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State of the NFC North: Week 18 Recap

The Packers and Lions are moving on while the rest of the division heads home.

Syndication: The Post-Crescent Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK

Week 18 is in the books, and the journey is over for half of the NFC North. What was a celebration of things to come for the Lions and the Packers was an ominous list of question marks for the Vikings and the Bears. The Lions ended their regular season at home, beating the Vikings to scrub the stink off after a soul-crushing loss to the Cowboys. Losing to a rival to end your season excites no one, but some Vikings fans were undoubtedly ready to turn the page on a rocky season.

In Green Bay, the Packers also got the opportunity of a home game party, beating the Bears in a must-win game to advance to Wild Card weekend as the 7th seed in the NFC. Jordan Love had one of his finest performances (drink if you’ve heard that more than once in the past eight weeks) and sent the Bears home to lick their wounds. A tumultuous offseason awaits Chicago after demonstrating the gulf between them and the rest of the North.

Let’s dive into the week 18 recap below.

Updated Standings:

Detroit Lions (12-5)

Green Bay Packers (9-8)

Minnesota Vikings (7-10)

Chicago Bears (7-10)

Detroit Lions (12-5)

Week 18 Result: 30-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings (7-10)

Wild Card Opponent: vs. Los Angeles Rams (10-7)

The Detroit Lions finished the regular season just as they kicked it off in September. With a sliver of hope remaining for the two seed in the NFC, there was no shot Dan Campbell rested starters. While the Lions secured the win (tying a franchise record) and some much-needed momentum from Jared Goff, they were left with mixed feelings.

Late in the first half, rookie sensation Sam LaPorta was carted off after bending his leg awkwardly after a reception. While many feared the worst in the immediate aftermath, an MRI revealed a hyperextended knee and a bone bruise, a far cry from initial worries.

For LaPorta’s long-term health, the news should bring relief. His playoff status, however, is in doubt. If LaPorta can’t go, the Lions must lean even more on Amon-Ra St. Brown. On Sunday against the Vikings, he proved he was more than up for the task. St. Brown caught seven balls for 144 yards and a 70-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, putting the Lions up 27-13. Jared Goff finished with 320 yards and two touchdowns in his best game in nearly a month.

With the caveat that Nick Mullens was on the other side, the Lions’ defense held strong at numerous points in the game, forcing the Vikings into an abysmal 2-13 on third-down conversions. The Vikings’ small chances of a comeback were crushed late in the fourth quarter when Cam Sutton intercepted Nick Mullens at the Lions’ 14.

Next up for the Lions is a bittersweet reunion with a beloved franchise legend. Matthew Stafford and the Rams’ potent offense are coming to town in a game that could produce the most fireworks of Wild Card weekend. Detroit is seeking their second playoff win in 67 years, while the Rams may be the hottest team in the NFL. If that doesn’t sway you, Dan Campbell will surely be up to some shenanigans, and who doesn’t enjoy that?

Green Bay Packers (9-8)

Week 18 Result: 17-9 win over the Chicago Bears (7-10)

Wild Card Opponent: @ Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

It’s been two excruciatingly long years, but the Green Bay Packers are back in the playoffs. Jordan Love pulled off what his predecessor could not last January, finishing off a hot finish to the season with a perfect performance in a win-and-in game.

However, Love kept some traditions alive on his journey leading the NFL’s youngest team. This win marked the Packers’ tenth in a row over Chicago, proving what we saw in week 1: the deed to their franchise stays in Green Bay no matter who is at the helm. On Sunday, Love led an offense that did not punt once. He finished 27-32 for 316 yards and two touchdowns, both to Dontayvion Wicks. For Wicks, the game meant more.

After fighting through contact to score his second touchdown of the day, Wicks leaped into the embrace of the Lambeau faithful and glanced into the crisp, January sky. January 7 would have been the 22nd birthday of his Virginia teammate, Lavel Davis Jr., one of three Virginia football players who were killed in a school shooting in November 2022. After the game, Wicks said, “I had a heavy heart coming into today, but I knew he’d be playing through me when I’m out there.” With Davis on his mind and a heavy heart, Wicks’ two-touchdown performance was the clear standout for the Packers’ offense.

