Around this time each season, the contenders begin making their move towards the postseason while the pretenders of the NFL begin to fall by the wayside. This season is no different, and the NFC North is a perfect example of how competitive the NFL really is down the stretch.
The NFC North is a three-horse race, although without Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers aren’t likely going to hang around much longer. Right now, it looks like the Lions and the Bears are the teams to watch in the division, but which one will be able to pull away from the rest of the pack?
The first point to understand in the battle for the NFC North is the importance of tie-breakers. Although the Lions and Bears are tied in the wins and losses columns, the Lions have topped the Bears twice this season. In simple terms, that means the Bears have to win one more game than the Lions the rest of the way to actually win the division.
Still, there’s much more to consider in any playoff race than teams’ records and tie-breakers. Individual teams have different things going for them. The Bears, for instance, will be seeing teams like the Rams, Vikings and Browns. These are teams that shouldn’t beat the Bears, and even the tougher teams such as the Eagles and Cowboys are inconsistent at best.
The Lions will see a much different style of opponent. Next up, the Lions will see a very hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has a lot to prove, and down the road, the Giants, who are also on fire of late, will be traveling to Detroit. Although there’s not a huge difference in the difficulty of the Lions’ and Bears’ remaining schedules, the Bears appear to have the easier road to the playoffs.
The Bears have other factors moving in their favor as well. Even without their starting quarterback, the Bears are able to play at a high level simply because their team’s talent is spread far more evenly. The “next man up” mantra actually works in Chicago, something that hasn’t panned out for the Green Bay Packers. Because of this, the Bears are better able to absorb injuries at any position.
Again, that’s not true of the Detroit Lions. The Lions have major flaws throughout their roster. Detroit’s defense will sometimes follow a great performance with an ugly one, and the Lions’ running game still hasn’t been able to get moving in a positive manner. In fact, the best compliment we can pay the Lions’ rushing attack is that it does slow down the pass rush when running backs sneak into the flats. Beyond that, they don’t have a lot going for them in the ground department.
All that being said, the Lions have the best active quarterback in the division, and they have the best receiver in the NFL. The Bears won’t get another shot at the Lions, and frankly, that probably isn’t a bad thing for the Bears. The Lions are able to go up and down the field against some teams, and the Bears haven’t been able to slow down the Lions much in their past two meetings.
So, do we take the Bears or the Lions? Ultimately, that’s not my call. As the season progresses, it’ll all play out on the field. That being said, this is a quarterback driven league, and although the Bears do have some factors moving in their favor, it’ll be hard to top the Lions without the tie-breaker and without a top-tier quarterback to toss the ball all over the field.