The bye weeks are over and the stretch run is here. All four teams in the NFC North were in action this weekend as the race for the division crown tightened ever so slightly. In only divisional matchup of the week, Justin Fields and the Bears took down the Lions, building on their encouraging performance versus the division leaders in week 11. The Vikings took on the Las Vegas Raiders in a 3-0 game that was hopefully not watched by anyone outside the fans of the two squads. In the North’s one primetime game of the week, the Packers embarrassed themselves against the Giants in a backbreaking loss. With the Lions' loss, the Vikings sit just two games behind the division leaders who looked like a lock four weeks ago. Let’s take a look at the rest of the standings and dive into our recaps.
Detroit Lions (9-4)
Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
Green Bay Packers (6-7)
Chicago Bears (5-8)
Detroit Lions (9-4)
Week 14 Result: 28-13 loss to the Chicago Bears (5-8)
Week 15 Opponent: vs. Denver Broncos (7-6)
If the past few weeks represented a smoke alarm going off in the Lions’ home, Sunday was a five-alarm fire. The division leaders dropped their second game in three weeks, falling to the Bears 28-13 and leaving the doubts about their chances in January. One thing is clear in Detroit: the defense that made an impressive leap the first half of the season is gone, having regressed to last year’s porous unit. Since week 7, they rank 30th in EPA/play and 29th in success rate. Their pass rush has quickly turned into an issue outside of Aidan Hutchinson, and they don’t have the horses to make up for it in the back end. To make matters worse, on December 5, the team placed starting defensive tackle Alim McNeill on IR.
On offense, pressure continues to be an issue for Jared Goff, and frequently throws the offense off schedule. In Sunday’s loss, he threw two interceptions, adding to a disappointing four game stretch in which he’s taken 10 sacks, thrown 5 interceptions (including 2 on Sunday), and lost 3 fumbles. The Lions are not in danger of missing a playoff spot, but without big improvements on both the defensive and offensive lines, they may be headed for a calamitous end of the year.
Things don’t get any easier for the Lions this week as they host the resurgent Denver Broncos at home. The most interesting storyline is on the sideline though. Dan Campbell will look to get a leg up on his mentor and former coach, Sean Payton, who coached Campbell in the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV-winning season. Campbell would go on to coach with Payton in New Orleans and the two remain close friends. As Campbell said in a presser this week, Payton will almost certainly be looking loll to embarrass them. The two teams have their similarities on the field as well, as Denver has recovered after a 1-5 start much likhe the Lions’ stormed back from 1-6 last year to finish 9-8.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
Week 14 Result: 3-0 win over the Las Vegas Raiders (5-8)
Week 15 Opponent: @ Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
Imagine if, prior to Sunday, you were told the matchup between the Vikings and the Raiders would feature a result not seen in sixteen years - one we’ve only seen twice in the past thirty years. Pretty exciting, right? Surely this game must have been filled with indescribable thrills! Well… not exactly. What occurred between Minnesota and Vegas was an affront to the game of football. I would argue it was offensive to the concept of sports in general.
The only score came with 1:57 to go, when Greg Joseph hit the game-winning field goal. And that was it! A 3-0 finish! Not since the Steelers beat the Dolphins 3-0 in 2007 has the NFL seen such a low-scoring affair. That game can be excused since it was played in a monsoon that made conditions a nightmare. Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, however, is a dome. No bad weather to be found here!
Getting benched in a win is a tough look, but it’s the option the Vikings were forced to choose after another ineffective game from Josh Dobbs. The Vikings were limited to just 230 yards of offense, 56 of which came on Nick Mullens’ game-winning drive. To add injury to insult, Justin Jefferson’s return was cut far too short. The star receiver suffered a chest injury in the second quarter that sent him to the hospital, although there is a chance he plays against Cincinnati. Alexander Mattison also left the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury that may cause him to miss time.
On the bright side, the Vikings’ defense pitched a shutout! The Raiders actually entered the red zone in the third quarter, but Josh Metellus forced a Hunter Renfrow fumble to end the drive.
Up 3-0, Ivan Pace Jr. ended any chance of a Raiders tie with his game-sealing interception. All in all, the Vikings forced three turnovers and tallied four sacks.