Defensively, the Packers were relatively buttoned up. Their struggles are no secret to anyone, but on Sunday, they repeatedly came up big on third downs. The Bears entered Packers territory on every possession but could not find the end zone.

The Packers are set for their own reunion in the Wild Card round as they travel to Dallas to face off against Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys. While very few players remain from McCarthy’s tenure, you can expect tensions to be high. Publicly, McCarthy wants no part of the narrative, saying, “I answered the questions honestly in here last year about my experience up there. It just will not help us win. So if it doesn’t help us win a game, I’m not interested in it.”

Minnesota Vikings (7-10)

Week 18 Result: 30-20 loss to the Detroit Lions (12-5)

The Vikings’ rollercoaster season came to a close with a loss to the Lions in week 18. After Kirk Cousins went down with a season-ending injury in late October, one would have been forgiven for assuming the team would crumble. That the Vikings went 3-6 the rest of the way with Josh Dobbs, Jaren Hall, and Nick Mullens at quarterback is a testament to the culture Kevin O’Connell has built.

Mullens got the call to end the season, and boy, did he air it out. If you don’t like Nick Mullens chuckin’ it 44 times for 396 yards, then you don’t like week 18 football, and we aren’t gonna be friends. Justin Jefferson was the natural beneficiary of this strategy, tying a career-high with twelve catches and tallying 192 yards and a score. As mentioned above, the Vikings were 2-13 on third down (2-3 on fourth), which was ultimately their downfall in a two-score game.

Defensively, the Vikings held up well against the Lions’ potent offense. The Lions went just 1-9 on third downs but scored 30 thanks to stellar field possession all afternoon. Without Byron Murphy on the field, the Vikings didn’t stand a chance of securing consistent stops.

The Vikings now hold the 11th pick in the 2024 NFL Draft and will set their sights toward some looming offseason decisions, including the possible return of Kirk Cousins as he recovers from a torn Achilles.

Chicago Bears (7-10)

Week 18 Result: 17-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers (9-8)

Another year, another sweep. The Chicago Bears’ good vibes and positive momentum came to a screeching halt against the Packers on Sunday afternoon. With the chance to crush the hopes of cheeseheads everywhere and retain some bragging rights for the offseason, the Bears fell flat on their faces.

On a day billed as his final audition for the 2024 starting job, Justin Fields did not deliver. Fields was under pressure all day and simply didn’t make enough high-level plays on third downs after entering Packers territory with consistency. Fields finished 11-16 for 148 yards and no touchdowns.

The Bears’ defense, hyped up incessantly by safety Jaquan Brisker, did Fields and company no favors outside of one forced fumble. Brisker, not one to admit defeat, told reporters after the game, “I feel like we could have tightened up on the receivers a lot more than we did today. We gave them too much room. I don’t really have no respect for them at all, just to be honest.” The Packers finished 7-10 on third downs, totaled 432 yards, and were a couple of bobbled passes away from two more touchdowns. Matt Eberflus’s unit showed they have a way to go before competing with the top offenses in the league.

Speaking of, congrats to Matt Eberflus! A 10-24 record and two last-place finishes in the NFC North did not prevent the Bears from keeping Eberflus as head coach. Ryan Poles confirmed this week that Eberflus would return in 2024 with a new offensive coordinator after Luke Getsy was fired. The Bears once again find themselves in between timelines. A new offensive coordinator will now enter the fold with a (likely) rookie quarterback and a lame-duck coaching staff, unstable ground that no competent play-caller would be excited to stand on. We’ll see how the Bears fill out the staff and the roster in the coming months, but as of now, expect to be back here next year reading about what the Bears should do to fill their head coaching vacancy.

That’s it for the week 18 recap! While the regular season may be over, two NFC North teams are battling to move on in the playoffs this weekend. To paraphrase Vince Carter, we got (at least) one more in us. Check back here next week to recap all the Wild Card action.