Next up: the NFC Central! (Please click picture below for full Excel schedule breakdown):
* Final Order of Finish:
1. Chicago Bears
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Detroit Lions
4. Minnesota Vikings
* First Read: fit EXACTLY what I thought would happen. (Unlike my NFC South first read, and hang on – we’re going there next). I LOVE the Bears entering this season. (Which means you probably want to bet heavily on Green Bay or Detroit. After all, I offer up my predictions as a “fair warning” to the gambling public, as a guide on who not to wager on.)
* Biggest Game(s): Packers at Bears was the ultimate decider of the division, but what really swung the division was the Seahawks – namely, the Bears got them in Chicago to open December (brrrrrr!), while the Pack had to go out there in prime time in late September.
* Seems Wacky: wait, how in the name of God did I have Minnesota sitting at 6-4 at their bye? The answer? Look at that schedule. It’s CAKE through week 10. If you’re looking for this year’s “where the hell did they come from?!?!” SHOCK playoff contender entering December? Again – LOOK AT THAT SCHEDULE! You could put Tyler Palko under center and win at least 4. With a decent option in Christian Ponder (who I like, by the way … albeit not in “that way”. Not that there’s ANYTHING wrong with that (rimshot!))? Absolutely 6-4 is doable, and 7-3 isn’t a crack pipe dream. But the finish … YIKES. 4 of 6 on the road, 5 of 6 against credible playoff threats, 4 of 6 against the two powerhouses in your division. Someone at NFL Headquarters hates the Vikings. (Which means you know we’re getting one HELLUVA awesome “fuck you Goodell!” column out of Drew Magary on Deadspin at some point before September 7th …)
* Division (Home) Uniform Rankings: and yes, I am taking EXTREME liberties here with who “wins” the contest …
1. Detroit Lions (75th anniversary throwback)
2. Chicago Bears
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Minnesota Vikings.
Reason: there has NEVER been a uniform I loved more than the 1994 75th NFL anniversary uniforms the Lions wore. NEVER. (Although a damned photo-finish close second? Is winning the AFC West rankings, and here’s a hint: it ain’t the Chiefs.) I LOVED the dark blue with the dark grey lettering and numbers, with the dark grey pants and dark blue socks (with dark grey shoes) to boot. Put it this way: when Scott Mitchell looks respectable? You’ve got a winner in town. And there’s NEVER been a better winner in NFL uniforms, than the Lions 75th anniversary throwback.
The other three are all perfectly acceptable – but nowhere NEAR as epic as the Lions anniversary look.
* Division MVP: Christian Ponder, Vikings. Yeah, I’m taking the QB of the last place team as your divisional MVP. Why? Because I have them sitting at 6-4 entering their bye! I don’t care what the “stars” of the division are expected to do – NOBODY expects the Vikings to be decent for 2/3rds of the season (other than me). If God (and Roger Goodell) didn’t hate the Vikings, and didn’t schedule 5 of their toughest 6 games of the season at the end of the schedule, maybe Mr. Ponder would get more year-end appreciation than he’s going to get.
* Division Coach / Year: Lovie Smith, Bears. A brief spoiler alert: I have the Bears with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the second time in Lovie’s tenure, and I have them hosting the NFC title game for the third time in his tenure. That is, respective, two and three more times than the Chiefs can say that since I graduated from college, and my 15th anniversary awaits in less than 20 months. Hell, I’ve waited this long to drop it: (fake enthusiasm voice) ain’t we lucky we got ‘em, good times.
* Song from Mixology 2012 To Describe Each Team:
Chicago Bears: “Downfall” by TRUST Company. Enjoy this season Bears fans – your “downfall” is about six months away.
Green Bay Packers: “North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton. Because it’s the only place in the world colder than a playoff game at Lambeau Field.
Detroit Lions: “Going Under” by Evanescence. Probably should have saved this for the NFC South loser, to be honest … but the Lions will be the NFC’s second biggest underachiever … behind said NFC South loser.
Minnesota Vikings: “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen. This is your NFC North team on the rise. They’ll show flashes of what 2013 and beyond holds this year, and will be squarely in the wildcard race entering December. “Come on up for the rising!”
* Bottom Line: the ONLY projection from the NFC I even have a 2/1000ths of a second moment of hesitation on, is the Lions. That 4 out of 5 on the road stretch in November, I have burying them. (I have them 0 for the road in that stretch.) If they win as favorites in Jacksonville and Minnesota? They’re squarely in the middle of the race for the last wildcard. It’s not WHO you play, its WHEN you play them. And dropping 4 of 5 on the road in “moving month” of the season, hurts, big time.
* Final Prediction: the Bears will actively seek to trade Jay Cutler this offseason after yet another meltdown at home in January. And (please, Christ, NO!!!) the Chiefs will be actively involved in attempting to acquire him.
Up next, your NFC South projections, which damned near caused my laptop to set itself on fire trying to figure out the three way tie for first ... and more specifically, the "wait, STRENGTH OF VICTORY MATTERS?!?!?!?!" tiebreaker not employed in 30 years in the NFL for second ...