Last season, two teams made it to the playoffs out of the NFC North...neither were the Chicago Bears. Despite having a 10-6 record, the Bears were ultimately knocked out of the postseason by the Minnesota Vikings in the final week. As we look ahead to next season, do the Bears have what it takes to finally break the postseason drought?
With three winning teams, the NFC North was, and is, one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. The Bears have made some key tactical moves, from hiring a new head coach to parting ways with a franchise icon. They have made some smart decisions, but still lack what is needed to win the division.
Currently the Green Bay Packers are the cream of the crop. Yes, they have lost Charles Woodson and Greg Jennings, but they still have arguably the best player in the game. Aaron Rodgers is head and shoulders the best player in the division and as long as he's on the field the Packers will always have a shot at being the better team.
In head to head matchups, Rodgers has beaten Jay Cutler seven out of eight times including six straight since 2009. During that time Cutler has thrown 17 interceptions.
Other than Rodgers, what sets the Packers apart from the Bears are their weapons on the outside. Even with the loss of Jennings, a group that includes Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones is better than what the Bears can trot out on the field. It's an offensive league and currently the Bears don't possess the same firepower as the Packers.
Change is a big part of our business. Losing friends 2 other teams is tough. Hang in there cheesehead nation, lots 2 b excited about in 2013— Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) March 16, 2013
The Bears are better than the Minnesota Vikings. Bringing in Greg Jennings was a good rebound after trading Percy Harvin, but given the miles on Jennings he really isn't a No. 1 receiver anymore. The jury is still out on Christian Ponder and that defense hasn't gotten better.
Adrian Peterson had an improbable and superhuman season last year. It will be difficult to repeat his MVP campaign and the Vikings most likely need that kind of performance again to make the playoffs.
What the Bears and the rest of the division have to be leery of is the amount of talent the Vikings can bring in through the draft. They currently have 11 picks in the 2013 NFL Draft including two first round picks.
It will always come down to discipline for the Lions. They have talent but Jim Schwartz has struggled to keep his team on the same page for an entire season.
The Lions' defense will also still struggle. Quin helps, but you don't lose Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch without feeling some effects. They also will struggle stopping teams on the outside.
It will likely take an 11 win season for the Bears to make the playoffs. As it stands right now they are the second best team in the division. Their offense should take a huge step while the drop off from losing Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach won't be as big as some might think.
One of the major problems with the Bears last season was the protection for the quarterback. Bringing Jermon Bushrod helps two spots on the line. By moving J'Marcus Webb to the right side, the Bears upgraded their tackle spots.
The Bears still don't have great help on the outside but Martellus Bennett brings a much needed dimension to the passing game. He will take a great deal of pressure off of Cutler and Brandon Marshall.
Marc Trestman has to get his offense to start fast. This was a team that could have won 12-13 games last season with a more dynamic look on offense. Right now this is a 10-11 win team and that locked firmly into second place in the division.
Losing Brian Urlacher and Rod Marinelli will be an adjustment, but the secondary is intact, the defensive line looks better and Lance Briggs has a couple of younger and more athletic linebackers next to him. Chicago should not experience much of a drop off at all.
The Packers remain the best, the Vikings take a step back as they wait for younger talent to develop, the Lions will get better, but they were 4-12 last year and their improvement will likely only garner another three or four wins.
How will the Bears do in the NFC North this year?
Anything less than 10 wins and a wildcard birth for the Bears is a disappointing year. The kind of season Jay Cutler has will will tell you much about the 2013 Chicago Bears' season. He's in a contract year with an offensive-minded head coach. That should pay off in a big way.