @ Carolina
W Detroit
L @ NY Giants
L @ Green Bay
W Cleveland
L @Detroit
L St. Louis
L Pittsburgh
W @ Baltimore
L Chicago

Predicted record: 5-11

Summary: The Vikings have been terrible. They had a sex party on a boat. Their coach scalped his Super Bowl tickets. Their starting running back tried to use the Whizzinator to pass a drug test. They’ve had a disastrous season on the field. Yet, they’re only one game out of the playoffs. I can’t see Minnesota winning any of their road games with the exception of Baltimore and that’s a stretch. Minnesota should beat Detroit and Cleveland at home. If the Vikings played St. Louis this week, I think they’d beat them, but seven weeks from now, St. Louis should have Marc Bulger, Tory Holt and Issac Bruce back from injury. The Lions catch a big break there.

Green Bay Packers:

L @ Cincinnati
L Pittsburgh
L @Atlanta
W Minnesota
L @ Philadelphia
L @ Chicago
W Detroit
L @ Baltimore
W Chicago
W Seattle

Predicted record: 5-11

Summary: I guarantee that the Packers will not make the playoffs this year. Granted, they are only two games out of first place but their remaining schedule is brutal. They get Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Seattle not to mention Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago (2) and Baltimore. I think Seattle will have the NFC West wrapped up by the last week of the season so they will rest their starters which might give Green Bay a victory. I think Green Bay will win at home against Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago giving them a 5-11 record. The good news for Lions fans is that, since Green Bay is pretty much out of the playoff race, they become and ally for Detroit. Green Bay still plays Minnesota and Chicago (2). Lions fans can root for Green Bay to win those games without any repercussions.

Verdict: Obviously, it’s too early to know how things are going to unfold over the last ten games of the season but it’s glaringly evident that some games are more important than others. Division games take on the importance of two games. There is a better than average chance that two teams from this division will be tied at the end of the season. This means that head to head tiebreakers are at a premium. The Lions cannot afford to lose the head to head tiebreaker to the Bears. They have to win this week. It’s a must win. I was fairly conservative in predicting the remainder of the season. I didn’t give these teams many, if any, road victories. Judging from the remaining schedule, the Lions clearly have the advantage over the rest of the division in terms of who they play and when they play them. It remains to be seen whether Detroit can take advantage of the situation. We will know a heck of a lot after this weekend.

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