Half of the 2013 NFL season is in the books. Every team has now played at least eight games.
So far, little has been settled in the NFC North playoff picture other than the disheartening collapse of the 2-7 Vikings.
Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago are all 5-3. In addition, all three are 2-1 in divisional games.
|Team||Win||Loss||Points For||Points Against||Conference|
|Green Bay Packers||5||3||232||185||3-2|
Obviously, this week's contest between Detroit and Chicago is huge.
If the Lions win, it will go a long way toward winning the NFC North. They would improve to 3-1 within the division. Detroit would also own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Chicago by virtue of the series sweep.
After this week, Detroit has two NFC North games remaining on the schedule. There is the Thanksgiving date with Green Bay and the season finale in Minnesota.
Here is a look at Detroit's remaining schedule:
|16||New York Giants||2-6|
That works out to a win percentage of .338, which gives the Lions the easiest remaining schedule in the entire NFL.
Note that those calculations were made before Minnesota's win over Washington in the Thursday night game.
No remaining non-divisional opponents have a winning record. The Lions figure to be favored in every game except perhaps the Eagles game and the Green Bay matchup, depending on if Aaron Rodgers is back from his collarbone injury.
Chicago shares several common remaining opponents. After this week against Detroit, the Bears face Baltimore and Green Bay at home and have road dates with Philadelphia and Minnesota. They also have games left with Cleveland (4-5), Dallas (5-4) and St. Louis (3-6).
Four of those road games come in a five-game stretch, sandwiching a Monday Night Football date with Dallas in Week 14. They are currently 2-2 on the road.
Here is Green Bay's remaining schedule:
|11||@New York Giants||2-6|
The Aaron Rodgers injury complicates things for the Packers beyond the other scores of injuries they've suffered this year. As Chris Wesseling of NFL.com notes, Rodgers is officially "week-to-week." The earliest projections for his return target the Detroit game, but that is not a given.
Realistically, if Detroit can win this week over Chicago and handle the Packers on Thanksgiving, the Lions are in excellent shape to win the NFC North. Remember that those two teams play one another in Week 17, which will almost certainly eliminate the loser from any division title contention.
Let's say the Lions lose to Chicago this week. The Bears will have a one-game lead in the division over Detroit. Should that happen, I believe the Lions will have to win at least five of its last seven games. One of those wins desperately needs to be the Packers game in order to match Chicago's divisional record.
If the Lions lose to both Chicago and Green Bay, it's unrealistic to believe Detroit can somehow win the NFC North. The focus then would have to be on the wild-card race.
There are several teams outside the NFC North in competition for the NFC wild-card spots. Here are the teams not currently in first place in their divisions with realistic playoff life.
Eleven wins should definitively wrap up a Wild Card. Ten wins appears to be the magic number to remain in competition.
Right now, the Panthers hold the edge over any NFC North team in the wild-card race by virtue of that impressive conference record. However, their schedule is about to get significantly harder.
Other than games against NFC South bottom-feeders Tampa Bay and Atlanta (combined record 2-14), every other opponent is at least 4-4. Carolina's other opponents have a combined record of 34-16. Their gauntlet starts this week in San Francisco.
Detroit has already lost to Arizona, which means the Lions must stay at least one game ahead of the Cardinals in the standings. Arizona has a tougher remaining schedule, which includes finishing at Seattle and hosting San Francisco in their final two games. They also have a date with the 6-2 Indianapolis Colts.
The Eagles and Cardinals meet in Philadelphia in Week 13, and the loser of that game will effectively be eliminated from the wild-card race. The Eagles' best chance is to win the weak NFC East, and they might be able to do that at 8-8.
So where does that leave Detroit?
Essentially the Lions must repeat their 5-3 start in the second half of the season. I believe a 10-6 finish will get them into the playoffs. Eleven or more wins will capture the NFC North crown and put a rare home playoff game in Ford Field.