Six weeks ago I’d resigned myself to watching a losing season of young players developing and a consolation prize of a high pick in next year’s draft. I even started watching some college games to familiarize myself with potential picks. And that’s saying a lot because I do not like college football.
Then came the first Detroit victory and I’m like, yeah, well, it was Detroit. But when we beat the Giants with no touchdowns on offense, you had to be impressed. With the win at Green Bay with time expiring–again–you started to think, yeah, well, maybe this could work.
While coach Mike Tice is telling anyone who will listen not to look ahead, it’s an admonition only the players need to heed–and they do need to heed it–not you and I. So let’s look ahead.
If the Minnesota Vikings don’t look ahead to Pittsburg the following week, they should have an easy time of it against the Rams on Sunday. The Rams are a battered team playing with a rookie seventh-round quaterback. They apparently can’t muster enough run support to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick. Last week against the Redskins, Rams running back Steven Jackson gained a measly 24 yards on 11 carries.
The team is just as battered on the opposite side of the ball. Starting linebacker Dexter Coakley dislocated his ankle and broke his leg last week, landing him on the IR and ending his season. Former Viking linebacker Chris Claiborne has been a disappointing offseason free agent acquisition for the Rams, contributing little thus far this. Strong safety Adam Archuleta will return to the lineup after missing two games because of a concussion but cornerback Travis Fisher‘s season is probably over with a groin injury that exacerbates an already thin secondary, depleted because starting corner Jerametrius Butler is already on IR.
The Redskins had two one hundred yard rushers against the Rams last Sunday. Two.
So the offense can’t run and the defense can’t stop the run. All this and they’ve got an interim head coach running the show.
If the Vikings can’t beat the Rams at home…well, c’mon.
The Bears, meanwhile, go to Pittsburg on Sunday without the services of starting safety Mike Brown and starting right guard Terrence Metcalf and with a brewing quarterback controversy on their hands. Kyle Orton has played unspectacular and unproductive but largely mistake-free football while riding an eight game winning streak. Rex Grossman, the talented but fragile QB the front office apparently still believes to be their future, is getting healthier by the minute and has just been promoted to the number two postion.
Don’t look over your shoulder, Kyle. Can Orton handle that pressure and the Steelers at the same time? We’ll see.
The Steelers are not looking like their usual badass selves of late–they’ve apparently lost the ability to run–but it’s not implausible that they could find their running game against the Bears. Or the Steelers tough D matches the Bears D and it’s up to which quarterback makes the fewest mistakes. I’ll put my money on Roethlisberger.
This week we could very well gain a game on the Bears.
The following week we’ve got Pittsburg, at home. If we’re lucky, the Bears will have beat them bloody in a losing effort so we get to play a Steelers team hobbled from the week before. Even so, Pittsburg is not so formidable anymore. The Bears, meanwhile, host an Atlanta Falcons team that ain’t all that anymore but still has enough talent to potentially beat the Bears.
In Week 16 we travel to Baltimore to play a punchless–and now, Ray Lewisless–Ravens team. That’s a win, if, again, the Vikings do not look past them to Chicago. The Bears have to travel to Lambeau Field to play the Packers who, despite having a horrible season, have been very close in nearly every game this year. NFC North teams always play each other tough. I could see the Bears losing in Green Bay.
That sets up our final game of the season in Week 17 when we host the Bears for a game that will possibly–dare I say probably?–decide the NFC North. The good news is they have to play in the Dome and, with the title on the line, the crowd noise will be deafening. It is a distinct advantage that can usually screw up one or two drives a game for the visitors.
If Grossman is the starter by then, all we need to do is tackle him a few times to get Orton back in the lineup. The defense has been improving weekly so by then it’s possible we could be hitting on all cylinders. That would leave it up to the quarterbacks, and I’ll take Brad Johnson‘s veteran savvy and smart game management over any quaterback Chicago cares to throw at us.
And, voila! There you have it: Vikings, Division Winners.