Chicago Bears: 5 Reasons the Bears Can Still Win the NFC North
If I were a gambling man, I wouldn’t throw a large amount of money down on the Chicago Bears (7-4) to leapfrog the Green Bay Packers (11-0) in the NFC North, especially since the Packers have a mathematical 90 percent chance of winning the division.
For every dominating squad, there’s that one team that has a “one in a million” chance of pulling off an upset. That team may not look much like the Bears without starting quarterback Jay Cutler at the helm, but you never know.
Several things need to go right for Chicago if they’re going to pull off the upset of the NFL season. Wishing and praying for a 5-0 Bears finish combined with an 0-5 Packers meltdown won’t exactly do the trick.
Every team has a certain number of X-factors that can make or break any game. Even without Cutler, the Bears still have playmakers. It will be on those playmakers to keep the divisional hopes alive.
Here are five reasons why the Bears can still win the NFC North:
Perhaps, the simplest reason as to why the Bears still have a shot in the North is because of the piece-of-cake schedule Chicago has remaining.
The Bears have the easiest schedule of any remaining team inside the division. Chicago’s remaining opponents are a collective 27-28 (0.491). The Lions (32-23, 0.582), Vikings (32-23, 0.582) and Packers (31-24, 0.564) have a tougher road that the Bears do.
The home games aren’t in the favor of the Bears, but with five games left, the difference between two and three home contests isn’t that big of a difference.
And when the Bears play the Packers Week 16 at Lambeau Field, the Packers could very well have everything wrapped up in the NFC. There’s a decent chance Mike McCarthy and Co. may elect to rest their starters to avoid injuries before the postseason.
When it comes to determining playoff tiebreakers, head-to-head wins are the first tiebreaking procedure in conference, divisional and wild-card standings.
The importance of winning head-to-head games in the NFL is crucially important, especially against foes that you know you’ll be competing against for a playoff berth.
Chicago owns three giant tiebreakers: head-to-head wins against the Falcons, Eagles and a season-split against the Lions.
In the case of Atlanta and Philadelphia, those wins ensure the Bears have the upper hand against either squad should they finish with identical records.
When it comes to Detroit, Chicago’s latest head-to-head win at Soldier Field nullifies the Week 5 loss in Ford Field. If the Lions and Bears finish with the same mark, the tiebreaker that would matter most is conference record. The Bears are 6-3 in the NFC while the Lions are 5-4.
That said, as long as the Bears can finish with a better NFC record than Detroit down the stretch, they’ll be a leg up on the Lions. If the Lions as much as finish with the same NFC record as Chicago, they’ll own the next tiebreaker—strength of schedule.
The Bears feature a top-10 rushing offense, thanks in no large part to the contributions of one Matt Forte.
Forte, who has earned the reputation as the most underpaid player in the league currently, is responsible for 985 rushing yards and 490 receiving yards—or 37.7 percent of the team’s total offense.
With an injured Adrian Peterson (high ankle sprain), there's no more dangerous running back in the NFC North. His role and impact on the Bears offense is critical. How far Chicago will go depends on the legs of No. 22.
As long as Forte is upright and healthy, the Bears will have a fighting chance in the division. It’s because of his versatility and load-carrying abilities they’re even within shouting distance of first place anyway.
Oh, and one last thing. Pay the man.
A staple of a Lovie Smith team, the Bears rock-solid defense has kept them in games throughout the season—even when all hope seems lost.
Take for example, the Oakland Raiders game this last Sunday. Even though the offense turned the ball over three times on interceptions (leading to 99 hidden Raiders' yards), none of those picks killed the Bears.
They were able to hold Oakland to 1-of-5 attempts in red-zone efficiency. The Michael Bush touchdown late in the fourth quarter was the only non-field goal allowed by Chicago’s defense.
It’s a bend-but-not-break mentality. Despite tough situations and having their backs against the wall (sometimes literally and figuratively), they are a top-10 defense in yards per game, top three in interceptions and tied for the league lead in defensive scores.
The loss of Jay Cutler to the offense will most likely mean the Bears will need to rely more on the defense to hold up their end of the field position bargain.
This Chicago defense seems revitalized and ready to tackle such a task.
Last but not least, the Bears have this one special team weapon by the name of Devin Hester.
At last check, he was just pretty alright.
Kidding aside, Hester is a difference maker for the Bears. But his skills work both ways. In games like he had against the Vikings and Lions at home, Hester turns the field around and makes things easier for the offense.
Then in games like he had against the Raiders, Hester’s lack of impact on kickoffs starts the Bears inside their own 20-yard line regularly. It’s hard enough for a backup to lead the charge. Adding an extra 20 or 30 yards to a drive doesn’t help in the matter.
Should the Bears stand a chance in the NFC North race, the special teams, like the defense, needs to step their game up. Field position will directly correlate with the number of points of scored.
Brett Lyons is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.