This week begins the final quarter of the season and the start of the stretch run for the four teams in the NFC North.
The Vikings have a stranglehold on the division, needing only one win – or a Detroit and Green Bay loss – to win their second division title in the last three years.
Detroit (6-6) and Green Bay (6-6) are four games behind the Vikings, which means their division title hopes are on life support. Both teams are fighting tooth and nail to keep their Wild Card hopes alive, however. Realistically, the Lions and Packers have to win out to have a shot.
So, here's where the four teams in the NFC North sit entering the final month of the season.
Division record: 3-1
Conference record: 8-1
Remaining schedule: at Carolina (8-4), vs. Cincinnati (5-7), at Green Bay (6-6), vs. Chicago (3-9)
Win-loss record of remaining opponents: 22-26
Twentyman: Minnesota just keeps chugging along. They haven't lost a football game since Week 4 against Detroit. That's eight straight. Last Sunday, at Atlanta, the vaunted Vikings' defense kept the high-flying Falcons' offense out of the end zone in a 14-9 win.
Minnesota is by far the most complete roster on both sides of the football of any team in the division. As long as quarterback Case Keenum continues to the play the way he has since the last loss, the Vikings should wrap up the division fairly soon. Minnesota is currently the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture. They have much higher goals now than just the division title.
Division record: 3-1
Conference record: 5-4
Remaining schedule: at Tampa Bay (4-8), vs. Chicago (3-9), at Cincinnati (5-7), vs. Green Bay (6-6)
Win-loss record of remaining opponents: 18-30
Twentyman: The Lions are still technically in the division race, but after Sunday's loss in Baltimore, it's probably wise for Lions fans to turn their focus to just getting in the playoffs. They could actually use some help this week from Minnesota. Carolina, who the Vikings play Sunday, is one of the teams ahead of Detroit in the NFC playoff picture. Carolina also owns the tiebreaker over Detroit after defeating them at Ford Field Week 5, so the Lions have to hope Carolina (8-4) doesn't get to 10 wins.
Detroit has four winnable games remaining on its schedule. It's crunch time for Detroit, and they have to find a way to start playing better football, especially in the first quarter of ball games.
Division record: 2-2
Conference record: 5-4
Remaining schedule: at Cleveland (0-12), at Carolina (8-4), vs. Minnesota (10-2), at Detroit (6-6)
Win-loss record of remaining opponents: 24-24
Twentyman: Credit backup quarterback Brett Hundley for keeping the ship afloat while Aaron Rodgers works his way back from a broken collarbone. The Packers are in the same position as the Lions, which means they likely need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs. Green Bay has a much tougher road than Detroit, with games against Carolina and Minnesota before the matchup in Detroit Week 17.
Rodgers is scheduled to return Week 15, which Lions fans should actually root for. They need Carolina to continue losing, and Rodgers can help them with that. There's a chance Week 17 doesn't matter for Detroit unless they get help. At that point, it doesn't matter if it's Brett Hundley, Aaron Rodgers or Bart Starr playing quarterback for the Packers. Lions fans want Rodgers back because he gives the Packers the best chance to beat Carolina and Minnesota. Then it just leaves Detroit to handle their own business at home Week 17.
Division record: 0-4
Conference record: 1-9
Remaining schedule: at Cincinnati (4-8), at Detroit (6-6), vs. Cleveland (0-12), at Minnesota (10-2)
Win-loss record of remaining opponents: 20-28
Twentyman: The Bears lost to the one-win 49ers last week, and have since lost Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long for the season with a shoulder injury. The Bears have been decimated by injuries this season. The team that began the season looks very different than the one they are currently putting on the field.
San Francisco had 23 first downs in that contest last week, compared to just eight for the Bears. The 49ers had the ball for nearly 40 minutes in that contest.
Chicago isn't playing very good football right now, but they could still creep into the headlines with a win over Detroit Week 15 or Minnesota Week 17. Heck, a loss to Cleveland, if they're still winless in Week 15, would certainly make headlines, too, just not in the way Bears fans are hoping for.