With every short pass from Brett Hundley, every drive that ended in a field goal or a punt and every lingering shot of Aaron Rodgers standing on the sideline, it seemed like the Green Bay Packers were falling farther from anything resembling contention.
The N.F.C. North is far from having been decided, but after Green Bay’s 30-17 loss at home to the Detroit Lions on Monday night, the Lions certainly seem to have the better chance of challenging the Minnesota Vikings for division supremacy. And if the Packers continue to tumble and slip out of playoff contention, they might not even feel the need to bring Rodgers back once he is eligible to return in Week 15 from the injured reserve, where he landed after breaking his collarbone on Oct. 15.
For now, the North is Minnesota’s division to lose. At 6-2 and riding a four-game winning streak, the Vikings are two games ahead of both Detroit and Green Bay. The Upshot’s Playoff Simulator gives the Vikings a 65 percent chance of winning the division. But last season showed that a hot start by the Vikings does not guarantee much, as their 5-0 start to the season was undercut by a 3-8 finish, leaving the Packers and Lions to fight for the division crown on the final day of the regular season (the Packers won out).
When breaking down the three contenders, the biggest argument for the Lions is their quarterback stability. Matthew Stafford, who has not missed a game since 2010, is a true franchise quarterback (with a salary commensurate of such a distinction) who has a knack for late-game heroics. On Monday he did not need another of his signature comebacks, as he completed 26 of 33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns in his team’s blowout win.
The win was just Detroit’s second victory in Green Bay since the start of the 1992 season (a span of 27 games).
The Packers are in dire straits with Hundley, who was rarely asked to throw the ball more than five yards on Monday night, but they at least have the benefit of having a long-term plan at quarterback (hint: It’s Rodgers). The same cannot be said of the Vikings, who have a complicated quarterback controversy on their hands.
Case Keenum has performed well in Sam Bradford’s absence, but he will soon be challenged for the starting role not just by Bradford, who is working his way back from a knee injury, but also by Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings’ former starter who has missed the last 24 regular season games after a devastating knee injury in the 2016 preseason.