Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears
Updated: October 17, 2013 5:18PM
One of the hardest things about covering the NFL in recent years has been figuring out where the strengths and weaknesses lie around the league.
I always refuse to get caught up in arguments and debates about difficulty of schedules and I try to avoid projecting week-to-week results before a season has begun.
Many critics of the Bears’ 10 wins in 2012 argued they beat up on cupcakes and lost to good teams. The 64-95 record of the teams they beat and the fact that the Colts and Vikings were their only victories against winning teams proved half that argument, while losses to playoff teams — Packers (twice), Texans, 49ers, Seahawks, Vikings — cemented it.
Looking ahead to this year, many feared the presence of the Bengals, Steelers, Saints, Giants, Redskins, Ravens and their two divisional games each with Green Bay and Minnesota would make this schedule far more difficult.
The down seasons of Pittsburgh, New York, Washington and Minnesota have already proven that theory wrong.
What matters is that the Bears are tied with the Lions for first in the NFC North and the Packers are a half-game behind. The outcome of their three remaining games will likely determine the winner of the division.
So how do the Bears stack up against Detroit and Green Bay?
The Packers would appear to have the best balance of offense and defense. Obviously, Aaron Rodgers is still a great player and the best quarterback in the division. But have you seen what Green Bay is doing on the ground? The Packers are third in the NFL in rushing and fifth in average gain.
The Packers’ defense is third in the league against the run and appears to be getting better every week. The Bears’ run defense is struggling. On the injury front, the Packers have been hit harder, losing Bryan Bulaga for the year and Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb for extended periods, but they haven’t missed a beat yet.
Green Bay has quality wins over Detroit and Baltimore and its losses came against the 49ers and Bengals. The biggest concern for Bears fans is Green Bay’s schedule. They only have three games left against winning teams (Detroit and the Bears twice.)
The Lions are technically ahead of the Bears in the standings because of their head-to-head win.
They likely have more promise defensively because of the play of their two defensive tackles, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and an improving back seven.
Offensively, the Lions and Bears are similar, dependent on an elite receiver and multipurpose running backs, and both Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler have boom or bust written all over them.
After Cincinnati on Sunday, the Lions have no winning teams outside of the division left to play. Although, like the Bears, they have Baltimore lurking.
If the Packers are in fact the team to beat, could the Lions and Bears both be wild cards? That seems unlikely, with the Seahawks and 49ers in the NFC West.
It does appear that the NFC North is the best division in the conference, and the most important stretch of the season will be the two weeks after the bye when the Bears travel to Green Bay on Monday, Nov. 4, and then the following Sunday when the Lions come to Soldier Field.
Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com .