It’s the halfway point of the Green Bay Packers’ season and things have come into clearer focus. The cold hard truth is that the NFC North has three nags in the race – three teams of roughly equal mediocrity. It appears the only chance for any of them to make the playoffs is to win the division – a wild card berth is a long shot at this point.
So, who is most likely to win the division: the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings or Green Bay Packers? I’m going to take a quick look at five relevant factors, rather than bore everyone with a detailed analysis.
The teams’ records are close. Minnesota is on top at 5-3, Detroit next at 5-4, and the Packers trail at 4-4. Advantage Minnesota.
Who has the quarterback most likely to perform best for the remainder of the year? Matthew Stafford (Lions) has a 101.6 passer rating (5th best in the NFL); Sam Bradford (Vikings) is at 99.0 (7th place); the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers is at 96.1 (11th place). They are closely bunched going down the homestretch.
How about the relative strengths of the teams’ defenses. Minnesota has given up 298.9 yards per game (3rd); Green Bay has given up 325.3 (7th); Detroit has given up 366.3 (20th). If one rates scoring, Minnesota has given up 15.8 points per game (1st), Detroit 22.9 (17th) and Green Bay 23.4 (18th). Either way, Minnesota is several lengths in the lead.
Who has the most momentum? Detroit has won four of its last five, including last Sunday’s miracle win over the Vikings. The Packers are 1-2 in their last three games. The Vikings, losers of three in a row, are in considerable disarray. Advantage Detroit.
Finally, I’ve taken a glance at strength of schedule. The winning percentages of the three teams’ remaining opponents are: Packers, .524 (33-30-2); Lions, .518 (29-27); and, Vikings, .484 (31-33-2). The Packers appear to have the toughest schedule, but they play three of their remaining toughest opponents (Seattle, Houston, Minnesota) at home. Meanwhile, both the Lions and Vikings have yet to play the 7-1 Cowboys. Still, advantage Vikings.
I was inclined to lean toward the Lions, swayed by their recent success and momentum, but it now looks to me like the Vikings will hang on to win the race. Of the five factors discussed, the Packers are sadly, but clearly the horse bringing up the rear.
Not to leave Green Bay fans without hope, there is one metric in the Packers’ favor. Should two, or more than two, teams in a division finish with the same records, whoever has the best record in head-to-head meetings owns the first tiebreaker. If a second tie-breaker is needed, whoever has the best won-loss percentage in games played within the division gets the nod. Right now, the Packers are 2-1 when facing NFC North opponents, while the Lions and Vikings are each 1-2.