As Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr tossed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the ground during the Sunday, Oct. 15 game, the NFC North division title went up for grabs. Just a little over a third of the way through the season, an injury to the Packers key offensive star leaves the division race an uncertain future.
Even the Chicago Bears who currently stand at 2-4 have a shot at the division. 10 games are left on the calendar and each team will look to make the most of them.
VIKINGS: When the season began, many predicted that the Vikings posed the greatest threat to the Packers favorable chances of winning the division.
The Vikings offense is nothing like it was a year ago. Not only is the offensive line entirely revamped, and for good reasons, but the team has struggled with injuries. Through it, they have persevered with backup quarterback Case Keenum and running back Jerick McKinnon. Clearly, the Vikings offense does not rely as heavily on a single player as the Packers do.
The popular phrase “Defense wins Championships” could not be truer when evaluating how Coach Zimmer built his team, which naturally has only won division championships. A group of multiple pro bowlers, each coming into their prime while playing together on the same team for multiple years, is a threatening unit. Opposing teams have a lot to fear in a defense that has brutally attacked quarterbacks while allowing just 103 total points across six games.
If the Vikings can avoid having an overwhelming amount of injuries and continue to put their best players on the field, they have the most promising odds for claiming the division title.
LIONS: After an explosive start, the Detroit Lions looked poised to bring out a roar in the division, and did so when they defeated the Vikings during week four. However, the team has been silent since then, losing to the Panthers and being blown out by the Saints.
It is difficult to judge the Lions future since thus far they have only played one division match-up. This means they have two match-ups against a potentially Rodger-less Packers squad, but also against what could be a Bears offense that might start to heat up.
The Lions have the potential to be a wildcard team, but they will have to correct their issues tied to their offensive line who has struggled this season. Failure to correct their protection issues could cause them to end up like last year’s Vikings squad that had so much potential but struggled severely in the second half of the season behind a lackluster offensive line.
If the Lions can somehow save themselves from the poor offensive line performance as of late, they can prevent Matthew Stafford from having any more five-turnover performances like he did against the Saints. When Stafford performs well, there are big opportunities for the Lions.
PACKERS: The greatest question mark surrounding the Packers is who will move forward at quarterback. For now, Brett Hundley seems like the clear choice. Hundley’s play will heavily impact the offense’s ability to put points on the board, and ultimately the entire team’s success.
Can Mike McCarthy save his team without Aaron Rodgers? This may have been the hot question of late, but what everyone should be asking is, if McCarthy can pull it off without a slew of other players missing as well. During the game against the Vikings, the already injured Packers continued to fall, leaving the team depleted at most positions, particularly on defense.
Hundley, likely now the starter, could be the next Dak Prescott. We simply do not know how he will perform after actually taking some first-team reps in practice. Alternatively, there is also a possibility Hundley continues to throw multiple interceptions and under performs.
If the Packers want to still have playoff hopes come December, they will need to put faith in Hundley’s abilities and count on backups on defense to help out while the team moves through injuries.
BEARS: This is the real wildcard. While the Bears do rest in last place currently with just two wins, it is too early to count them out.
New quarterback Mitchell Trubisky looked pretty good in his first game against the Vikings on Monday night football. Last weekend against the Ravens however, he struggled to complete just eight passes on 16 attempts. Trubisky’s consistency is important if the Bears want to be serious division contenders.
Like the Packers, the Bears are also suffering from an overwhelming number of defensive injuries. In many ways, the backup defenders have stepped up and executed keeping the team in contention.
The case for the Bears is not great: an inconsistent rookie quarterback and defense filled with injuries. But in a division as wide open as the NFC North, anything can be possible.