For a while, it looked like the NFC North might send the Packers, Bears and Lions to the playoffs. There’s a chance that still could happen, but it’s a longshot. With the Packers cruising, the Bears and Lions have some work to do if they want to grab a wild card slot.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings are holding down the bottom of the division while trying to get a new stadium.
It’s time for a trip around the NFC North.
Remaining schedule: Chiefs, at Broncos, Seahawks, at Packers, at Vikings.
Biggest issue: Making adjustments. Jay Cutler is out for at least the rest of the regular season, leaving Caleb Hanie to try and lead the Bears to the playoffs.
Analysis: The challenge the Bears face is actually twofold: Is Hanie capable of taking the Bears to the playoffs and is offensive coordinator Mike Martz capable of adjusting his gameplan to maximize Hanie’s strengths and mask his weaknesses?
Hanie was bad last Sunday against the Raiders, but Martz’s gameplan was worse. You know how Mike McCarthy refuses to adjust his gameplan when an offensive lineman goes down, even if the backup lineman is struggling? Martz is the same way, only he is refusing to adjust to a backup quarterback. There’s a big difference between a backup offensive lineman and a backup quarterback.
The Bears have Matt Forte, a great defense and dangerous special teams. They’re more than capable of making the playoffs if Martz does a better job adjusting his offense to the reality of having a backup quarterback instead of Cutler.
Prediction: 10-6. Even if Martz keeps his head buried in the sand, the soft schedule and the aforementioned defense, special teams and Forte result in another playoff berth for the Bears.
Remaining schedule: at Saints, Vikings, at Raiders, Chargers, at Packers.
Biggest issue: Attitude. It’s not often you want a football team to relax a little bit, but head coach Jim Schwartz and the Lions need to chill out.
Analysis: When the Lions were rolling early this season, their swagger and bravado appeared to represent a new era of toughness in Motown. No longer were the Lions the doormat of the NFL.
Ndamukong Suh didn’t care if he broke an opposing quarterback in half. Calvin Johnson embraced his Megatron moniker and caught TDs regardless of how many defensive backs got in his way. Oh, and you better not disrespect Schwartz after the game unless you wanted to fight.
Now all that “toughness” seems like false bravado. Suh is suspended for stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith. Schwartz seems more like a lunatic than a mad genius. And Tramon Williams caused Megatron to short circuit.
The Lions next challenge is to develop an attitude that balances toughness with poise. There’s nothing wrong with having an attitude and a chip on your shoulder. But it’s a long season. You can’t let that attitude and chip on your shoulder completely consume you. Eventually you have to chill out and play football.
Prognosis: 8-8. The Christmas Eve game against the Chargers will be the difference between 8-8 and 9-7.
Remaining schedule: Broncos, at Lions, Saints, at Redskins, Bears.
Biggest issue: Facing reality. The Vikings are a bad team. They need to rebuild. Everyone outside the Vikings organizations realizes that, but we’re still not sure if the Vikings have accepted this fact.
Analysis: When you have players like Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Percy Harvin, Antoine Winfield and Steve Hutchinson on your roster, I suppose it’s reasonable to think that your team has a chance to contend. Unfortunately for the Vikings, the aforementioned players can’t cover the gaping holes on the rest of the roster.
The challenge for the Vikings is accepting the fact that they have to rebuild, determining which veterans can help in the transition, then accumulating draft choices to fill the (numerous) remaining holes.
Perhaps more importantly for the Vikings, owner Zygi Wilf is trying to get taxpayer funding to build a new stadium in the Twin Cities. Maybe Zygi could have used some of the $19 million he recently spent on a new condo in New York City to help pay for the stadium, but what do I know?
Prognosis: 3-13. Don’t be surprised if the Vikes give the Bears a good game on New Years Day.——————