Lost amid the hoopla of the Packers' reclaiming the Lombardi Trophy was the fact that the NFC North crown actually resides 3½ hours south with the rival Bears, whom the Pack bounced in the conference title game in Chicago, Green Bay's third straight road playoff win. To win the division this year, the Packers must again take care of business out of town: From Week 2 to Week 13 they play seven of 11 games on the road, including trips to all three division foes. Chicago has it no easier, opening against a trio of playoff teams (Atlanta, at New Orleans, Green Bay) and sandwiching its bye with road games against the rising Buccaneers and Michael Vick's Eagles.
As the Lions seek to climb into contention, they could benefit from hosting most of their stiffest early competition (Chiefs, Bears, Falcons) at Ford Field while traveling for winnable games in Minnesota, Dallas and Denver. Green Bay looks to be the class of the division this year, but if the race tightens, the final week—with Detroit heading to Lambeau Field and the rebuilding Vikings hosting Chicago—will be tense.
Eight great matchups involving NFC North teams
WEEK 1 at Thursday, Sept. 8
September 4, 2011
The season kicks off with last two Super Bowl winners. Don't expect the Saints to pile up 51 points as they did in their last meeting, in '08.
WEEK 1 at Sunday, Sept. 11
Last season the Bucs turned from potential to kinetic en route to 10 wins. Detroit likes that model and is trying to do the same.
WEEK 5 at Sunday, Oct. 9
Donovan McNabb meets his former understudy Kevin Kolb as both teams try to return to their 2009 playoff form.
WEEK 9 at Monday, Nov. 7
The Bears, who edged Philly by five last November, will have two weeks to prep for a Monday with the off-season's It team.
WEEK 13 at Sunday, Dec. 4
In a road game between home dates with Green Bay and Minnesota, the young Lions will be tested by a perennial contender.
WEEK 15 at Sunday, Dec. 18
For its third away date in four weeks, the Pack faces the reigning AFC West champs before a pair of season-ending division battles.
WEEK 16 at Saturday, Dec. 24
If he can delay the start of the Ponder era, McNabb will face off against the team that traded him five months earlier.
WEEK 16 at Sunday, Dec. 25
Can Jay Cutler—the kid from Santa Claus, Ind.—deliver Christmas joy to the Bears, or will Chicago have coal in its stocking?