Have at It: Predicting the NFC North title

Leave it to TDbuddah to boil down this week's "Have at It" debate. As you know, I asked you to project the 2010 NFC North champion.

TDbuddah: "The team with the most wins. Got any more brain busters?"

Yes. How about this one: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? (Oh wait, different category. Oh well.)

Many of you scoffed at the question, comparing the Green Bay Packers' recent ascension to the uneven Chicago Bears and the near-eliminated Minnesota Vikings. "This has to be one of the easier 'Have At Its' yet," wrote Vikes_Mike. "Unless something drastic changes for each of the teams, the Packers will win the division fairly easily. The Bears seem to be in free fall, and it's doubtful the Vikings will put it together enough to make a run at a Wild Card slot, let alone to catch the Packers."

"This is not rocket science," wrote Oaktoon. "One team is on the brink of elimination with a 41-year-old QB who is somewhere around 30th best in the league this year, two aging lines, a dysfunctional coach-player situation. Another is 5-3 but could/should just as easily be 3-5 and has a horrific offensive line protecting a jittery QB who also has a dysfunctional relationship with a key coach.

"And the third-- despite a spate of potentially devastating injuries-- is 6-3 with a solid and stable QB, the best defensive player in the league and (newsflash!!) the best points differential margin in the entire NFL. I know you want to drive up interest, Viking Blogger Mr. Kevin, but this is open and shut."

Not everyone agrees with you, Oaktoon. Arkhighhogs19 thinks the division leader will be decided in the next two weeks as the Vikings face the Bears and Packers in consecutive weeks.

"If the Vikings can beat the Bears, I think the race comes down to who wins the Packers-Vikings game, because if the Vikings win they have a rather easy schedule the rest of the way and they would only be one game back. ... Plus with Sidney Rice coming back and Brett playing like he has the last 2 weeks, it could be very interesting to watch."

Here's how Green2theGold lays it out: "If Green Bay wins in Minnesota next week, it's going to be extremely tough for the Vikings to win the division. GB will be 7-3, and MN will either be 3-7 or 4-6. Let's say MN does beat Chicago, (forgetting the 8-game road skid...), and then lose to the Pack. At 4-6, they'd be 3 full games behind the Packers, and they'd be losing the tiebreaker. So they'd have to make up 4 games in the final six. They'd have to go 6-0 and the Packers would have to go 2-4, or 5-1 with GB at 1-5 or 4-2 with GB at 0-6. Basically, the Vikings have to beat the Bears on the road, then the streaking Packers coming off their bye to even have a prayer."

Agreed. It's going to be a tough haul for the Vikings regardless. But I was surprised at how little love the Bears got in this discussion, especially considering the way their defense played for most of the first half and how close their record is to the Packers'. Beckdawg_83 thinks many people wrote off the Bears from a national perspective following their prime-time loss to the New York Giants. If so, that's short-sighted: "If the Bears offense comes out of hibernation they are going to be a tough team to beat, because except for Washington they haven't done much to beat themselves. And in a weak NFC this season that is apparently enough. But, I can't say I'm surprised no one gives them any respect. I said if they lost to NYG in prime time this would happen. In the national media's eyes the Bears are a fluke. And maybe that's a good thing for them. Just us against the world and all that."

CaptObtuse represented many of your anti-Bears thoughts: "I really don't see the Bears having much of a chance. Looking at the first half of the season, they have had by far the easiest schedule in the league. Their opponents are a combined 24-41 (37%). They've beaten 2-6 Detroit, 1-7 Dallas, 1-7 Carolina, and 0-8 Buffalo, plus 6-3 Green Bay. They've lost to 4-4 Seattle and 4-4 Washington, plus the 6-2 Giants. Their remaining schedule is among the toughest in the league, with opponents currently at 35-30 (54%), including Philadelphia (5-3), New England and the Jets (both 6-2), and Green Bay again at Lambeau."

My take? Before you read any further, consider that I'm the guy who predicted last year at midseason that the 4-4 Bears had a better chance at making the playoffs than the 4-4 Packers. I think we know how that turned out.

With that said, the Bears' tough schedule is real and undeniable. The good news for them is that they've already defeated the Packers once and don't have a loss yet in the division, an important tiebreaker component. A victory Sunday over the Vikings would put the Bears at the top of the division with seven games to play.

The Packers, however, will have had two weeks to revitalize a few of their injured players and certainly seem to have found the right combination of scheme and personnel on both sides of the ball. I realize many Vikings fans are holding out hope for a second-half run, and while their team remains capable of that from a pure talent standpoint, there isn't much first-half evidence to base that hope on.

Sitting here on Nov. 12, I'm putting my eggs in the same basket I have since May: the Packers'.