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Scoggins: Why the NFC North script has flipped fast on Vikings

The Vikings departed Lambeau Field on the afternoon of Oct. 29 facing an organizational crisis. Kirk Cousins' Achilles injury put the mood somewhere between doom and gloom, both for the present and future.

The only saving grace was the NFC North.

The Packers looked awful. The Bears were even worse. And the Lions were the Lions and would find some way to screw up. Or so the theory went.

The first weekend of the NFL playoffs produced an entirely different reality.

The Packers kicked the snot out of the Cowboys with the NFL's youngest roster that includes — gulp — what increasingly looks like their next great franchise quarterback in Jordan Love.

The Lions continued to shed their slapstick reputation with a home playoff win over the Rams after decades of waiting, providing further proof that they must be taken seriously now.

The Bears finished with the same record as the Vikings, but they hold the No. 1 and No. 9 overall picks in the draft, which could make them winners in the Caleb Williams sweepstakes.

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The Vikings suddenly find themselves staring up in the division.

This already set up as a consequential offseason for Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, with the quarterback quandary to resolve and a roster badly in need of improvement, the defense most notably.

Now the NFC North suddenly looks like a juggernaut. Rivals are trending upward.

The popular practice of evaluating a team's competitiveness based on a small window of time is a tricky exercise, especially with the NFL specializing in demolishing perceptions. A team's outlook can change as fast as you can say Philadelphia Eagles. A window only truly exists when an organization strikes gold on a quarterback in the same stratosphere as Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson or Joe Burrow, or when a team assembles a star-studded roster in the mold of the San Francisco 49ers.

The rest of the league ebbs and flows, and the Vikings' competition in the North is flowing in the right direction.

The Packers are ahead of schedule with their youthful roster — a final four team in the NFC — and now they have five selections in the Top-100 picks in the draft to strengthen the roster. The biggest revelation has been Love, and his dramatic transformation throughout the season's second half.

The current version of Love looks nothing like the erratic passer the Vikings faced in late October. The sample size is still relatively small, but Love continues to display signs of being The Guy, which would be a stroke of fortune for that quarterback-blessed organization and a kick in the pants to a Vikings organization trying to solve that riddle.

The Lions won the division and nothing about it was fluky. Dan Campbell got miscast as a cartoonish character when he arrived in Detroit talking about biting kneecaps. What we've since learned is that the man can coach. And his players believe in him, play hard for him and reflect his personality on the field.

The Lions' blueprint makes sense. They're built on toughness in the trenches. The offense is both balanced and explosive. The defense has vulnerabilities, but their ample cap space and four Top-100 draft picks will help them fix problems.

The Bears undertook a full-on rebuild and now have the option of selecting Williams No. 1 overall, with a second Top-10 pick as well. Justin Fields showed enough improvement to spark a debate about whether the team should stick with him or draft Williams. A juicy topic no doubt, but the Bears won't risk bypassing Williams.

The Vikings have just two draft picks in the Top 100, as it stands, and a host of big-ticket decisions. The landscape has shifted all around the Vikings as the Adofo-Mensah front office puts together a plan with seismic ramifications.

The old saying in sports is, you're either getting better or you're getting worse. The NFC North is getting better. The Vikings had best move along with it.