While the Vikings, unfortunately, had some action Sunday, that action didn’t take place on the field. However, all three of the Vikings’ divisional opponents in the Packers, Bears and Lions had games as did the other NFC teams that the Vikings are currently vying with for playoff positioning. So, let’s take a look at how those NFC teams did on the Vikings Sunday off to see if their division and conference position changed at all.
Let’s start with the Packers, who faced the Patrick Mahomes-less Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. The game went down to the wire and had more iffy calls that’ll certainly have Vikings (and Bears/Lions/Chiefs) fans yet again bemoaning the “lucky” breaks that the Packers always seem to get. Despite the lack of the reigning MVP in Mahomes, the Chiefs played the Packers (who were yet again without their star receiver in Davante Adams) hard and sacked Rodgers often. The Packers running backs were the story of the night, but not in the way you’d think, as between Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams the Packers backs had four touchdowns (three through the air, one on the ground).
That win brought the Packers season-long record to 7-1, a game ahead of the Vikings. The Vikings are also a game back from the Packers thanks to the increasingly infuriating loss that the Vikings suffered at Lambeau. The Packers face the 3-5 Chargers in Los Angeles next week, while the Vikings will face the Chiefs in Kansas City (with a slim chance that Mahomes will return). The Packers’ next four games are against the Chargers, Panthers, 49ers, and Giants, a stretch that is arguably the toughest out of all the NFC North teams’ next four games (outside of the Vikings perhaps, who face the Chiefs, Cowboys, Broncos, and Seahawks).
The Bears faced those Chargers Sunday and fell to 3-5 on the season after a pair of missed kicks doomed their hopes for a last-second win at home at Soldier Field. Eddy Pineiro won the much-watched and talked about kicking battle this pre-season for the Bears which became the focal point after the infamous double-doink that knocked the promising Bears out of the playoffs by kicker Cody Parkey last season. In what has to feel like the worst luck imaginable, Pineiro’s first miss of the day Sunday actually hit the upright as well. In Pineiro’s defense, though, he was most of the offense for the Bears Sunday, as he went 3-5 on the day.
While people will bemoan the missed kick, it was the decisions that lead up to the 41-yarder that are getting the most attention in Chicago. The Bears, via it’s head coach Matt Nagy, decided to not go for more yardage after a long scramble by struggling quarterback Mitchell Trubisky got them within field goal range with over 40 seconds left on the clock.
When asked about that decision, Nagy said:
“I’m not even going to get into that. I have zero thought of running the ball and taking the chance of fumbling the football. They know you’re running the football, so you lose 3-4 yards. That wasn’t even in our process as coaches to think about.”
That loss, again, dropped the Bears to 3-5 and could be the straw that breaks the Bears’ back (get it? Cause usually it’s a camel’s back and because they’re the Bears I switched the animals! It’s called a pun and only really cool people use them!). The Bears face the Eagles, Lions, Rams, and Giants over the next four weeks and barring a turnaround could be out of contention soon.
That leaves the Lions, who spent Sunday fending off the lowly New York Giants. Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones arguably had his best game as a Pro, which might be him coming into his own (as the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft) or might be a sign that the bend-don’t-break defense of the Lions is officially break-and-break at this point. Jones threw for 322 yards and four scores with no interceptions against the Lions, who were a week removed from being thoroughly outclassed by Kirk Cousins and company in Detroit.
The Lions were without their running back Kerryon Johnson, who was injured during the Vikings game and had surgery earlier in the week effectively ending his season. His replacement, Tra Carson, did very little to pick up the slack as he “ran” 12 times for 34 yards (an anemic 2.8 yards per carry mark). Lions QB Matthew Stafford played well, though, after an interception early in the game. He finished the day going 25-for-32 for 342 yards and three touchdowns against that one pick.
That win puts the Lions at 3-3-1 on the season, a few games back from the Vikings (who also hold the tiebreaker thanks to their win in Detroit a little over a week ago). The Lions face the Raiders, Bears, Cowboys and ‘Skins over their next four games, a stretch that very well could determine their season.
With the dust having settled on Week 8 we’re seeing a clearer picture as to where the chips will lay at the end of the season. The Bears’ chances seem to rest on the shoulders of Trubisky, who is underperforming in every sense of the word. The loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio this off-season, or the emotional blow that comes from losing a playoff game via double-doink, seems to have deflated the Bears’ defense as well.
They’re still a good unit but they’re far from the unit that instilled fear in opposing offenses last season. Without that unit creating (and scoring on) turnovers at the rate they did in 2018, the Bears have to rely more on Trubisky to, you know run the offense. That’s something he’s clearly not doing at a high rate and because of that, it’s safe to say that the Bears will be out of the running by the time the Vikings face them at the end of the season.
The Lions are hanging around but their defense is simply not good enough to elevate the team to the level of the Vikings and… Ugh… Packers, and I fully expect them to go what analysts have dubbed “Full Detroit” in the next four games. That’d leave the Vikings and the Packers vying for the division crown (or one of the NFC’s Wild Card spots). The Packers were lucky to have faced the Chiefs without Mahomes, something that might not be the case for the Vikings next Sunday.
However, I still feel like the Packers will fall (somewhat) back to Earth at some point, especially considering how many of their remaining games are on the road (and Rodgers’ career .500 record away from Lambeau). They’ve had a lot of luck, good timing and awful calls go their way this season and at some point, that’s going to catch up with them. That having been said, they’re clearly a better team than they were in 2018, mostly thanks to the changes on the sidelines with Matt LaFleur taking over for Mike McCarthy. There’s been a lot of internet ink spilled lauding LaFleur and his system (which is essentially Vikings offensive coordinat… I mean consultant, Gary Kubiak) and what it’s meant for Rodgers and company, but I will stick by my article from earlier this season which stated that the Vikings had nothing to fear in Rodgers and the Pack.
Their defense is still young and Rodgers is playing a lot more like the Rodgers of old, but he has still made the mistakes that a younger Rodgers wouldn’t. A lot has been made of the help the Packers have received from officials, and there is a lot of smoke there, but I still think that they’ve been winning a lot of these games unsustainably (repeated “lucky” calls, balls bouncing a particular way, etc.). I fully expect the Vikings to best the Packers at home to even the season series, the real question then becomes who ends up with the better record across the final seven games this season.
The Packers face the Panthers (4-3), Redskins (1-7), and Bears (3-5) at home while facing the Chargers, Vikings (6-2), 49ers (7-0), Giants (2-6), and Lions (3-3-1) on the road.
That’s a final schedule win/loss of 26-24, a home record of 8-15 and a road record of 18-9-1. Considering Rodgers’ mediocrity on the road over his career, I likes them odds. The Vikings face the Broncos (2-6), Lions (3-3-1), Packers (7-1) and Bears (3-5) at home and the Chiefs (5-3), Seahawks (6-2), Chargers (3-5), and Cowboys (4-3) on the road. That’s good for a remaining record of 33-28-1, an even 15-15-1 at home and 18-13 on the road. While you’d think that the discrepancy of home games favors the Packers, they do face one less team at home and thus one more on the road. That one game could be the difference for these teams who are currently neck and neck (especially assuming the Vikings win at home against the Pack week 16).
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