Before we begin, and I realize it may upset some readers, but as far as I'm concerned, the Detroit Lions are out of the running as far as winning the NFC North title. With that being said, let's move on.
I have mentioned before that I think it's going to be close as to who finally wins the division. As well as the Minnesota Vikings are playing right now, I think they will eventually falter. I am a fan of Christian Ponder's work but I think he needs a couple more years, and they are at times still too reliant on Adrian Peterson. If he gets injured again, it's definitely all over for them.
Taking another look at the Bears schedule for the rest of the year, I now have them going 12-4. That's one more win than I have predicted in previous columns, but they are playing well enough right now to get to 12 wins.
The three games I see them losing will be against Houston, San Francisco and Green Bay (sorry). They should be able to be victorious against the other teams, including tough match ups against Seattle and Minnesota.
Now, the problem is, I also have the Packers going 12-4. And I have them beating the Bears on December 16, so they will have two victories against Chicago, giving them the tie-breaker to decide the division. So, as much as it pains me to say so, if my predictions are correct, (and don't count on it - just see how poorly I perform when picking results) Green Bay will be NFC North champions.
Now of course, in the NFL, anything could happen. The beauty of this league is that upsets are quickly becoming a thing of the past. There are only a small handful of teams that you would always bet against this season, right? Jacksonville, anyone?
For the Bears, and the other 31 teams, the main concern is making it to the playoffs in the first place. If the Bears do finish 12-4, this should surely be enough to see them snatch a wild card spot. And then, anything goes. The Bears main priority this year has to be making it to the playoffs. Anything less than that would be a failure, and I would fully expect heads to roll.
To achieve the 12-4 record I think the Bears are capable of, the defense will have to keep playing as well as they are right now. There are arguably the best defense in football right now. To give you an idea how well they are playing, here are some fantasy football statistics* from this year:
The Bears defense has scored more fantasy points than all running backs apart from Arian Foster, and has also scored more points than any of the wide receivers. They have 16 more points than the second highest scoring fantasy defense (Houston). Pretty impressive.
Jay Cutler doesn't quite play at the same level as Aaron Rodgers, so the Packers have the clear edge in the quarterback department. But the Bears run game is much stronger and once Alshon Jeffery returns, both teams receiving corps look closely matched. The main reason I see the Bears losing to Green Bay later in the year is purely based upon the Packers putting up too many points.
But, as we all know, anything can, and usually does happen in the NFL. It could go right down to the wire, making it a nerve racking, but ultimately exciting end to the regular season. But when all is said and done, I think Green Bay and Chicago will be the two teams duking it out for the NFC North title. The question is, who wins the fight?
*fantasy statistics taken from ESPN leagues.