This is the time of year when the NFL really yanks the hook in the mouth of all football fans. Thursday Night football starts, so that’s one additional game per week that I’m compelled to watch. Plus, particularly on a bye week, I end up with NFL Red Zone on from 10 AM to 4 PM – followed up by Sunday Night Football. Then, of course, there’s the Monday Night game. By any measure, that’s a lot of football – 5 full games worth, over one-third of all the games played. Luckily, the NFL hasn’t yet figured out a way to schedule games sequentially, or I’d watch every single one. I’m ashamed to admit, I caught some of the Lions-Bills game today in a desperate attempt to fill the void in my life left by the Packers' bye week.
As I pawed pathetically at the remote control in the fits of heavy withdrawal symptoms, I realized there was at least a silver lining to this week’s bye: the Vikings lost. At first, I couldn’t decide who to root for in the Vikings-Bears game. A Bears win would pull them even with the Packers for first in the NFC North. But I just can’t get enough of the miserable melt-down that is the Vikings season. Favre’s three interceptions today may have deep-sixed any chance the Vikings had at making the playoffs. And their injury situation got worse, with Bernard Berrian pulling his groin before the game and Percy Harvin spraining an ankle. Sidney Rice is still on the PUP as well. The Packers have the chance to almost certainly eliminate the Vikings from the post-season with a win next weekend.
The bye week went well in other ways as well. The resurgent Cowboys beat the Giants – which could help in terms of playoff seeding. It would be great if the Cowboys can do some late-season damage to the NFC East. Right now, the Falcons are the only NFC team standing at 7-2, although they almost lost to the Ravens today.
In addition to watching other games and organizing my sock drawer today, I had time to think about the remaining 7 games of the season. The Packers return from the bye with a very tough stretch of 4 out of the next 5 games on the road. Here are my prognostications for the remainder of the regular season:
- @ Minnesota – always a very tough game. The Vikings have been reeling, but they’ll be fighting for their lives next weekend. Plus, they will be in the dome and we’ll need to listen to that God-forsaken horn the entire time. A win could put a fork in the Vikings, and I think we’re going to get it in a close one. Prediction: Win 24-21.
- @ Atlanta – the Falcons are playing well, and we always seem to crap the bed in domes. This could be a showdown for a first-round bye in the playoffs. If the Packers can win it, they will be in the driver’s seat. But I think it just escapes them in a shootout. Prediction: Lose 35-28.
- San Francisco – the 49ers got a scrappy win today, but they just aren’t that good. Should be a relatively easy win at home. Prediction: Win 31-14.
- @ Detroit – I keep thinking Detroit is better than their record indicates, and then they go and lose to the Bills. Their will should be largely sapped by this point in the season, if it’s not already. Got to believe we roll them up pretty good, even on their home court. Prediction: Win 27-17.
- @ New England – after handily beating the Steelers tonight, I’m starting to believe the Patriots are actually as good as their record. Tom Brady is riding a 24-game home winning streak, and they will be very hard to beat in Foxborough. Prediction: Lose 17-14.
- New York Giants – seem to be a very streaky team. They may have a lot to play for in the tight NFC East, and can roll with anyone when they’re hot. I hope we get them on a day like they played today against the Cowboys, and I’m betting we manage to pull this one out against Eli and company. Prediction: Win 28-20
- Chicago – I keep waiting for Jay Cutler to lead the Bears on an epic, multi-game meltdown, but they demonstrated today that they could stick around. Still, my guess is that this game won’t matter in the outcome of the NFC North. The Bears have a very tough schedule, with games against Miami, Philadelphia, New England, Minnesota, and NY Jets between now and then. Even if this game does decide the NFC North, I expect the Packers to get it done at home in the final game of the regular season. Prediction: Win 20-14.
For those of you still paying attention, that’s a 5-2 run to finish out the season at 11-5 – same record as last year. But this year that should be enough to win the NFC North, and possibly even earn them a first-round bye in the playoffs. Being first or second seed in the playoffs could prove essential, as the third and fourth seed will most likely have to host someone good like the Giants/Eagles or Falcons/Saints in the first-round game. But there's a lot of work left before we worry too much about that. It's a tough last seven games, but if they can really pull through with 5 or 6 wins, they will be battle tested against quality opponents and well-poised for a playoff run.