GREEN BAY, Wis. — The NFC North is exactly what the NFL had in mind when it backloaded the schedule with division games.
The top three teams — the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings — are all still very much alive in the playoff hunt. Better yet, with only two games separating the teams and four games left between them, no one is anywhere close to clinching the division title.
“They count as double,” Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said. “Everyone is a game ahead or a game behind, so each game is going to be very important.”
Taking a tip from baseball and its captivating pennant races, the NFL began stacking division games at the end of the season last year. Oh, there would still be the occasional team that would run away with its division, wrap things up before the calendar hit December (yes, Denver and Atlanta, we’re talking about you). But most teams would still be in the thick of it, making the games in the final month of the season more meaningful — and more exciting.
A win one week, and a team could be on top the division. A loss the next, and they’re scrambling for the wild card. What’s not to love about that?
“That’s why they structure it like that,” Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “It’s like we’re in the playoffs right now.”
Not that the NFC North needed any help making its matchups more riveting.
The NFC North rivalries have never been what you’d describe as friendly. Oh, the atmosphere is mellower than when Curly Lambeau and George Halas refused to shake hands after their games. But the teams are too close in proximity and have too much history to be just another week on the schedule.
“It’s the Vikings,” Pickett said of Green Bay’s game today. “And we don’t like the Vikings.”