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NFC North Week 15 recap: Bears clinch division, Packers eliminated

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Week 15 proved decisive for the NFC North teams.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings thrash Dolphins to stay in playoff hunt, win 41-17

The Minnesota Vikings scored early and often against the Miami Dolphins, showcasing their rushing attack and talented defense en route to a 41-17 dismantling. The Vikings scored three touchdowns in the first quarter, courtesy of a Stefon Diggs 13-yard reception, a Dalvin Cook 13-yard run, and a Latavius Murray 18-yard run. The Dolphins would score 17 unanswered points afterwards—10 in the second quarter and 7 in the third quarter—but that was all they could muster on the day as the Vikings pulled away on the back of two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Cook had a monster game, racking up 136 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Fellow running back Murray also had an effective game on the ground, rushing for 68 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown.

Kirk Cousins had a modest game, going 14-for-21 for 215 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, which was returned for a touchdown by Dolphins’ rookie safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Cousins now has three-straight games with fewer than 300 passing yards.

Sitting at 7-6-1, the Vikings are clinging to the sixth seed in the NFC. The 8-6 Seattle Seahawks have the fifth seed, while Washington (7-7), the Philadelphia Eagles (7-7) and the Carolina Panthers (6-8) are on the outside fighting for those Wild Card spots.

The Vikings’ remaining games are all against NFC North opponents: first up will be the Detroit Lions, followed by the Chicago Bears to finish the season.

Next game: @ Lions (5-9)

Bears secure division title and playoff berth, Packers eliminated in 24-17 loss

Bears

The Chicago Bears have reached the playoffs for the first time since 2010, when they also won the division title. Their defense has been critical to their success this season, and Sunday’s game against the Packers once again illustrated their dominance. The Bears defense recorded five sacks and an interception, all while limiting the Packers offense to 17 points—which came on three field goals and a two-point conversion after a Jamaal Williams touchdown run.

Mitchell Trubisky had a decent rebound performance after a disastrous three-interception game against the Los Angeles Rams—albeit a game they still won. Trubisky had another modest yardage total of 235 yards, but he added two touchdowns while completing 20-of-28 passes. Five different receivers had over 30 yards receiving: Allen Robinson (three catches for 54 yards), Adam Shaheen (two for 39), Trey Burton (four for 36 and a touchdown), Taylor Gabriel (three for 33), and Tarik Cohen (five for 31 and a touchdown).

Jordan Howard ran for 60 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, while Cohen added 21 yards on five carries.

On defense, Eddie Jackson recorded the lone interception. Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd combined for 5.5 sacks.

The Bears are currently the No. 3 seed in the NFC, trailing the 12-2 New Orleans Saints and the 11-3 Los Angeles Rams, while sitting ahead of the NFC East-leading 8-6 Dallas Cowboys. Chicago finishes the season against the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings.

Next game: @ 49ers (4-10)

Packers

After firing head coach Mike McCarthy following their Week 13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-20 to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Chicago ended those dreams Sunday with a victory over the Packers. This will mark the first time Green Bay has missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2005 and 2006.

Aaron Rodgers had a quiet game, completing 25-of-42 passes for 274 yards and an interception. Davante Adams had eight catches for 119 yards, putting him over 1,300 yards on the season. Adams has been the Packers’ best weapon this season, as the next closest receivers are Jimmy Graham with 581 yards and Marquez Valdes-Scantling with 463 yards.

Another key weapon for the Packers suffered an injury against the Bears. Running back Aaron Jones suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and did not return. He was placed on the injured reserve on Tuesday, though it remains to be seen if this was precautionary since the Packers were eliminated.

The Packers remaining schedule includes an away game versus the New York Jets and a final home game against the Detroit Lions to wrap up the 2018 season.

Next game: @ Jets (4-10)

NFC North Week 15 Standings

1. Chicago Bears (10-4)

2. Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1)

3. Green Bay Packers (5-8-1)

4. Detroit Lions (5-9)

At this point, the division has basically been decided. All that remains is whether or not the Vikings squeak into the playoffs and whether the Lions or Packers will finish at the bottom of the division. In the past, the month of December has been critical to the outcome of the NFC North. Suddenly, all that matters is draft position.