Following a 41-9 routing of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the Chicago Bears finished the first half of their season with a 5-3 record and are atop the NFC North.
Had you told fans before the season that the Bears would be leading their division with a winning record, they would’ve been ecstatic. After four years of mediocre talent, losing records and last place finishes in the division, this season has been a breath of fresh air.
The upgrades to the roster, especially on offense, have given the team balance that we haven’t seen in years. Both sides of the ball rank in the top 10 through eight games. That feat hasn’t been accomplished since 2006.
Yes, there have been some frustrating moments. Devastating losses to the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins are still tough to swallow, and the weekly peaks and valleys of a young second-year quarterback have felt like a bumpy roller coaster.
Still, there is much more optimism than in recent years. This young, developing roster led by a young, developing head coach has breathed new life into franchise that had grown stale and mediocre. Watching them chart a new territory has been fun through the first two months.
With expectations now raised, one test still remains. And it’s one they’ve failed in recent seasons.
Can the Bears finally start beating the NFC North?
If the Bears are going to take that next step, they need to start racking up wins versus the divisional opponents. That’s the only way to remain ahead of the competition and create those highly coveted tiebreakers.
Matt Nagy’s crew faces the division five times in the next eight weeks, which includes a crucial three-game stretch starting next Sunday. During that 11-day span, they face the Detroit Lions twice with the Minnesota Vikings sandwiched in between. Two other contests against the Packers and Vikings are set for late-December.
Division wins have been few and far between the last four years. The Bears not only racked up losing records since 2014, but they also finished with sub-.500 marks against the NFC North.
- 2014: 1-5
- 2015: 1-5
- 2016: 2-4
- 2017: 0-6
A combined 4-20 divisional record perfectly sums up the recent ineptitude. The Bears have a chance to erase that this season. With one division loss already in the column, posting a winning record down the stretch versus NFC North opponents would bolster the team’s playoff chances.
As Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune tweeted Monday morning, the Bears’ four playoff appearances since 2001 featured seasons with winning divisional records.
Bears have made playoffs four times in the 21st century. Here is their division record in each of those years …
2001: 6-2 (Central)
— Dan Wiederer (@danwiederer) November 5, 2018
Notching a 4-1 mark would be a major step for the Bears, putting them ahead of schedule in terms of development. They would have a winning record in the NFC North and be in a prime position to win their first division since 2010.
Going 3-2 even helps turn the tide. While it might make winning the division harder, the Bears would probably still be in the running for playoff berth. Let’s be honest. Would you really be upset with that outcome after what you’ve witnessed the last four years?
Given the current state of the NFC North, having a losing record against the division would be very disappointing. While the Vikings appear to be an upper-echelon team, the Lions and Packers are very beatable. At this point, going 0-3 or 1-2 against those struggling squads would put a major damper on the season and thwart the next stage of their development.
With the narrative surrounding the franchise changing, now it’s time to earn respect against division rivals who have beat on you. Spending another year in the basement is no longer acceptable.
Learning to win is key for any young, developing team. The Bears have experienced solid growth in that department, especially by beating inferior opponents convincingly the last two weeks.
By winning against NFC North teams, the Bears will take a massive step now and in building sustainable success going forward.