Monday, November 4, 2013

Why I'm Rooting For The Packers Tonight

I love the bye week. It's one of the few weeks of the year I can watch football 100% stress-free*. I can sit back and watch the game with little-to-no rooting interests and just marvel at the wonders of my favorite game in the world. I can watch with glee as Dallas chokes the game away against a poor Minnesota team. And I can feel just as good when Tony Romo pulls the team back in improbable fashion.

But tonight's Monday Night Football game is a bit different. The game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears has huge playoff implications for the NFC North. The Packers sit atop the division with a 5-2 record, with Detroit a half game back at 5-3 and the Bears just behind them at 4-3. A Packers win puts them a full game ahead of the Lions, and two ahead of the Bears. While a Chicago victory creates (essentially) a three-way tie for the division lead.

A wide majority of Lions fans are pulling for the Bears to win tonight. Just look at this poll by the official Detroit Lions twitter account:
For those that aren't twitter-literate (twitterlate?), the amount of "favorites" represents those pulling for Chicago, and the amount of "retweets" represent those hoping for a Packers victory.

I think most Lions fans are being short-sighted. Sure a Bears win would put the Lions at a tie for the division lead, but, overall, a Chicago victory is more harmful for the Lions' playoff chances. I think a Packers win would be the best possible outcome tonight (outside of a tie).

Let's start with the Packers. Green Bay looks to be the best team in the division. They are ranked in the top five in three of the four major dimensions of the game (pass offense, run offense, run defense). They are an extremely well-rounded team, and despite their injuries, have been racking up wins lately. They are on a four-game winning streak, including two games on the road. They have the highest point differential in the NFC North by a huge margin. By all means, they should win the division. It also helps that they have the second-easiest schedule remaining, according to Pride of Detroit. While the Lions have the easiest schedule remaining, it's hard to imagine them keeping pace with Green Bay.

If the Packers were to lose this game, the Lions would pull to an even record with Packers. However, they would almost have to beat the Packers on Thanksgiving to keep the edge. With a Thanksgiving win, the Lions would gain a game on Green Bay, and also tie up the head-to-head tie-breaker with the Packers, having lost to them earlier in the year. But with a Thanksgiving loss, the Lions would fall a game back, and also lose the tie-breaker to Packers. They could still be two games behind the Packers, despite the Bears winning the game tonight. I don't want to count Thanksgiving as a loss for Detroit already, but the Packers have won 15 of their last 16 games against the Lions.

And a Chicago victory could be disastrous in terms of the Lions' matchup with the Bears. If the Bears win tonight and defeat Detroit at Solider field next week, Chicago would then be a game ahead of Detroit, putting the Lions in a huge hole to crawl out of. Sure, a Lions win in Chicago would push the Bears two games behind (one by record, another by tiebreaker), but the Lions haven't won in Chicago since 2007. It won't be easy.

The advantage of a Packers victory would be much bigger for the Lions. The Bears are a bit of an enigmatic team. They seem to have lost their strong defensive identity but are improving on the offensive side of the ball. Injuries and inconsistencies have made them a terribly hard team to predict. They beat an impressive Bengals team, but they barely got by the lowly Vikings at home, and dropped a game in Washington. They've got about the same amount of talent as the Lions, but they have yet to play to their potential.

A Bears loss would be huge for the Lions. With a loss, the Bears would fall to a full game behind Detroit heading into their week 10 matchup in Chicago. That would mean that even with a victory over the Lions, Chicago would only be tied with Detroit at 5-4 with the tiebreaker still pending.

And, even better, if the Bears lose tonight, then lose to the Lions next week, that essentially buries Chicago for good. The Lions would then be 6-3, with the Bears at a lowly 4-5, plus the Lions would have the tiebreaker over Chicago. That puts the Lions three games ahead of the Bears with only seven weeks left. That's a high mountain for Chicago to climb, espeically considering the Lions' easy schedule.

And in that scenario, the Lions are a mere one game behind the Packers (assuming Green Bay defeats the Eagles next week). If the Lions are truly going to compete for the division, they'll need to beat the Packers on Thanksgiving regardless of what happens tonight. In this scenario, that win would potentially bring them to a draw with Green Bay. If the Lions are good enough to do that, they are good enough to win the division without the Bears' help tonight.

So let me boil this down into simpler terms:

If the Bears win: The Lions get a better crack at the division, but still need to beat the Packers on Thanksgiving to give themselves a shot. Meanwhile, a subsequent loss to the Bears would give the Lions an uphill battle to catch even a wild card spot.

If the Packers win: The Lions create a little space between themselves and the Bears. That lowers the stakes slightly for the game next week at Soldier Field. A win against Chicago basically puts the Bears in the rear view mirror for good, while a loss creates a virtual tie between the teams. And though a Packers victory pushes the Lions further away from a division crown, they would still have an opportunity to make up that ground on Thanksgiving (a game the Lions likely need to win either way to claim the division title).

It's also worth noting that the NFC is going to be a tough conference to come out of. At the moment the Panthers, Eagles, Bears, Lions and Cardinals are all in close contention for that final wild card spot. That's another reason why I believe burying a team like the Bears as early as possible would benefit Detroit most.

I understand fans wanting the Lions to contend for the division. They have never won the NFC North, and the last time they won any division was 1993. But my priority is to just get into the playoffs. Get into the tournament and anything can happen. A Bears win gives the Lions the best chance to get into the postseason.

So...go Packers. Ugh.

*what is college football?

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