+San Francisco 49ers (6-2)- In stark contrast to past .500 playoff teams, the NFC West is this year's strongest division. The 49ers, unfortunately, will have trouble catching the 7-1 Seahawks. A tough schedule ahead and a shaky receiver core, may give San Francisco fits down the stretch. The 49ers current wild card lead may shorten after a tough road trip east, against the Saints and Skins. Colin Kaepernick remains the key to San Francisco's success. Without a true deep threat, the 49ers will have to live by Kaepernick or die by the Kaepernick.
Key Games: host +Carolina Panthers; +New Orleans Saints; host +Seattle Seahawks
+Green Bay Packers (5-2)- Injuries to key players at valued positions could jeopardize Green Bay's longstanding control of the NFC North. Even with the most underrated of the great quarterbacks, +Aaron Rodgers, injuries to Jermichael Finley (TE), Randell Cobb (WR), James Jones (WR), and Clay Matthews (LB) could make for a challenging chase.
The Packers have quietly led the North, but are vulnerable. They lead the Lions by only one game, who they still have to play in Detroit. Unlikely to be the defensive stalemate of their first meeting, Rodgers vs. Megatron on the turf could be the the offensive battle we had hoped for earlier in Green Bay.
A relatively easy schedule down the stretch could mean problems for other teams in the wild card hunt if the Packers lose the division. A strong overall record will give the Packers a strong shot at a wildcard spot.
Key Game: host @+Detroit Lions @+Dallas Cowboys
Detroit's defense, however, could cost them a wildcard spot. Among the league's worst, Detroit's defense is ranked #31 in average yards allowed and #21 in average points allowed. Megatron is a one man wrecking machine, but even with his 329 yd clinic against against Dallas, the Lions still only squeaked out a last second, one point win.
Key Games: @+Chicago Bears; host +Green Bay Packers;
+Carolina Panthers (4-3)- The 6-1 +New Orleans Saints pretty much have the NFC South locked up. Even if Carolina swept the Saints, it likely wouldn't be enough to hijack the division title. The wild card is the only way. The next two weeks will be critical for the Carolina Panthers. Hosting the free-falling Falcons this week, and then on a tough trip west to San Francisco, will be the litmus test for Carolina. The Panthers need to win both of these games, particularly against wild card leading San Francisco, to have a strong playoff shot.
Key Games: - host +Atlanta Falcons ; @+San Francisco 49ers
On the Outside Looking In:
+Chicago Bears (4-3) - Things have looked better for the Bears. The hot 3-0 start cooled after a 1-3 skid, and ended in utter devastation with the losses of quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive leader Lance Briggs. Both are expected to be out for 4-6 weeks. The Bears were going to have a challenging run even with a health Cutler at the helm. The Bears face a brutal three game stretch, going to Green Bay, and then hosting the Lions and Ravens. Even if they had Cutler, the Bears may have gone 1-3 in this stretch, dropping them to 5-6 overall. With Josh McCown manning the ship for the next month, the Bears will certainly go 1-3 and likely 0-3 while Cutler is gone, leaving them too far behind for Trestman tutored Cutler to get the Bears back in the hunt.
Even the quarterback coaching genius Marc Trestman will have problems keeping the ship floating with Josh McCown at center. Best described by the Chicago Tribune, "It's hard to find rosy scenarios for Bears."
Key Games: @+Green Bay Packers; host +Detroit Lions
*Right now we find it hard for any NFC East team to make a wild card run. Look for only one team to come out of the East.
Current Division Leaders:
+Green Bay Packers
+New Orleans Saints
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