The path to the NFC North division title and a home playoff game are simple for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. The two rivals play each other the last week of the season, so if either wins their last two games, they’re in.
There are a few more moving parts when it pertains to the Detroit Lions. The Lions need to beat the New York Giants on Sunday and then win in Minnesota next week and hope Chicago and Green Bay each lose one game over that span. Now, the good thing for the Lions is the Bears and Packers play Week 17, so there’s one loss (barring a tie).
The Lions have lost four of their last five games and have fallen from first to third in the division, but the season, and their playoff hopes, aren't done just yet.
Division record: 2-3
Conference record: 4-6
Non-conference record: 4-0
Remaining opponents: at Philadelphia (8-6), vs. Green Bay (7-6-1)
Issue of the week: Chicago and Philadelphia will know by the start of their matchup Sunday night whether they can wrap up their division title or not.
The Bears win the division crown with a win over the Eagles, a loss by Green Bay to Pittsburgh, and a Lions' loss to the New York Giants.
If Dallas loses at Washington earlier in the day, the Eagles will claim the NFC East title by beating the Bears.
This game could also decide the No. 3 vs. No. 4 seed if both teams win their division titles.
The Eagles are coming off a bad, 48-30, loss to Minnesota last week and will now face a Bears team that leads the NFL in scoring (29.0 points per game) and features two 1,000-yard receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and a 1,000-yard rusher in Matt Forte.
Quotable: "We’re 8-6, and we need to progress and win,’’ Bears head coach Marc Trestman told the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s No. 1.
“No. 2 is, winning takes us to a different place in terms of potential seeding (in the playoffs), which is critically important. So just leaving it at that is enough reason for how we’d want to play the game. Now, could that change? Certainly.’’
Stat pack: The Bears have the worse rushing defense in the NFL (152.4) and will be facing the NFL’s leading rusher in LeSean McCoy (1,343).
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Division record: 2-2-1
Conference record: 5-5-1
Non-conference record: 2-1
Remaining opponents: vs. Pittsburgh (6-8), at Chicago (8-6)
Issue of the week: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers still hasn’t gotten clearance to return to game action from Green Bay’s medical staff. Rodgers has missed the team’s last six games with a fractured collarbone.
The Packers have had back-to-back come-from-behind wins in their last two games behind backup quarterback Matt Flynn. He's gone 50-of-71 passing for 557 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in his last wins over Atlanta and Dallas.
He’ll be facing a Pittsburgh team that still has something to play for, however. If the Steelers beat Green Bay on Sunday and then Cleveland next week, they can still make the playoffs if Miami, the New York Jets, San Diego and Baltimore finish with 8-8 records. The tiebreaking scenarios work out in the Steelers' favor in that case.
Quotable: “Looked very good at practice,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told the Green Bay Press Gazette of Rodgers on Thursday. “I would state him ready to play. But once again we’re going through the process, make sure we’re getting Matt (Flynn) ready to play. Matt took the majority of reps (in practice today).
“You wanted to know how he looks, he looks good. He’s a limited practice participant. He hasn’t been medically cleared.”
Stat pack: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has just one interception and one fumble in his last five games. He's thrown 12 touchdowns over that span.
Division record: 4-1
Conference record: 6-4
Non-conference record: 1-3
Remaining opponents: vs. New York Giants (5-9), at Minnesota (4-9-1)
Issue of the week: The Lions can no longer concern themselves with what’s happened in the past. They had a chance to seal up the division long ago and blew it. They can either sulk the rest of the season away or look forward to beating the Giants and Vikings the next two weeks and keep their playoff hopes alive.
If they’re going to do that, however, quarterback
Stafford has the worst fourth-quarter passer rating in the NFL over the last five weeks (29.5), with a fourth-quarter completion percentage of 31.9 and four interceptions.
Quotable: “I’ve said this before, you can’t change it, but if (Justin Tucker) misses that 61-yard field goal at the end, you know, maybe that is the confidence that you talk about (with Stafford),” head coach Jim Schwartz said.
“You have a drive late, go late in the end zone, score, take the lead, hold on for a win and then you get that confidence. You only get that from a win. It doesn’t matter what your performance is. Wins and losses are what you get judged on. Particularly when you’re a quarterback.”
Stat pack: The Lions have committed 18 turners (10 INTS, 8 FUM) in their last 20 quarters of football.
Division record: 1-3-1
Conference record: 3-7-1
Non-conference record: 1-2
Remaining opponents: at Cincinnati (9-5), vs. Detroit (7-7)
Issue of the week: The Vikings are out of the playoff picture but can still have a huge impact on who goes and who doesn’t as the role of spoiler.
Baltimore trails Cincinnati by only a game in the AFC North. The Vikings could make that race very close heading into their Week 17 matchup by beating Cincinnati on Sunday.
They can also spoil any chance the Lions might still have in Week 17 of making the playoffs with a win at home.
Minnesota is also in a position where they’re evaluating talent – especially at the quarterback position – and deciding where their future lies at a few key positions.
Quarter Matt Cassel, who’s played well for them this year, can opt out of his contract in the offseason. He’s completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,504 yards, nine touchdowns, five interceptions and has a passer rating of 90.7 in seven games (four starts).
Quotable: “The (run-pass) option comes up quite a bit in our offense,” Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier told the Minneapolis Star Tribune this week. “We get so much eight-, nine-man boxes that we have to run against. There are times we’d rather not do that.”
Stat pack: Cassel has thrown for 890 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in the last three games and the Vikings are expected to get running back Adrian Peterson (1,221 yards) back after he missed last week’s game due to injury.