Things tightened up a bit in the NFC North with Minnesota's win over Chicago on Monday Night Football this week. The season is now deep into November, and the stretch run to determine standings in the division and the NFC playoff picture is fast approaching.
The Packers are currently the top seed in the NFC with seven games remaining. Where things get interesting is that the three teams just outside the current playoff picture and on the bubble are the Bears, Vikings and Lions, in that order, which makes every game moving forward, particularly the remaining games against division opponents, critical moving forward for the four teams in the North.
Here's where things currently stand in the NFC North heading into Week 11:
Remaining schedule: at Indianapolis (6-3), vs. Chicago (5-5), vs. Philadelphia (3-5-1), at Detroit (4-5), vs. Carolina (3-7), vs. Tennessee (6-3), at Chicago (5-5)
Record of remaining opponents: 32-32-1
Toughest remaining stretch: The last two weeks of the season could end up being critical for Green Bay in securing the NFC North title and potentially the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC. They host a Tennessee team Week 16 that could be fighting for a playoff spot themselves. Tennessee can run the football, and that travels in cold weather in December. Green Bay then ends the year on the road at Chicago, which is a tough place to play against a top rival.
Current NFC playoff seed (Top 7 make playoffs): No. 1 seed
Twentyman: The road to the NFC title goes straight through Green Bay. The Packers are 2-1 in the division with two games remaining against Chicago and one at Detroit Week 14. The Packers are the most complete team in the division with their offense ranked sixth in the NFL and their defense ranked ninth. Green Bay is 5-1 outside the division, with their only loss coming Week 6 against Tampa Bay.
To catch Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit are going to have to win their remaining matchups with the Packers and hope Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Carolina or Tennessee can help them out along the way.
Remaining schedule: Bye, at Green Bay (7-2), vs. Detroit (4-5), vs. Houston (2-7), at Minnesota (4-5), at Jacksonville (1-8), vs. Green Bay (7-2)
Record of remaining opponents: 25-39
Toughest remaining stretch: Chicago has the easiest remaining schedule of the four teams in the division in terms of opponent win-loss record. The Bears will play a key role in deciding the NFC North with two games still remaining against Green Bay. Chicago gets a week off for their bye and then plays at Green Bay Week 12. They host the Packers Week 17.
Current NFC playoff seed: No. 8 seed
Twentyman: Bears fans certainly didn't like seeing quarterback Nick Foles carted off the field Monday with a hip and leg injury. Reports out of Chicago are that Foles avoided serious injury. Bears head coach Matt Nagy said Tuesday that Foles is day-to-day, and the timing isn't bad with Chicago on the bye this week.
Chicago comes out of the bye with two division contests in a row against Green Bay and Detroit. Will it be Foles or Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback for that crucial stretch?
Remaining schedule: vs. Dallas (2-7), vs. Carolina (3-7), vs. Jacksonville (1-8), at Tampa Bay (7-3), vs. Chicago (5-5), at New Orleans (7-2), at Detroit (4-5)
Record of remaining opponents: 29-37
Toughest remaining stretch: The next three opponents for the Vikings have just six combined wins, which gives Minnesota an opportunity to go on a little run here and put themselves in a good spot for a December stretch run that includes games against Tampa Bay, Chicago and New Orleans, who have a combined 19 wins currently between them.
Current NFC playoff seed: No. 9 seed
Twentyman: After starting the season 1-5, Minnesota has things rolling with three straight wins – all against NFC North opponents. Minnesota is in a good spot to keep the streak going with their next three games against sub-.500 teams. Minnesota is playing pretty good ball right now.
Remaining schedule: at Carolina (3-7), vs. Houston (2-7), at Chicago (5-5), vs. Green Bay (7-2), at Tennessee (6-3), vs. Tampa Bay (7-3), vs. Minnesota (4-5)
Record of remaining opponents: 34-32
Toughest remaining stretch: Detroit has the toughest remaining schedule among the four teams in the division. The Lions will look to put together a good little stretch to finish off November and put themselves in better position heading into their December gauntlet of games at Chicago, vs. Green Bay, at Tennessee and vs. Tampa Bay. That's four straight games against teams currently at or above .500.
Current NFC playoff seed: No. 10 seed
Twentyman: Detroit is 0-3 in the division, but still has a game remaining against all three division opponents. Detroit has just one win this season against a team with a winning record, which came Week 3 against the currently 7-3 Cardinals. If Detroit's going to make a run at the playoffs, they'll have to find a way to beat more good teams.