Looking at the remaining games for the Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings. and Detroit Lions, two very different scenarios present themselves. The only thing they have in common is that they depend entirely upon how the Bears adjust their offense for the second half of their season. The first scenario is that the Bears continue to self-destruct on the offensive side of the Ball, and leave the door open for the Packers to walk away with the NFC North. The other, perhaps overly optimistic option, is the Bears play competent offense for the rest of the season. Not brilliant or league-leading, just competent. If they can execute the changes they suggest they are making, (Two-back option, short passes, simplifying) and minimize miscues, the division title might be decided in Lambeau on Jan. 2, the last game of the regular season for the Bears.
Let's look at the rest of the division, from the bottom up:
Detroit Lions (1-5-0): The Lions perennially lead the NFL in preseason, for being "Most improved". However, it never seems to translate to any regular season success. They might not get the #1 pick of the next draft, but they'll be right up there with Buffalo and Carolina. In the 10 games they have left, six are at home (Washington, NY Jets, Patriots, Bears, Green Bay and Minnesota), and four are away (Buffalo, Dallas, Tampa Bay and Miami) .
Remembering that we're going with the more hopeful scenario #2 for the Bears, (under scenario #1, the Bears are eminently beatable for every team on their schedule) The Lions maybe beat the Bills on the road, and the Vikings at home. But expect them to be looking like contenders again next August.
Minnesota Vikings (2-4-0): Brett Favre had an inflated boot on his ankle for a week. He's had an inflated ego for much, much longer. It's not entirely his fault; The NFL's marketing department, and a ravenous media have spent the last several years keeping all available spotlights shined on him. Who can blame him for being a little blinded? His pedestal has been built higher than any player before him, and there's one way to go from there. Favre is done, and he's all but finished Minnesota's season as well. Brad Childress, fresh off ranting about the referees and opposition coaches cheating against him, is clearly no longer in control of his team. That they were desperate enough to bring Randy Moss back in order to regain an offensive spark, tells you all you need to know.
The Vikings have five home games (Arizona, Green Bay, Buffalo, NY Giants and the Bears) and five away (Patriots, Bears, Redskins, Philadelphia, Detroit). The best they could realistically do is win four games beating Arizona, Buffalo, and the Bears at home, and Detroit on the road, leaving them at 6-10. That's with me tempering my Bears optimism.
Green Bay Packers (4-3-0): Here's where things get tricky. The Bears and Packers both have a 4-3 record with nine games left. When these teams met in Soldier Field, the Bears escaped with a three-point win. They were helped in part by the 18 penalties committed by the Pack worth 158 yards, more than double the Bears rushing yardage on the evening. Chicago is unlikely to get that sort of assistance again. Green Bay is a tough team, but is sagging under the weight of lots and lots of injuries. Aside from hosting the Bears on Jan. 2, the Packers have Dallas, San Francisco, and the NY Giants at home. And they have the NY Jets, Minnesota, Atlanta, Detroit and the Patriots on the road. I have them splitting those evenly, beating Dallas, S.F., Minnesota and Detroit putting them at 8-7, going into the new year.
Chicago Bears (4-3-0): Have I mentioned this is the optimistic scenario? Good. The Bears are no strangers to optimism, of course. After losing to Washington, Lovie Smith saw a rainbow that you may have missed in the deluge. He said, "You have to be a good football team, to turn the ball over six times, and have an opportunity to win, and that's what happened." Sure, that's part of what happened, but it does sort of skip over the ugliness of the turnovers, and a couple of coaching decisions that were questionable at best.
But, wait. For the purpose of this exercise, the Bears offense comes around enough to not choke on the ball with every possession, and lets defense and special teams keep them in games. I still see them going 4-4 before the Packers game, splitting with the Vikings, and losing to Miami, New England, and the Jets, and beating Buffalo, the Eagles and Detroit.
This is of course, all just speculation bordering on outrageous homerism. The Bears, despite their record, have not looked like a playoff team. At times, they haven't even looked like a professional team. But thy remain just as much in it, as the Pack. Anything can still happen. And if these teams meet at the end of the season for the NFC North crown, it could very well just be another page in a very long history of heartbreaking Chicago sports moments.
Optimistically, of course.