HomeSportsNFL's most battle-tested team; Lions, Packers must win out: NFC North analysis

NFL’s most battle-tested team; Lions, Packers must win out: NFC North analysis

Don’t count the Detroit Lions out of the postseason just yet. As it currently stands, Detroit has a 23% chance to make the playoffs, according to the New York Times playoff simulator. Should the Lions win their last two games, against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, those chances would increase to 70%, and that’s without any help from other teams.

The simplest scenario that needs to happen to push that number to 100% is this: The Jets need to beat the Seahawks in Week 17, and the Dallas Cowboys need to beat the Washington Commanders in Week 18.

Those two things aren’t implausible and could even border on likely.

In fact, two of the NFC North teams’ chances could come down to the Week 18 matchup between the Lions and Packers in Green Bay. Neither can live while the other survives (can you tell I’ve been doing my annual holiday watch of Harry Potter?). Both teams need to win out to even have a shot at the postseason, which could all boil down to a dramatic Week 18 finish.

The Lions might not have the momentum the Packers do right now, with Detroit losing to Carolina this past weekend and Green Bay riding a three-game win streak. But when it comes to division opponents, anything goes and both teams get two straight NFC North matchups to close out (and determine) their season.

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Colin Cowherd reveals his Top 10 teams heading into Week 17, including the playoff-bound Los Angeles Chargers and resurgent Green Bay Packers.

Let’s take a look at other NFC North intrigue.

Vikings will be playoffs’ most battle-tested team

One team that doesn’t have to worry about any postseason scenarios is Minnesota, which has already clinched the division, and therefore, a playoff spot. And even though the Vikings are just playing for seeding at this point, they are still managing to pull wins out of a magical hat even when it looks like they are down and out.

This past Sunday was no different facing the New York Giants, who are playing for their playoff lives. It was nearly a must-win for New York, and for most of the game, it looked like the Giants were going to get it. Until quarterback Kirk Cousins and yet another Minnesota fourth-quarter comeback derailed the whole thing.

It was a meager 13-10 lead, but the Giants were the pest that wouldn’t go away headed into the fourth quarter. They had scored 13 unanswered and had everything working in their favor. When the Vikings scored a touchdown, the Giants answered, first with a field goal and then with a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie it up at 24 apiece just before the two-minute warning.

But Greg Joseph provided the cherry to Minnesota’s 17-point quarter with a last-second 61-yard field goal to win the game. It capped off an eight-play, 33-yard drive in which Cousins used up all 2:01 of clock afforded to him.

Kirk Cousins throws for three touchdowns in win over Giants

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 299 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 27-24 victory over the Giants on Christmas Eve.

That kind of clock management and resolve is only going to serve these Vikings well headed into the postseason. Yes, they didn’t have the hardest schedule this season, but they’ve been in 12 one-score games this year and won all of them. They had over a 95% chance of losing TWICE this season and pulled out a win (see: Week 10 against the Bills and the largest comeback in NFL history in Week 15 against the Colts).

If you’re any Vikings player, for as much as you may get down in a game, there’s no reason to panic or think you can’t eventually come back because you’ve done it before multiple times over. That’s an intangible that cannot be overstated in the postseason and could make the Vikings very dangerous next month and even into February.

Should Bears sit Justin Fields?

Yes, Fields is a young quarterback who needs all the reps he can get. But allow me to ask the question of what meaningful development he’s going to have over these last two games?

Over the past two games, Fields has taken eight sacks. The offensive line, which has struggled in pass protection all season, is even more banged up. The Bears were missing both Cody Whitehair and Teven Jenkins last weekend against the Bills. Guard Michael Schofield went out for a portion of the game and was replaced with Dieter Eiselen, who had played six total snaps on offense prior to Saturday’s game.

The Bears were also down multiple receivers on Saturday, with Chase Claypool and Equanimeous St. Brown inactive, N’Keal Harry limited and Darnell Mooney on injured reserve. At this point, you don’t even know how many of these players are going to be on the roster next season, so getting them reps with Fields when he doesn’t have a reliable pocket to throw from seems like a moot point.

Fields is still having to get things done with his legs if the team wants to stay in games. The Bears don’t have questions about his running capability, that much is blatantly evident. With inconsistent protection and limited throwing options available, why not let Fields rest?

It probably won’t happen, though. Coaching staffs aren’t wired that way. Fields himself isn’t wired that way. You wouldn’t want a quarterback who was. But it’s hard to think sitting him wouldn’t be a good idea, especially if it helped the Bears’ draft stock, though they could keep losing even with Fields in the lineup.

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Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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