GREEN BAY—The Ravens used to be the Browns before the Browns came back to join the Ravens as division rivals, and now the forever-linked franchises are connected to the Packers' playoff destiny for a week.
Every team in the NFC North was scheduled to play every team in the AFC North at some point this season, and two of those all-North matchups are in Week 15 and matter big-time in the postseason picture.
The most important of the two will take place on Monday night, as Baltimore visits Detroit. The Lions (7-6), with a half-game lead over the Packers (6-6-1) and a season sweep of the Bears (7-6), are the team in control of the race at the moment.
Should the Packers win out – which would include a win over the Bears in Week 17 – they will need the Lions to lose one more game to overtake them for the NFC North title.
The Ravens' crazy victory over the Vikings last week probably helped the Packers, as it kept Baltimore right in the thick of the AFC wild-card picture. So the Ravens will have a lot on the line as you root for them to knock off the Lions, which will be important whether the Packers win or lose in Dallas on Sunday.
Here are the scenarios to keep in mind:
If the Packers win and the Lions lose, Green Bay would move in front of Detroit and control its own destiny with two games left.
If the Packers lose and Detroit also loses, Green Bay would still have hope, just a half game back of the Lions with two to play, but the Bears might move into first place and become the team in control (more on them in a minute).
The worst-case scenario is for the Packers to lose and the Lions to win, which would put Detroit in position to eliminate Green Bay from the division race with just one more victory in either of the last two games.
Got all that? Good.
If that makes sense, then the most important game to watch leading into the Packers-Cowboys showdown is Chicago's visit to Cleveland early on Sunday afternoon.
The Bears' big victory over the Cowboys last Monday moved them into a tie for first in the NFC North with the Lions. Now, as we've discussed in previous weeks here, the Packers don't actually need the Bears to lose another game to someone else if Green Bay wins out, because the two teams face one another in Chicago in Week 17.
But, what if, for instance, the Packers and Lions both lose this week, picking up their seventh losses? Then the only way for the Packers to stay just a half game out would be for the Browns to tag the Bears with their seventh loss as well.
As for Green Bay's wild-card hopes, they're becoming more fleeting by the week. The simplest way to put it is this: The moment the 49ers and Panthers, each 9-4, win one more game apiece, the Packers are officially eliminated from wild-card contention.
So, for those incredibly slim odds to exist for one more week, root for the Buccaneers to beat the Niners and the Jets to bump off the Panthers.
In the event either or both of those upsets occur, then it's also imperative for the NFC's eight-win teams not to chalk up their ninth victories, so cheer for the Vikings to top the Eagles and the Titans to down the Cardinals.
But all those wild-card related games are almost certain not to matter in the end. It's essentially the division title or bust for Green Bay, so focus on the two key all-North games, and the one franchise that begat the other and then was reincarnated itself.
Browns, Ravens, … you have lots of friends in Packer Nation.
For all of this week's Packers-Cowboys preview headlines, click here.