The NFC North specifically has become a very entertaining story this season. The undefeated Green Bay Packers (7-0), the surprising and youthful Detroit Lions (6-2), the middle-of-the-pack Bears (4-3) and bottom-feeder Minnesota Vikings (2-6) have made things entertaining. Being a difficult division benefits all four teams in the long run.
It seems like a longshot for the Bears to wear the NFC North crown in 2011. Unless Chicago can come close to running the table and hoping for some outside help to bring the Lions and Packers back to earth, the Wild Card seems much more likely.
The first half of the season has been very NFC-heavy for Chicago. In fact, the Bears have faced strictly all NFC foes.
The NFC North plays the AFC West this year. With the Bears schedule, they play all four AFC West teams four consecutive weeks in the second half as their interconference series.
What this means for Chicago is that their fate in the NFC might have already been established.
With a handful of conference games left for the Bears, every one matters. The season could be won or lost with the outcomes of those games.
As the season begins to dwindle down, here’s what lies ahead for the Bears in their remaining regular season contests:
As difficult as that sounds, the Bears have never really been scorched by Vick and have had success against him.
The defense will most likely be using a Cover 2 shell defense with a linebacker (Urlacher) designated as a “spy.” This means that the safeties and corners are to keep the ball in front of them at all times and prevent big plays while the spy goes wherever Vick goes.
If the Bears can force Vick to stay in the pocket and throw, they’ll improve their odds to win dramatically.
In their first matchup of the season, the Lions were able to burn the Bears with big plays. The Calvin Johnson touchdown grab was a 73-yarder and Jahvid Best broke off an 88-yard score late to ice the contest.
When the Lions and Bears meet up at Soldier Field in two weeks, the big play containment will once again make the difference. Chicago must keep Detroit on the field for three plays at a time and force punts.
Running and ball control will also be important as the Lions can strike quick at any time, compliments of Megatron.
Even though the Chargers are contending in the AFC West, they really haven’t had that “wow!” game of the season yet.
Philip Rivers, a preseason candidate for the league’s MVP should the Chargers do well, is having a bad year. Turnovers are killing the Bolts. An on-and-off running game with two distinctly different backs has made the offense streaky as well.
Defensively, San Diego has been able to force pressure but gives up more turnovers than it creates takeaways. The Bolts have caused 13 sacks and four forced fumbles, but have allowed 17 sacks and 10 fumbles.
The key to winning this game is to suffocate the running game and force the ball out of the offense’s hands. Look for Charles Tillman’s patented ball punch technique to make a difference.
McFadden and Michael Bush have brought life to the Raiders rushing attack. Both are home run threats and yet still built to churn tough yards between the tackles.
Expect eight in the box at all times against Oakland. The Bears will force the Raiders to throw and might even welcome that idea with open arms.
Stop Run DMC, you stop Oakland. Simple as that.
When Kansas City lost Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry for the season very early, the Chiefs looked like a lost cause.
Following their upset victory on Monday Night Football last week against the division rival Chargers, Kansas City is now 4-3 and riding a four-game winning streak.
The obvious states that the KC offense is not to be credited, but rather the Chiefs defense. The linebackers, such as Tamba Hali, are causing all sorts of pressure and getting to the quarterback.
This seems like a feel good story now, but when the Bears and Chiefs meet in a month, will they still be relevant?
Now, everything is about the opposing "quarterback" and Tim Tebow.
Watch what the Lions were able to do to Tebow last week. He was as inaccurate as could be and threw an incredible amount of poor passes right at Detroit defenders.
Don't let mainstream media fool you. The "incredible" comeback win two weeks ago was against a winless Miami Dolphins team without it's starting quarterback in overtime. There was no meaningful comeback.
Before Week 14, Tebow faces the Raiders, Chiefs, Jets, Chargers and Vikings defenses. If he can manage not to blow those games, maybe the Bears will worry about him in game planning. As things stand now—he's a non-factor.
Seattle is a bad team from a bad division and only wins games when they're at home because they have the excessive crowd noise from the 12th Man.
That's the Seahawks pretty much in a nutshell.
Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice are no strangers to the Bears. Both former Minnesota Vikings spent many years playing across from Chicago. They will be familiar with the schemes and coverages.
But just because you know what's coming doesn't necessarily mean you're any better-prepared to stop it.
Jackson is bad. Period. No debate. He may not even be the starting quarterback in this game by the time Week 15 arrives.
Since this game is a home contest, there's no reason the Bears shouldn't win it. This is as easy as it gets.
Will this team ever lose?
It's more than just a question critics throw out to discuss to kill time, but rather a serious inquiry as well. There's a very good chance Green Bay runs the table.
The way this team is playing on both sides of the ball coupled with the cushy schedule left could set up a possible 16-0 run.
With this game being at Lambeau Field against a bitter arch rival on Christmas Day, it will be extremely tough to win on the road for Chicago.
Remember—this is the highest scoring team in the league that also ranks fourth in overall yardage and third in passing yards per game. Aaron Rodgers could exploit weaknesses all day as if his life depended on it.
The best chance the Bears have to win is Green Bay and the fact that they have everything in the NFC wrapped up and decides to rest they're starters. It could be like what the Bears did to the Packers in the final week of last season but vice versa for 2011.
Last but not least, the cellar dwellers of the division—the Vikings.
The Christian Ponder era has begun for Minnesota. The remainder of the 2011 season will be his time to try new plays, get comfortable with the offense and make his mistakes now while the Vikings are out of playoff contention.
This game could very well decide Chicago's season late. The Bears need all the NFC wins they can manage, especially divisional games on the road. These factors all matter when tiebreakers come into play for playoff spots.
Having one win against a bad Minnesota team is nice, but Super Bowl teams would get two in a season if the opportunity presented itself.
Chicago has to win this game if there's any hope of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this season. Absolutely, this has to be a victory.
Brett Lyons is Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.