Yes, Sunday night’s game between the Vikings (5-3-1) and Bears (6-3) is a big deal since the winner gets first place in the NFC North unto itself.
At a time when Super Bowl contenders and pretenders are being separated by loud, forceful, high-scoring statement games, the NFC North is the shy kid in the corner looking down at his shoes.
Thirteen teams carry a winning record into Week 11 of the NFL season. The NFC North is a league-worst 1-6 against teams with winning records outside of the division. The AFC East is a league-best 7-8 with lowly Buffalo and average-at-best Miami chipping in two victories apiece.
Meanwhile, the Vikings (0-2) and Bears (0-1) are a combined 0-3 with 108 points allowed (36.0). The Packers are 0-3, while last-place Detroit posted the lone win when it beat New England two months ago.
Of those 13 teams with a winning record, the Vikings and Bears rank 11th and 12th in strength of victory.
The winning percentages of the teams the Vikings and Bears have beaten are .322 and .321, respectively. Only the Chargers (.300) come in lower.
So one can look at these two solid but suspect teams two different ways. At least until they rise up and slap down a bigger dawg.
In Chicago’s case, one can say the Bears and rookie coach Matt Nagy are a shocking worst-to-first story in the making. One also can say they have six wins against teams that are 18-38.
As for the Vikings, one can say they’ve made all the right moves by going 4-1 since being embarrassed defensively by the Rams in Los Angeles. One also can say they’ve beaten four teams that are 12-25 while losing to the Saints by double digits at home in a prime time, playoff atmosphere.
Can the Vikings or Bears win the Super Bowl? Certainly. Both have ample, well-coached talent that can score a lot of points while dominating third downs defensively.
Also, recent NFL history is littered with proof that teams don’t have to be great to win it all. Eli Manning has two rings because he and two OK Giants teams got hot when the weather turned cold.
But now is the time for the NFC North to speak up for itself. With the Bears hosting the Rams and the Vikings traveling to New England next month, it’s going to take better performances to measure up leaguewide.
The Saints (8-1) are a league-best 4-0 against teams that now have a winning record. They’ve beaten the Redskins (43-19), Vikings (30-20), Rams (45-35) and Bengals (51-14) by a combined 81 points.
The Rams (9-1) are simply outscoring everyone but Drew Brees. Just ask Seattle.
In two games against the Rams, the Seahawks ran for 463 yards. They posted 787 total yards. They threw six touchdown passes. They scored 62 points.
And they went 0-2.
The Chiefs (9-1) are 3-1 against teams that now have a winning record. Against Pittsburgh, they gave up 37 points. And won by five.
Last week, there were two games in which both participants had winning records. The Steelers beat the Panthers 52-21 — the most points allowed by Carolina in its 391-game history — while the Saints went to Cincinnati and won 51-14.
Talk about separating contenders from pretenders.
The Patriots lost a rare November game, getting smoked 34-10 at Tennessee last Sunday. But New England is 3-1 against teams that now have a winning record. It also has a league-best .568 strength of victory percentage.
The Patriots gave up 40 points to the Chiefs and 31 to the Bears. And won twice.
Scoring is at such a fever pitch that Monday night’s game between the Rams and Chiefs in Mexico City opened with a record over/under total of 63½ points, according to BetDSI.
One of these two Super Bowl contenders will make a loud, forceful statement come Monday night. The kind of statement an NFC North contender has yet to make.
The kind of statement the Vikings can make only if they win at New England after sweeping the Bears and Packers first.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: email@example.com