The stretch run of the 2019 NFL season is here, and the teams in the NFC North have put themselves in a position to have different goals over the final month of the season.
Green Bay and Minnesota are currently in the playoffs and fighting for the division title. Chicago is still alive in the playoff hunt, but will probably need a perfect December and some help along the way to make it. Detroit has been eliminated from playoff contention.
This week's NFC North column takes a look at the goals for each team with just four games remaining in the season:
Last week: Green Bay 31, New York Giants 13
This week: vs. Washington (3-13)
Remaining opponents: vs. Washington (3-13), vs. Chicago (6-6), at Minnesota (8-4), at Detroit (3-8-1)
Goal: Win the division and earn a first-round bye.
Currently the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoff hunt, Green Bay is just a game behind New Orleans (10-2) and Seattle (10-2), currently the top two seeds in the conference. San Francisco also has 10 wins, but is currently the No. 5 seed due to Seattle leading the NFC West by tiebreakers.
New Orleans and Seattle still have to the play the 49ers over the last month of the season. Seattle also has to play the Rams (7-5). There are some tough games ahead for the 10-win teams.
Green Bay has two games remaining against three-win teams (Washington and Detroit) and get the Bears Week 15 at home. At Minnesota Week 16 is the game to circle. That one could decide the division and potentially one of the top two spots in the NFC for the Packers.
The Packers are 5-1 at Lambeau Field this season, with their only loss coming to Philadelphia back in Week 4. They definitely want that home-field advantage as long as they can get it.
Last week: Seattle 37, Minnesota 30
This week: vs. Detroit (3-8-1)
Remaining opponents: vs. Detroit (3-8-1), at Los Angeles Chargers (4-8), vs. Green Bay (9-3), vs. Chicago (6-6)
Goal: Defend home turf.
The Vikings are currently the No. 6 seed in the NFC and will get to play three of their last four games in the friendly confines of U.S. Bank Stadium, which also includes that Week 16 matchup with the Packers. The lone remaining road game for Minnesota is a Week 15 trip to Los Angeles to play the 4-8 Chargers.
If the Vikings defend home turf the rest of the way, at the minimum they get to 11 wins and will be in a good position to make the playoffs with only the Los Angeles Rams (7-5) being able to catch them. The Rams would need a perfect December to do so, and have to play Seattle (10-2), Dallas (6-6) and San Francisco (10-2) in their next three.
If the Vikings defend home turf, they have a great shot at the playoffs and even a division title.
Last week: Chicago 24, Detroit 20
This week: vs. Dallas (6-6)
Remaining opponents: vs. Dallas (6-6), at Green Bay (9-3), vs. Kansas City (8-4), at Minnesota (8-4)
Goal: Take it one week at a time.
The Bears are still in the playoff hunt at 6-6, but they'll likely need to win out and get some help along the way.
The Bears have had a couple close losses they'll end up lamenting if they fall short of their playoff bid, most notably the Week 1 loss to Green Bay (10-3) and the Week 8 defeat at the hands of the Chargers (17-16), both at Soldier Field.
If Chicago gets to 10 wins, they'll certainly have earned it with games still remaining at Green Bay and Minnesota, and a Week 16 matchup with Kansas City in Chicago.
For the Bears, who play tonight on Thursday Night Football, this last month is about controlling what they can control, one week at a time, one win at a time and see where it lands them.
Last week: Chicago 24, Detroit 20
This week: at Minnesota (8-4)
Remaining opponents: at Minnesota (8-4), vs. Tampa Bay (5-7), at Denver (4-8), vs. Green Bay (9-3)
Goal: Play some complete games and build confidence.
The Lions were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with their loss last week to the Bears on Thanksgiving, which makes it three years in a row without a playoff appearance for Detroit.
The Lions join San Francisco and Kansas City as being the only teams in the NFL to have led in every game they've played this season. Detroit simply hasn't found a way to make enough of the plays that win games, especially late in games.
"I think that last inch is always the hardest, right," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said this week. "We're close, but we're not there, so we have to fix all of it."
That's got to be the goal for the Lions over the final quarter of the season: Find a way to cross that final inch, close out some wins and build some confidence.