Cincinatti — Viewed through the prism of any National Football League divisional race ever, the Green Bay Packers would be deader than a doornail.
They're off to a 1-5 start.
They will be distinct underdogs in their next three games against the Cincinnati Bengals today, the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday and then the Atlanta Falcons on the Sunday after that.
And Javon Walker and Ahman Green, rated in the Journal Sentinel seven weeks ago as the third- and fourth-most important players on their roster, each has suffered a season-ending injury.
Many of you think the Packers should: a) start thinking about whom to hire as their next coach; b) start thinking about whom to draft with what looks to be a high, high pick; or c) just start rebuilding, the sooner the better.
Now I don't expect to convince any of you otherwise. Bleak's bleak, and I will grant you that by almost every barometer this is as bleak as it has been around here since before Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre arrived within four months of each another back in 1991-92.
But guess what? The Packers still have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs as champions of the NFC North for the fourth year in a row.
Throw out all conventional wisdom on this one. This is uncharted water. Never before has a team won a division title with a losing record. My guess is 7-9 could win the NFC North, but there is perhaps an even better chance that 6-10 will do the trick on the basis of tiebreakers.
Packers, Bears, Lions and Vikings. None of them are worth a darn. But, remember, you don't have to be worth a darn in the NFC North this season.
For the sake of argument, here's a stab at how the final 10 weeks will play out in the NFC North.
Chicago (3-3, 2-0 in the division): Win at Detroit, lose at New Orleans, win over San Francisco, lose to Carolina, lose at Tampa Bay, lose to Green Bay, lose at Pittsburgh, lose to Atlanta, lose at Green Bay and lose at Minnesota. Final record: 5-11.
Detroit (3-3, 1-1): Lose to Chicago, lose at Minnesota, win over Arizona, lose at Dallas, lose to Atlanta, win over Minnesota, lose at Green Bay, lose to Cincinnati, lose at New Orleans and lose at Pittsburgh. Final record: 5-11.
Minnesota (2-4, 1-1): Lose at Carolina, win over Detroit, lose at the New York Giants, lose at Green Bay, win over Cleveland, lose at Detroit, win over St. Louis, lose to Pittsburgh, lose at Baltimore, win over Chicago. Final record: 6-10.
Green Bay (1-5, 0-2): Lose at Cincinnati, lose to Pittsburgh, lose at Atlanta, win over Minnesota, lose at Philadelphia, win at Chicago, win over Detroit, win at Baltimore, win over Chicago, lose to Seattle. Final record: 6-10.
As you can see, I wouldn't give you a plug nickel for any of these teams.
I can't see clubs quarterbacked by Kyle Orton and Jeff Garcia or Joey Harrington winning meaningful games down the stretch.
I can't see the Vikings being able to overcome the headlines, suspicion, possible arrests and possible suspensions emanating from the sex scandal on the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
And I can't see the Packers cashing it in and winning fewer than six games with the best quarterback in the division, quite possibly the best coach in the division and still probably the most supportive fans in the division.
One of these lousy outfits has to win it. It might as well be the defending champions.
The race, such as it is, will come down to division games. Each team has played two of its allotted six games, and Green Bay is the worst off at 0-2.