Saturday 20 January 2018 / 11:52 PM

NFC North Is Ripe For The Taking

In each and every NFL season there is at least one division where it seems like nobody wants to take control, where mediocrity is met with more mediocrity and winning streaks are met with subsequent losing streaks.

In 2013, the crown that nobody wants to wear belongs to the NFC North.

I just wrote last week how Detroit was finally ready to seize the moment and pull away for their first division title in eros after winning big at Lambeau. While this week’s loss carries an asterisk, considering that it was played in a blizzard, the Lions did squander a 14-point lead en-route to losing by a pair of TDs 34-20. This is the type of inconsistency that has led to the league’s #2 total offense sitting at (7-6), with the possibility of missing out on post-season play altogether.

Personally, my money is still on the Lions to wind up on top come the end of the season. Offensively they have the weapons and the system to put up big numbers and big points, and their nasty defensive front four have the potential to control the line of scrimmage. All that being said, their inability to string together several wins in a row is indicative of the fact that they are still missing key pieces that they’ll need to be a true divisional leader, even if these pieces are nothing more than maturity and a little more focus.

Either way, Detroit looks to have set themselves up to be competitive for at least the next two or three seasons, which is music to the ears of the long-suffering Lions fans.

The Bears came up with a statement win Monday night over the Dallas Cowboys 45-28. Even with the previous weekend’s disappointing loss to the Vikings, Chicago has now wiggled back into a tie with the Lions at (7-6) for the NFC North lead. Mark Trestman’s street cred as a QB guru seems to be paying off, but not in the way we all thought it might this off-season.

With Jay Cutler out, 34-year old Josh McCown is playing the best football of his NFL career. Whether Trestman’s magic is behind McCown’s success or not still remains to be seen, but there could be a QB controversy brewing in Chi-town. The team says that once Cutler is healthy that he’ll be under center, but it’s hard to pull a guy who is winning and putting up “personal best” type numbers come game time.

Green Bay, for all their falling apart, is right in the thick of this race. Aaron Rodgers was in too much pain to play last week, but if he does suit up soon, it is not entirely impossible that the Pack might win out. With Chicago on their plate in Week 17 they’ll have a chance to leapfrog the Bears no matter what, should they come up with victories against the Cowboys and Steelers. They may still need help to pass Detroit, but it is unlikely that the Lions will take home W’s three weeks in a row. All that being said, the Packers are not good this year, so even with their star QB back at the helm, victories will come at a premium and I just don’t see them getting it done.

Schedule wise Detroit has the advantage. They’ll face the Ravens and Giants at home and then take a trip to the Metrodome to take on the Vikings to close out the season. By all rights they should win all three and cruise into the playoffs with momentum, but the Lions haven’t won three games in a row all season, so who knows?

The Bears have a tougher road with visits to Cleveland and Philly before hosting Green Bay at Soldier Field. Cleveland has been playing better than their record indicates and the Eagles have won five straight behind the nearly mistake free play of QB Nick Foles. Then again, if they continue to play at a high level like they did while drubbing Dallas, then anything is possible.

Most likely the winner of the NFC North will finish up with a record of (9-7), perhaps taking the title by virtue of tie-breakers. I foresee the after party being a short one, with the North swiftly booted out of the playoffs in Round 1. None of these North squads match up very well against Carolina and San Francisco (in all likelihood the two Wild Card teams in the NFC).

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Michael Airhart

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