With the Packers and Vikings in a tie for first place in the NFC North with four games left in the regular season, here is a week-by-week look at their remaining schedules:
Week 14: Vikings at Cardinals; Cowboys at Packers.
Minnesota, with injury questions on defense and plenty of soul-searching to do after Sunday’s 38-7 loss to Seattle, must travel to Arizona on short rest for a Thursday night game against arguably the most well-rounded team in the league.
The Packers, on the other hand, face a Dallas team loaded with problems — most notably at quarterback, with Tony Romo out with his second major injury of the season.
Week 15: Bears at Vikings; Packers at Raiders.
The Bears were starting to look frisky and possibly capable of getting into the NFC North mix, but a devastating loss to the 49ers on Sunday — Bears kicker Robbie Gould missed a 36-yard field goal at the end of regulation and San Francisco won in overtime — dealt Chicago a blow in its playoff push. When Jay Cutler doesn’t have anything to play for, bad things happen for the Bears.
Green Bay, meanwhile, should be able to claim a road victory over the improved but flawed Raiders.
Week 16: Giants at Vikings; Packers at Cardinals.
The Giants have a knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a trick they pulled off again Sunday by collapsing late against the Jets. In addition, Eli Manning always seems to struggle against Minnesota.
The Packers have to go to Arizona. Green Bay has lost to the Lions and Bears at Lambeau Field in recent weeks. Do you really like the Packers’ chances in the desert?
Week 17: Vikings at Packers.
And so there’s this: The events of the past few days, with Green Bay’s miracle win and the Vikings’ blowout loss, dictate that the season and division title will very likely be determined by the Jan. 3 showdown at Lambeau. Here’s why: As long as the teams are within one game of each other in either direction going into this game, the winner will take the division title.
If the Packers are one game back and win to force a division tie, they’ll have the first tiebreaker advantage with a 2-0 season series advantage.
If the Vikings are one game back and win to force a tie, the season series will be a split and they will have the second tiebreaker edge (division record, which would be no worse than 4-2 while the Packers would be 3-3).
Looking at the Vikings’ next three games, you expect them to go 2-1, maybe 1-2. Ditto with the Packers.
The loser could still very well be a wild-card team. So clear your January weekends. It’s going to be fun.