Week 9 of the NFL season is in the books, and it's moving time in the NFC North as the Vikings, Lions, Packers and Bears try to position themselves in a good spot over the next month for the stretch run in December.
The Vikings currently have a two-game lead in the division. Can the Lions or Packers chip into their lead? Who has the easiest remaining schedule in the division? Who has the hardest?
Let's break it all down in this week's NFC North column.
Division record: 2-1
Remaining schedule: at Washington (4-4), vs. Los Angeles Rams (6-2), at Detroit (4-4), at Atlanta (4-4), at Carolina (6-3), vs. Cincinnati (3-5), at Green Bay (4-4), vs. Chicago (3-5)
Win-loss record of remaining opponents: 34-31
Toughest game left on schedule: It may be a home game, but the Los Angeles Rams are playing really good football right now, and they should be a very tough matchup for the Vikings.
This is a marquee matchup pitting one of the league's best offenses (Rams) vs. one of its best defenses (Vikings).
The Rams are first in points scored (32.9), third in overall offense (382.1), 10th in passing (250.2) and fifth running the ball (131.9).
The Minnesota defense is third in points allowed (16.9), fourth in overall defense (282.1), seventh against the pass (200.8) and third against the run (81.4).
Twentyman: Man, the next month is pretty brutal for the Vikings, who enjoyed a lot of early-season games at the friendly confines of U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota has to play Washington, Los Angeles, Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina the next five weeks. Four of those games are on the road, including a Thanksgiving Day Game in Detroit on a short week.
The Vikings by far have the toughest road to the playoffs left of the four teams in the division.
Division record: 2-0
Remaining schedule: vs. Cleveland (0-8), at Chicago (3-5), vs. Minnesota (6-2), at Baltimore (4-5), at Tampa Bay (2-6), vs. Chicago (3-5), at Cincinnati (3-5) vs. Green Bay (4-4).
Win/loss record of remaining opponents: 25-40
Toughest game left on schedule: The Lions have already beaten the Vikings on the road in Minnesota. That puts a lot of pressure on the Vikings coming to Detroit on Thanksgiving in a few weeks.
A Lions victory on Thanksgiving would not only give them the season sweep and the head-to-head advantage over the Vikings, but essentially counts as a two-game swing in the division. It's the only game remaining on Detroit's schedule against an opponent that currently owns a record above .500.
Twentyman: The Lions have a much easier road to the division title the rest of the way than the Vikings do, but they also spotted Minnesota a two-game advantage by letting a couple wins slip through their fingers against Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
The Thanksgiving Day Game is huge. Minnesota has two tough games heading into that matchup at Ford Field. The Lions have the Browns and Bears. Where will things stand in a few weeks heading into Thanksgiving?
Division record: 1-2
Remaining schedule: at Chicago (3-5), vs. Baltimore (4-5), at Pittsburgh (6-2), vs. Tampa Bay (2-6), at Cleveland (0-8), at Carolina (6-3), vs. Minnesota (6-2), at Detroit (4-4)
Win/loss record of remaining opponents: 31-35
Toughest game left on schedule: The Packers kick off a tough three-game stretch to end the season against the Panthers in Carolina. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is tough to handle (ask Detroit's defense), and the Carolina defense is playing some pretty good ball right now.
Twentyman: It's hard to count the Packers' chances out because of their history, but if they don't get better play from both their defense, and quarterback Brett Hundley, they might be on the outside looking in at the playoff picture come December for the first time in a decade.
Can the Packers stay in the hunt for Aaron Rodgers to make a late-season return and give them their Willis Reed moment? The key is staying in the race long enough to give him a shot.
Division record: 0-2
Remaining schedule: vs. Green Bay (4-4), vs. Detroit (4-4), at Philadelphia (8-1), vs. San Francisco (0-9), at Cincinnati (3-5), at Detroit (4-4), vs. Cleveland (0-8), at Minnesota (6-2)
Win/loss record of remaining opponents: 29-37
Toughest game left on schedule: The Bears have two games against winless San Francisco and Cleveland remaining, but they also have to travel to Lincoln Financial Field in a few weeks to play the 8-1 Eagles. That's by far the toughest game remaining on Chicago's schedule, along with a Week 17 road game in Minnesota.
Twentyman: The Bears aren't out of this thing just yet. They have winnable games vs. Cleveland, San Francisco and Cincinnati. They're favored to win on the road this week in Green Bay. If they can throw an upset or two into the mix along the way, it should be a very interesting December race in the NFC North from top to bottom.