Well, the time is now. The Packers are visiting the Metrodome this Sunday, and the season is on the line for both teams. At 4-5 the loser will probably only be one game back, as the Chicago Bears host the 8-0 Tennessee Titans this week, but with the season more than half over, inter-division games are vital.
The Minnesota Vikings have a divisional record of 1-2, the Bears 3-0, the Packers 2-0. If Minny loses, they essentially are 2 games behind both teams with seven to play. Minnesota goes to Florida for two road games at Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, before a Sunday Night game against the Bears. The Vikes will need to win tomorrow.
The Pack at .500 played well in their loss at Tennessee. There will be home games against Chicago and Carolina sandwiched around a road game at New Orleans. A win and the Pack are the front-runners for the division. Aaron Rodgers has played well, Ryan Grant starting to heat up.
The Bears have a three game road trip to Green Bay, St. Louis and then Minnesota. Not exactly tough games, two being in domes. But Kyle Orton has left the reins in the hands of Rex Grossman, and this worries any Bears fan. If the Bears have a winning road trip, then they are the team to beat in the North. Maybe.
So, it is another classic in Minnesota. The VIkings have little to offer in 2008. They started with Tarvaris Jackson, now Gus Frerotte at the helm. The running backs tandem of Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson is solid, though not having as good of a year as in 2007. The tackles for Minnesota have been disappointing, and given little protection for the quarterback. The loss of E.J. Henderson the biggest blow. If the Vikings lose both Williams to suspension, there is no hope. Even with them, their unimaginative offense, the poor secondary play, means another year of no playoffs.
Green Bay cannot claim great success. Rodgers, though good most games, is banged up and unable to take his team to a higher level. Grant has struggled far more in 08 than last year, struggling with yards per carry and holding onto the ball. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are playing well, but without a running attack that creates fear, struggle against good defenses versus the pass.
The Chicago Bears found a gold mine in Matt Forte, a surprisingly strong replacement for the departed Cedric Benson, who replaced the missed Thomas Jones. The receivers are adequate, though Devin Hester starting to show signs of fraility. The defense looked good in the beginning of the season, is now showing signs of weakness. Kyle Orton may be the key, how quickly he comes back, and if he can continue his success of 08.
All that means the next few head-to-heads will be crucial. The Vikes, the least likely of these three to succeed, have an opportunity to start right. If they win tomorrow, they could find themselves more than in the thick of this race. And beating the Packers will not be quite as hard as in years past.