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State of the NFC North: Week 17 Recap

A must win for the Packers and a wild finish for the Lions highlighted a pivotal week 17 for the North.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The NFC North had quite the up-and-down week 17. We start with our division leader, whose rollercoaster of a night was enough excitement for the entire conference. The Lions were left to pick up the pieces of their heartbreak in Dallas like an old country song after a late-game ref mishap. Nevertheless, they’ll be hosting just their seventh playoff game ever in a week.

No amount of shirtless screaming and horn-blowing in Minnesota could save the Vikings from a thrashing at the hands of the Packers. Minnesota is now on the outside looking in at the NFC playoff race, while the Packers will advance to Wild Card weekend with a win over the Bears.

Speaking of Chicago, it continued to look like a different team from the first half of the season. Despite being eliminated from the playoffs, the Bears trounced the Falcons and stirred up a national conversation regarding their plans for the #1 pick.

With a pivotal week ahead for the North, let’s dive into the week 17 recap.

Updated Standings:

Detroit Lions (11-5)

Green Bay Packers (8-8)

Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

Chicago Bears (7-9)

Detroit Lions (11-5)

Week 17 Result: 20-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys (11-5)

Week 18 Opponent: vs. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

Remember when the Detroit Lions drove 75 yards with 1:41 left to take a 21-20 lead and secure the two seed in the NFC? That was unbelievable!

Wait—I’m being told the game did not end on a successful two-point conversion.

Lions/Cowboys is a slam dunk, marquee matchup this late in the season. Two teams fighting for, at the time, the number one seed in the conference is an easy sell. Unfortunately, the white hats calling the game couldn’t go 60 minutes without falling flat on their faces. The night ended in embarrassment for the NFL despite their extraordinary ability to feel no shame.

After throwing an interception on the prior drive that led to a Brandon Aubrey field goal, Jared Goff received one more chance down 20-13. In just 1:18, Goff led the Lions on a nine-play, 75 yard drive capped off by an Amon-Ra St. Brown touchdown. Anyone who has seen a single Lions game in the last two years knew they weren’t settling for the extra point. Dan Campbell went for the win, and he got it! Except not. Taylor Decker caught Goff’s 2-point conversion throw and seemingly took the lead until illegal touching was called.

The Lions attempted some trickery (Dan Campbell claims he notified the refs of this pre-game) with three linemen coming up to referee Brad Allen before the play. The Lions claim Taylor Decker reported as eligible; Allen claims it was instead Dan Skipper reporting. The rest was history. The Lions failed on the next two tries, one from the 11, and Detroit took home the L.

The game saw the Lions’ porous pass defense allow a career day to CeeDee Lamb, including a 92 yard touchdown during which Kindle Vildor fell. Points were hard to come by before the Lions’ last drive, exacerbating the pain in a game they thought they’d won.

It’s a new week, however! The Lions are still NFC North champs. They will still be a top 3 seed. And Detroit will still host its first playoff game in 30 years. There isn’t much to play for vs. the Vikings this week, so don’t be surprised to see Detroit rest a few starters late in the game. Who knows, maybe they’ll even be rewarded with a Brad Allen-reffed playoff game!

Green Bay Packers (8-8)

Week 17 Result: 33-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

Week 18 Opponent: vs. Chicago Bears (7-9)

The Packers took a moment to breathe in the scenes of their pivotal road victory on Sunday night before gearing up for a de facto week 18 playoff game. Aaron Jones and Jordan Love sipped sparkling cider to ring in the new year, a brief celebration for reclaiming their NFC playoff fate after a disastrous week 14 loss to the New York Giants. Jordan Love (Packers’ third straight Hall of Fame quarterback) was unstoppable. His four touchdown day earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors and inspired confidence that many more are on the way.

Danielle Hunter was silent all night, allowing Jordan Love clean pockets that he navigated brilliantly. And with his ascension comes a wide receiver coming-of-age story fit for a John Hughes movie. Jayden Reed hauled in two touchdowns and broke Sterling Sharpe’s franchise record for receptions in a rookie season. Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Bo Melton produced the Packers’ first 100 yard receiving game of the year.

The Packers’ defense was lights out against admittedly weak competition. Jaren Hall did not look ready for the Sunday Night lights and wilted under pressure. Corey Ballentine came through with a brilliant performance after learning on Saturday he would start, setting the tone with an early interception and admirable coverage of Justin Jefferson.

The Packers’ next game needs no introduction. We all remember what happened the last time a Packers team hovering around .500 faced the Bears with a playoff spot on the line. May the odds be in our favor once again.

Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

Week 17 Result: 33-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers (8-8)

Week 18 Opponent: @ Detroit Lions (11-5)

The Vikings are not mathematically eliminated. That is the kindest thing anyone can say about their performance last Sunday night against the Packers. Three quarterbacks have started for the Vikings after Kirk Cousins went down, and despite a valiant effort from Kevin O’Connell’s staff, none have provided an answer. On Sunday, the late-season switch to Jaren Hall began feeling more like throwing in the towel than shooting for the playoffs.

Hall was largely ineffective and looked flustered after a first-quarter interception. With just seconds before halftime, Hall was strip-sacked by Preston Smith, and that was it. Nick Mullens finished the game and provided a spark, but the 23-3 deficit proved insurmountable.

The Vikings’ defense did not fare any better. Everything worked for the Packers on offense. One hundred twenty yards for Aaron Jones, 105 yards for Bo Melton, and two touchdowns for Jayden Reed accented Jordan Love’s dismantling of a frequently confused secondary.

Special teams provided one bright spot for the Vikings. Undrafted rookie NaJee Thompson shot toward Samori Toure like a speeding bullet to begin the fourth quarter and recovered the ensuing fumble to set the Vikings up for their only touchdown of the game.

To make the playoffs, the Vikings need quite a bit of help from the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, and either the Atlanta Falcons or the Carolina Panthers. If the Gods shine their light upon Minnesota with this scenario, and the Vikings beat Detroit, they’re in! Nick Mullens will get the start, and while the Lions don’t plan on resting starters, crazier things have happened.

Chicago Bears (7-9)

Week 17 Result: 37-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons (7-9)

Week 18 Opponent: @ Green Bay Packers (8-8)

Two months ago, the path for Chicago seemed obvious: Plod through a miserable season as one of the five worst teams in football, reap the benefits of the Panthers being even worse, and clean house. Along the way, things got more complicated. Since returning from injury, Justin Fields continues to show signs of improvement, and Matt Eberflus’ defense has feasted on weak quarterbacks.

The Bears are now nearing .500, and dare I say, good?! On Sunday against the Falcons, Fields looked closer to the player the Bears envisioned on draft day. He totaled 313 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns to win the Bears’ fifth straight home game. Will the Bears pass up a chance at a cost-controlled rookie quarterback at #1 in favor of the flashes Fields has shown? It may not be wise, but it’s certainly possible!

The Bears’ defense destroyed Taylor Heinicke and Desmond Ridder to the tune of four interceptions. Two takeaways came from Tyrique Stevenson, earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors and setting up a fun matchup against the Offensive Player of the Week, Jordan Love.

The Bears are out of playoff contention but can end the season on a high note this Sunday by knocking the Packers out and retaining bragging rights for at least eight months. Said Fields on Thursday, “Their fans are gonna be loud because there’s not much to do in Green Bay except watch football.” Who doesn’t appreciate a little rivalry fuel?

That’s it for our week 17 recap! Check back next week, when we’ll recap the final standings, the next steps for each team, and whatever general wackiness occurs in the two week 18 divisional matchups.