Bears could be alone atop NFC North this week

November 19th, 2008 - 11:34 pm

It’s a funny league sometimes. I’ve spoken often this year about how balanced the NFL is and how no team is unbeatable. The Titans currently hold the league’s best record, and yet, there’s nothing flashy about them. They’re not nearly as talented as the 10-0 Patriots were a year ago, but they play sound, fundamental football. On the flip side, Detroit may be winless and Cincinnati and Kansas City may only have one win apiece, but all three teams have been competitive each week over the past month.

With all that said, looking back at several members of the Chicago media who dared to say this Bears team was almost out of the playoff hunt in early October, they seem kind of foolish now, don’t they? Let’s not forget the basis for their argument was that the Bears were swept by three NFC South opponents this year and that meant the Bears certainly couldn’t win a wild card spot, right? Well, as of today, the Bears are only 2 games out of the No. 1 wild card and one game out of the No. 2 spot with six games to go.

All the while, I’ve been preaching patience and a motto that in today’s parity-driven NFL, nothing is more important than December. Look no further than the south side of Chicago for proof that wins and losses early in a season don’t matter nearly as much as who has a better record at season’s end. Nothing is determined until all the results are tallied up. The White Sox played 162 games and yet finished no better or no worse than the Minnesota Twins — exactly how the two teams started in April when they were tied with 0-0 records. It took that 163rd game — a playoff — to determine which team would make the postseason.

And, so, we have the Bears, Vikings, and Packers deadlocked at 5-5 heading into the final six games of the season. It’s a race so tight that I don’t even dare to go down the NFL’s list of tiebreaking procedures at this point to tell you who would actually win the division if the season were to end today. But I can tell you this much: those 10 games that each team played have little to no relevance on the rest of the season. The only way they’ll matter is if two or more of these teams end up tied after 16 games have been played. Then, head-to-head, division records, conference records, and common opponents might all come into play.

At this point, why bother going through various scenarios? If there are still people out there who haven’t learned by now that “it ain’t over til the fat lady sings” — or, to put it another way, it isn’t over until 16 regular season games have been played — then those folks will never learn.

So, forget about the schedule comparisons. There’s already reporters from both the Chicago Tribune (article) and the Sun-Times (article) who are writing articles about favorable schedules and trying to concoct the odds that the Bears will make the playoffs.

And to them I ask, why bother? You may as well flip a coin or pull a name out of hat. Is it that slow a week that you have to look six games into the future and offer your guess as to which of these three teams will win the NFC North? I can tell you right now without looking at any of the Bears, Packers, or Vikings remaining schedules that I haven’t got a clue as to which one of them will be crowned division champs. It’s fun to make predictions; everybody does them. Heck, even I offered my season predictions back in August. But they don’t amount to a hill of beans.

I find it curious, though, that just one week after getting thoroughly embarrassed by the Packers, the Bears may be alone atop the NFC North come Monday night. The Vikings have a tough road matchup against the Jaguars and the Packers will test their might in a Monday night showdown in New Orleans. The Bears clearly have the easiest of the three contests when they travel to St. Louis to face the lowly Rams.

Then again, in a season that has been so balanced and has seen plenty of surprises already, would it really shock anybody if the Bears were to lose?

I don’t think it’s going to happen, though, and I fully expect the Bears to still be on top of the division — maybe by themselves — after Monday night.

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