An ugly win counts just the same as a pretty one, and the Vikings will visit Cincinnati this week in sole possession of second place in the NFC North. With Nick Mullens now at the helm, Minnesota will need a spark versus a Bengals team that has some life with backup Jake Browning at quarterback.
Green Bay Packers (6-7)
Week 14 Result: 24-22 loss to the New York Giants (5-8)
Week 15 Opponent: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7)
Where do you even begin? The Packers were embarrassed on Monday Night Football by Giants third-string rookie quarterback Tommy DeVito. The undrafted free agent made play after play, mostly with his legs, to keep the Giants alive all night. All three phases were a letdown for the Packers. Jordan Love and the offense were inconsistent all night, while the defense and special teams made confounding mistakes in crucial moments.
Love finished the game 25/39 for 218 yards with one touchdown, one fumble, and an interception. His inaccuracy early on in this one doomed the Packers offense, in an uncharacteristic turn after his recent stretch of lights out play. On two straight red zone possessions in the third quarter, the Packers fell apart, leading to just three points. Then, down 21-13, Anders Carlson shanked a 45 yard field goal attempt that was the difference in the game. Love did find a rhythm late in a touchdown drive to take control with 1:33 left. Unfortunately, the Packers’ prevent defense stayed true to the old cliche and prevented a win.
The woes didn’t end on special teams. After a 3-and-out to open the half, the Giants punted to Keisean Nixon. Chaos ensued. Nixon muffed the punt, but quickly fell on it to mitigate the damage. Until he didn’t. Nixon attempted to get up and run, leading to a fumble that the Giants recovered. The Giants needed just three plays to score, one of which was a DeVito 26-yard scramble.
On defense, the Packers looked soft and outmatched by the worst offensive line in the NFL. Behind big plays from Saquon Barkley, DeVito, and Wan’Dale Robinson, the Giants rushed for 209 yards. The most appalling stat of the night is that the Packers did not sack Tommy DeVito a single time. Coming into the game, the Giants had allowed 69 sacks on the season.
With hopes for the division all but officially dead, the Packers are still in position for a wild card spot despite the setback. Sitting in the 7th seed currently, they’ll hope to regroup vs. the Buccaneers this week. They will have to do so with a depleted receiving corps, however, as Jayden Reed is in concussion protocol and Dontayvion Wicks suffered an ankle injury on Monday night. Godspeed!
Chicago Bears (5-8)
Week 14 Result: 28-13 win over the Detroit Lions (9-4)
Week 15 Opponent: @ Cleveland Browns (8-5)
The Bears are… in the hunt?? Chicago whooped the Lions on Sunday to somehow keep their playoff hopes alive after a disjointed start to the season. While the Bears are likely not making the playoffs, these games are essential for evaluating a roster that is due for big changes in the offseason, starting with the #1 pick in the NFL draft. That pick, of course, comes down to the decision between Justin Fields and either Caleb Williams or Drake Maye.
Sunday against the Lions, Fields spearheaded Chicago’s best win of the season to post back-to-back wins for the first time since 2021. He was 19/33 for 223 and one touchdown, with 58 yards and a score on the ground. Most importantly, Fields protected the ball. His top weapon, DJ Moore, continued to look like a star with Fields in the mix, recording 88 yards from scrimmage and two scores. Fields and Moore’s best play of the game came late in the 3rd quarter. On 4th and 13 from the Lions’ 38 in a 13-13 game, Chicago lined up to goad the Lions into jumping offsides with a hard count; Aidan Hutchinson abided. DJ Moore took off immediately, and was rewarded by Fields with a 38-yard score.
The Bears' defense continues to be the spark for their turnaround, as they’ve ranked top ten in EPA/play and success rate since week 8. Kyler Gordon and Jaylon Johnson helped lock down the Lions’ receiving corps all day, particularly Amon-Ra St. Brown, who posted 21 yards, his lowest total of the year. In all, the defense sacked Jared Goff four times and forced two interceptions to go along with one forced fumble that led to Justin Fields’ dagger scramble for a score late in the third.
Next up for the Bears is a visit to the Cleveland Browns, who will hope to overcome the Bears’ thriving defense with their QB carousel.
That’s it for this week’s NFC North Recap! We’ll be back next week recapping what is suddenly an extremely tight race for the NFC’s wild card between the Vikings, Packers, and Bears.