With 12 games down and only four more to go, the NFL season has reached the home stretch. It’s time to take a quick look ahead and try to figure out how the playoff picture will shake out. And don’t forget about the league’s less fortunate teams; there’s a lot at stake for them, too.
The NFC North has turned into a two-team race, with the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings tied atop the division. These two teams both have a tough stretch ahead, highlighted by a head-to-head matchup in Week 17 that could very well decide the division winner.
At the bottom of the division, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions look like they’ll be duking it out for third place. Similarly, these two squads will also square off in the season finale. The outcome of that game, however, is more likely to affect next year’s draft order than this year’s playoff seeding.
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Let’s take a look at where these four teams currently stand and predict where each one is headed in the final four weeks of the season.
Packers looking to snap out of rough stretch
The Packers haven’t looked great since their six-game winning streak to start the season came to an end. They’ve lost four of their past six games, but the team’s two wins were key victories against divisional opponents. The 30-13 defeat of Minnesota in Week 11 gave Green Bay a crucial advantage in a potential tiebreaker.
Green Bay’s next two games are very winnable, but the final two weeks will decide the team’s fate. The Packers will fight the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16 for a shot at a first-round bye, then face a Vikings squad that’s hungry for revenge in the last game of the regular season. They should win at least one of those two contests.
UP NEXT: vs. Cowboys (W), at Oakland (W), at Arizona (L), vs. Vikings (W)
PREDICTION: 11-5 and a division title
Vikings can keep pace behind Adrian Peterson
The Vikings lost sole possession of first place in the division in Week 13, but they’re still in decent position to win their first NFC North title since 2009. The key for Minnesota is to keep All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson rolling; the team is undefeated when he records at least 20 carries.
Minnesota may be overmatched against the Cardinals on the road this Thursday, but back-to-back home games in Weeks 15 and 16 should prepare the team for an all-important rematch against the Packers at Lambeau Field in the season finale. The Vikings can’t take the Bears or New York Giants lightly with big games bookending the remaining slate.
UP NEXT: at Arizona (L), vs. Bears (W), vs. Giants (W), at Green Bay (L)
The Bears’ realistic playoff chances were squashed with a loss in Week 13. Chicago has shown potential in several games this season, but the team is likely still a year away from postseason contention. Over the next four weeks, head coach John Fox will figure out a lot about the players he’s carrying into 2016.
Chicago has to beat each of its four remaining opponents in order to finish with a winning record, and that’s not likely to happen. The Bears are lucky to have the Washington Redskins at home, but facing two divisional foes plus the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the final three games of the season will not be a cakewalk.
UP NEXT: Redskins (W), at Minnesota (L), at Tampa Bay (L), vs. Lions (W)
PREDICTION: 7-9 and a top-15 draft pick
Lions might be eyeing a top draft pick
The Lions no longer look like the worst team in the league, but their remaining sliver of playoff hope was wiped out in Week 13. It has been a rough year for Jim Caldwell in his second season as Detroit’s head coach, as assistant coaches and front-office executives alike have lost their jobs around him. Things could get even worse for the franchise over the next four weeks.
Each of the Lions’ four remaining opponents has a losing record. However, Detroit has to go on the road for three of those four games. Caldwell’s squad has already displayed a concerning lack of focus, so don’t be surprised if the Lions bottom out as the season winds down.
UP NEXT: at St. Louis (L), at New Orleans (L), vs. 49ers (W), at Chicago (L)