Hi, remember me? I'm the guy who told you this might happen. And so it came to pass that Detroit couldn't get out of its own way, and Matt Flynn did what competent backups are supposed to do, and the Packers and Bears now control their own destinies which just goes to show you how ridiculous the idea of destiny truly is. Anyway, here's what you need to know for next week and beyond in the race for the NFC North title.
1. The Bears can clinch the division this week. The Packers and Lions cannot. The Lions can be eliminated.
One of the odd things about this week is that if the Packers win, the Bears game (which is in prime-time on Sunday night against the Eagles) doesn't matter one bit as far as Green Bay is concerned. The reason is that due to the Packers' tie, Green Bay will either be ahead or behind Chicago by half a game, meaning that the last game will decide the division either way. Should the Packers stumble against Pittsburgh they'll need some help from the Eagles (and Giants or Vikings) to stay in the race. If the Packers and Bears both win, the Lions are done. There are no scenarios in which the Packers can lose to the Bears in week 17 and still make the playoffs.
2. The Bears are pretty likely to lose to the Eagles.
This may sound silly given that the Eagles are fresh off getting destroyed by an Adrian Peterson-less Vikings team, but just as the Eagles were a tough matchup for the Lions a week ago, they are an even worse matchup for the Bears. The Eagles are, by almost all metrics, the best running team in football. They grade out first in Pro Football Focus's metrics with a 27.2, and currently lead Football Outsiders' DVOA by a significant amount in rush offense.
The Bears, on the other hand, have one of the worst rush defenses I've ever seen. They are last in almost any metric that matters. Pro Football Focus has the defense at a staggering -113.3 grade. The Redskins, who boast the 2nd worst rush defense, have a -61.4 grade. The difference between the worst and 2nd worst teams is as wide as the difference between Washington and the 8th-worst Tampa Bay Bucs, with room to spare.
DVOA is no kinder to Chicago, as only the Chargers are worse and the difference is negligible. This is a strength vs. weakness matchup, and while the Bears' offense may be able to keep them in the game (as the Philadelphia defense is pretty sorry itself), the Bears' defense is likely to have no answer for the Eagles' offense. If you have Shady McCoy in your fantasy football finals this week, you could not ask for a better matchup. With Peanut Tillman done for the year, their pass defense is no great shakes either.
As previously stated, this doesn't do much for the Packers if they beat the Steelers, but will help provide some breathing room if the Packers lose.
3. The Steelers are a tough matchup for the Packers.
This is especially true if Matt Flynn plays. Flynn has played admirably over the last two weeks. Staging comebacks of the magnitude of the one he just pulled off is extremely difficult and Flynn deserves all the praise in the world for beating the Falcons and Cowboys, but if ever you were to construct defenses to allow a backup QB to stage a massive comeback you couldn't do much better than the Falcons and Cowboys. The Steelers aren't especially good, but more importantly, they're not especially bad. While the Cowboys and Falcons will occasionally help out a struggling offense with boneheaded plays, you have to generate your own success against the Steelers. This will be Flynn's toughest test since the Lions. The Steelers rank 20th overall on defense by PFF and 20th by DVOA. 20th may not sound like much but they are worlds better than the Packers' last two opponents.
They combine middling to average defense that with an offense that is well above average. Pitt still has some weapons, and Ben Roethlisberger is still a dangerous quarterback when he has time to throw. Antonio Brown actually leads the league in Football Outsiders' DYAR stat and grades out as the 4th best receiver in football per PFF.
The high-powered Lions have a PFF passing grade of 30.1 this season. The Steelers, who no one thinks of in the same vein, grade out at 29.5, just a tick behind them. DVOA sees them as the 9th-best passing offense just barely trailing New England.
Perhaps more troubling, the Steelers have been very explosive on offense lately. Over their last 5 games they average 28.4 points per game, and none of the defenses they faced were soft with the exception of the Lions' corners. They put up 27 on Cleveland, 20 on Baltimore, 28 on Miami, and 30 on Cincinnati. This offense can and will score. If Matt Flynn plays, the Packers are likely to require a heroic defensive effort to win.
4. The Lions are not dead.
The Bears have a tough matchup. The Packers have a tough matchup, especially if Aaron isn't back. The Lions' schedule on the other hand, couldn't be much better. The Giants showed some life a few weeks ago but since then they have lost Victor Cruz for the season and Eli Manning has suffered what can only be described as a complete and total meltdown. There's no shame in struggling against the Seattle defense as they did last week, but two weeks ago they only managed to put up 14 points against a terrible San Diego defense. If the Giants have an offensive strength at all, it's the running of Andre Brown, but no one shuts down the run as well as Detroit. If the Giants are going to win, Eli will have to beat them, and I think it's fair at this point to speculate that something is wrong with Eli Manning.
I actually think the Vikings may have a better shot at the Lions in the season finale. They've been downright frisky since switching over to Matt Cassel as the permanent (hopefully) starter and getting dynamic rookie WR Cordarelle Patterson more involved. They still can't stop anyone, but their shootout win over Philadelphia last week indicates they would have a decent shot at taking out the Lions in week 17. Plus that would be horribly embarrassing for the Lions, and therefore likely to happen.
Let's wrap this up.
The most important thing this weekend is a Packer victory to set up a week 17 showdown with the Bears. That makes everything nice and simple. But if they lose, they're still not entirely dead, which is kind of amazing. FO has the Bears as the favorites to win the division with a 61.1% chance. The Lions still have a small edge on the Packers at 19.9% followed by the Pack at 19.0%. Still, the 1/5 shot they're looking at now is a great improvement from the 1/17 odds from 2 weeks ago.