With 11 weeks gone in the 2013 NFL regular season, there are currently 23 teams within a game of a playoff berth. And one of the tightest divisional races in the league got even tighter on Sunday as the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions lost while the Chicago Bears got an overtime victory against the Baltimore Ravens to put both Detroit and Chicago at 6-4, and the Packers at 5-5.
The Lions still hold the first-place tiebreaker over the Bears, having swept Chicago in their two regular season meetings. The Detroit Lions also have the benefit of being the healthiest team in the division, as both Chicago and Green Bay are without their starting quarterbacks.
However, can either team catch the Lions in the division? The Detroit Lions still control their own destiny, but after seemingly separating themselves from the field with a big win over Chicago two weeks ago, the NFC North playoff picture looks as crowded as ever.
The Green Bay Packers are currently on the outside looking in, a game behind the Lions and the Bears. They also happen to face the most difficult schedule of the three, playing both Detroit and Chicago on the road and also traveling to Dallas, who remains a playoff factor in the NFC at 5-5.
They’ll also be going at least one more week without their MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Mike McCarthy has already named Scott Tolzien the starter for Week 12, although reports out of Green Bay say Rodgers is throwing without pain.
The biggest thing for the Packers will be surviving the remainder of their time with Tolzien under center. The Pack have lost their last three games with Seneca Wallace and Tolzien under center, but they’ll have to bounce back to beat the 2-8 Minnesota Vikings to get themselves above .500 with Rodgers returning.
Even if they’re spotting the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions a game, the Packers have to still feel good about their chances with Aaron Rodgers back in the mix and games against both Chicago and Detroit left on the schedule.
On the other hand, the Chicago Bears have actually been playing remarkably well without their starting quarterback thanks to steady play from backup Josh McCown. The 34-year old McCown took to Marc Trestman’s playbook well this summer during training camp, and he’s got a handle on the Bears offense, having won each of his two starts for the Bears.
McCown will start again in Week 12 against the St. Louis Rams while Jay Cutler deals with the lingering effects of the groin injury he suffered earlier this year, and the effects of the ankle injury suffered in his return that put him in a walking boot and has him out for a second straight week this Sunday.
Luckily, the Bears are getting healthy in other spots (namely their defense), and they’ve actually been very good under McCown, leading some in Chicago to believe there may be a controversy when Cutler returns, although Trestman insists that it will remain Jay’s job.
That being said, the Detroit Lions have to feel the most comfortable of all heading into the final six games of the regular season. They’ve managed to stay relatively healthy thus far, and they’ve been downright potent on offense at times this year with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush all competing at a high level.
They also have the benefit of hosting the Packers with a chance to neutralize the tiebreaker that Green Bay currently holds (having won their first matchup earlier in the season).
All totaled, the NFC North is going to be incredibly interesting down the stretch. You’ve got three football teams who all have to feel very good about their chances of winning the division.
Having grown up watching the Bears and now covering the team here in Chicago, I don’t necessarily like their chances of winning the division given the fact that they lose a tiebreaker with Detroit, the Lions have the easiest schedule and Aaron Rodgers could return with hopes of shaking up the division as soon as next week.
Right now, even with the Lions giving up their one-game lead in the division, it’s still the Detroit Lions that have the best chance at emerging with the division from a crowded NFC North playoff picture. However, the better question may be can either the Chicago Bears or the Green Bay Packers sure up a wildcard spot?
Time will ultimately tell.