A look around the NFC after two weeks of the 2018 NFL season (Monday Night Football notwithstanding) bears out what most analysts and fans thought to be true: that the NFC North is one of the tougher divisions in football, and that the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are the class of said division. Furthermore, what we’ve seen so far indicates that those two teams look like two of the three best teams in the conference.
Our Peter Bukowski broke this down on Monday morning. In the NFC East, the Eagles’ defense is a mess and the rest of the teams in that division are significantly flawed on one or both sides of the ball. The NFC South is full of inconsistent teams, and that even goes for the 2-0 Buccaneers; Ryan Fitzpatrick’s success is unsustainable, and their defense allowed 400 yards in each of the two games so far. Only the Rams in the NFC West look like they are clearly as good or better than Green Bay and Minnesota, something that will be tested as they host both North leaders later this season.
If you subscribe to these assessments of the rest of the conference, the tie at Lambeau Field on Sunday sets up the Packers-Vikings rematch in Minneapolis on Thanksgiving weekend as one of the most impactful games in playoff seeding of the entire year. The winner of that game will hold the only head-to-head tiebreaker necessary between the two teams, putting the loser in a deeply uncomfortable position with five games to go in the season.
Furthermore, if, as Sunday’s game suggests, the Packers and Vikings are on pretty equal footing, their schedules set up comparably as well.
Each team not only shares the same opponents for eight of their ten non-divisional games on their 2018 schedule; they even ended up drawing the same home/road split against those eight teams. Here’s a look at when each of those games come up:
|NFC West||Rams||Road||Week 8||Week 4|
|NFC West||Seahawks||Road||Week 11||Week 14|
|NFC West||Cardinals||Home||Week 13||Week 6|
|NFC West||49ers||Home||Week 6||Week 1 (W)|
|AFC East||Patriots||Road||Week 9||Week 13|
|AFC East||Bills||Home||Week 4||Week 3|
|AFC East||Dolphins||Home||Week 10||Week 15|
|AFC East||Jets||Road||Week 15||Week 7|
That leaves the final two games against conference opponents who finished in the same place as these teams in 2017; for the Vikings, that results in a road game against the defending champion Eagles in week five and a home date three weeks later inside U.S. Bank Stadium against the Saints. For those keeping track at home, those are rematches of the Vikings’ two playoff games from a year ago — one of which they won on a miracle touchdown and the other that saw them get trounced 38-7.
Meanwhile, the Packers face a pair of third-place teams: Washington, where the Packers will travel to this week, and the Falcons, who snuck into the playoffs as a Wild Card a year ago. Given the Falcons’ mounting injury issues and the fact that the game is played at Lambeau Field in December, that seems like an entirely winnable game; meanwhile Washington only scored nine points at home against a blah Colts defense that gave up 34 to Andy Dalton and the Bengals in week one.
With otherwise evenly-matched schedules, the two teams could very feasibly end up with the same record against common opponents. If so, as long as they are separated by one game or less in the two non-shared games, the winner of that week 12 game would earn the victor the division title. In all likelihood, the North winner will earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs and, depending on their success against those common opponents (particularly the Rams), perhaps home-field advantage as well.