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Around the NFC North: Week 15

The NFC North is on the cusp of sending two teams to the playoffs with two weeks to go. Here's what went down in Week 15 of the NFC North.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings beat Bears, 38-17

The Vikings took a big step towards sealing a playoff spot, easily dispatching the Bears at home on Sunday.

Teddy Bridgewater followed up a nice game in Arizona with his best game of the season, throwing for a career high four touchdowns and adding another one on the ground. He threw just three incompletions on his 20 attempts, finishing with 231 yards. Adrian Peterson led the rushing game with 18 carries but had just 63 yards. He also had an injury scare where he had to briefly leave the game with an ankle injury.  He was able to return so it isn't likely to be an issue going forward. In relief of Peterson, Jerick McKinnon did little on the ground, but the led the team with 76 yards receiving and a touchdown. Stefon Diggs also had two scores on his three catches.

The Bears offense struggled for most of the day, even though the Vikings’ defense was without starters Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, and Linval Joseph. Jay Cutler averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt and was sacked five times. He also threw an interception and lost a fumble, both of which led to Vikings’ touchdowns. Matt Forte had the most success on offense, rushing for 5.9 yards a carry on eight attempts, as well as catching six passes for 57 yards. Alshon Jeffery was held to just one catch, though it was for a touchdown.

Takeaway

The Vikings played about as well as they could on offense, and responded nicely after two straight losses against two likely playoff teams. Bridgewater has looked a lot better his last two weeks and given some hope that the offense can both survive and play well on days where Peterson isn’t able to dominate. The Vikings still are not officially locked into a playoff spot yet, but it would take them and Seattle losing out with the Falcons winning out for them to miss, an unlikely scenario. The biggest concern right now has to be getting healthy, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

The Bears were officially eliminated from the playoffs this week (I’m sure you all thought they still had a chance), capping off a three-game losing streak with one of their worst performances of the season. The Vikings’ defense was missing its three best players and the Bears still struggled to do anything on offense. While Bridgewater has played better recently, the Bears’ defense sure made him look great on Sunday as well. After winning in Green Bay, it had seemed like the Bears’ had a chance to threaten for a playoff spot, but they have completely fallen apart these last three weeks.

Up next (Bears): The Bears will play the Buccaneers in Tampa next Sunday, as they face-off against former head coach Lovie Smith.

Up next (Vikings): The Vikings take on the Giants at home next Sunday night as they look to seal their playoff spot.

Packers defeat Raiders, 30-20

The Packers maintained a one-game lead over the Vikings with a road win in Oakland on Sunday and have officially locked up a playoff spot.

It definitely wasn’t the prettiest game the Packers have played this year, as the offense accrued less than 300 total yards. Aaron Rodgers threw for just 204 yards on 5.2 yards per attempt. He connected with James Jones on a 30-yard score for his lone touchdown pass, and also threw one interception. The running game struggled as well, tallying just 3.7 yards per carry with James Starks losing one fumble.

Defensively, the Packers forced two interceptions, including one that rookie Damarious Randall returned for a touchdown. Derek Carr struggled similarly to Rodgers through the air, averaging just 5.9 yards per attempt. Amari Cooper led all receivers in the game with 120 yards and two touchdowns, as he crossed the 1,000 yard mark in his rookie season. Latavius Murray was the only running back to carry the ball for Oakland, rushing for 78 yards on 21 carries.

Takeaway

The Packers didn’t actually need a win to clinch a playoff spot, as the Giants loss to Carolina did that, but the win kept them at a one-game lead for the division. A win next week and a loss by the Vikings would win them the division; otherwise they will need to beat the Vikings when they come to Lambeau in Week 17.

The Packers have strung three straight wins together after losing four of five, but the team is far from wiping away the previous concerns. The offense still doesn’t seem to be in sync, and Eddie Lacy went for just 23 yards on 11 carries after seemingly finding his stride in the previous weeks. Still, the Packers will make their seventh-straight playoff appearance, as well as their sixth season of double digit wins in seven years. Hard to do too much complaining with success like that.

Up next: The Packers play at Arizona next Sunday afternoon, in a preview of a potential divisional round playoff game.