Chicago Bears: Are the Bears Quietly Becoming the Favorite to Win NFC North?

Jim DallkeContributor IIOctober 12, 2012

Lance Briggs returns an interception for a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Lance Briggs returns an interception for a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears are heading into their bye week with as much confidence as any team in the National Football League.

With a 4-1 record, the third-best defense in the league, and a gelling Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, the Bears have the pieces in place to come out on top of the NFC North at season’s end.

A division that was once viewed as the Packers' to lose, the NFC North is now wide open. Green Bay has dropped three of its first five games and is only averaging 22.4 points per game, down from its league-high 35 points per game in 2011.

Add Cedric Benson’s injured left foot and Greg Jennings' injured groin, and the Packers have some serious question marks moving forward.

The Bears are averaging almost 30 points per game, thanks in large part to a defense that leads the league in interceptions and interception returns for touchdowns. The Bears also lead the NFL in sacks and are giving up only 14.2 points per game, good for third-fewest in the league.

On Tuesday, Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher said the Bears defense rivals the 2006 defense that led Chicago to the Super Bowl.

“The big plays are really separating us apart on defenses I’ve been on before,” Urlacher told reporters at Niketown Chicago. “The touchdowns, the picks, the sacks, that’s the big thing.”

The biggest question mark, and the source of seemingly endless frustration for Bears fans, is the play of Cutler. However, the love-him-or-hate-him quarterback has been more lovable of late.

Cutler has four touchdowns and only one interception in his last two games and has committed to getting Brandon Marshall the football. Marshall is averaging 141 yards and a touchdown in his last two games.

Cutler is clearly more comfortable playing with a lead, and the Bears' stellar defense has given him that luxury. And Bears fans can expect similar offensive productions as Chicago faces Detroit, Carolina and Tennessee after the bye week, all of which have defenses ranked in the bottom half of the league.

The Bears got more good news last week as Matt Forte came back from an ankle injury with 107 rushing yards against the Jaguars. Forte will benefit from the extra rest during the bye week and should be close to 100 percent for Week 7.

The way the Bears' schedule sets up, Chicago could be 7-1 heading into its Week 10 matchup against the Texans. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Bears have to play Houston, Arizona, Green Bay and Minnesota (twice) during the second half of the season.

But if the Bears can stay healthy and the defense keeps getting in the end zone, expect Chicago to finish atop the NFC North.