Top Five: Bears' Five Most Important Remaining Games

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 27: Devin Hester #23 of the Chicago Bears returns a punt 62-yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on September 27 2010 in Chicago Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Bears are unexpectedly 3-0. Here's a look at some of their key upcoming matchups.

Admit it. Not even you, the most die-hard Bears fan in the entire universe, expected them to be 3-0 at this point in the season. Not after the awful preseason and the typical platitudes from coach Lovie Smith.

Now, the Bears have been both good -- against the Cowboys in Dallas last week -- and lucky; the win over the Lions was a gift from the officials enforcing an arcane and little-cited rule, and last night's win, though well-played, might not have happened if not for the Packers continually hurting themselves with 152 yards worth of penalties.

Nevertheless -- to write another platitude -- a win is a win, and at 3-0 the Bears sit atop the NFC with the conference's only unbeaten record. So let's take a look at the five most important or interesting games of the 13 left on the Bears' schedule this year (we'll do this in a David Letterman-like countdown from five to one):

No. 5: Bears vs. Bills at Toronto, Sunday, Nov. 7, noon CST, Fox

This game isn't necessarily that important in and of itself; the Bills are 0-3 and might be a worse team than the 0-3 Lions, although they played the Patriots tough in a 38-30 loss last Sunday. But it is the first Bears regular-season game outside the USA (they played in an exhibition game at Wembley Stadium in London in 1986), and presuming the Bears still have a good record going into that game (game eight of the year), there should be considerable national interest in this international matchup. It also follows the Bears' bye week -- will there be a letdown after two weeks off?

No. 4: Bears at Giants, Sunday, Oct. 3, 7:20 pm CDT, NBC

Cliché time! What's the most important game on any sports team's schedule? Why, the next one, of course. Next Sunday night's game takes on outsize importance because the Bears, at 3-0, are now the team everyone in the NFC is gunning for. The Giants are a team that was expected to be at the top of the NFC heap this early in the season; instead, they've been a disappointment, and their loss to a not-very-good Titans team on Sunday has to have Giants fans concerned. Having the entire nation focused on the Bears and hearing the national media dissect them is always interesting, as it was last night.

No. 3: Bears vs. Vikings at Soldier Field, Sunday, Nov. 14, noon CST, Fox

Divisional games are always important, both for rivalry reasons and for playoff tiebreakers, if necessary. This will be game nine of the season -- there's already been talk that the Bears could go into this game 8-0, and that may not be just bluster. Only one of the five opponents before the Minnesota game has a winning record right now (Seahawks) and the combined record of the five is 4-11. The Vikings and Brett Favre have had trouble scoring points so far this season; they rank 14th in the NFC and 29th in the league with only 43 points in three games and their only win is against the lowly Lions.

No. 2: Bears at Vikings, Monday, Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m. CST, ESPN

Five weeks after their first meeting, the Bears and Vikes will match up again in Minnesota in the Bears' second Monday night appearance of the season. Will this be a game that could clinch a playoff spot for the Bears? Or will we be drudging through, hoping they don't drop to 5-9 with a loss? In Lovie Smith's six years before 2010 as coach, the Bears are 6-6 against the Vikings. That's an improvement over their record against Minnesota pre-Lovie: 37-46-2.

No. 1: Bears at Packers, Sunday, Jan. 2, noon CST, Fox

The Bears' win over the Packers last night gave them a two-game lead over Green Bay in the NFC North, and a leg up on a tiebreaker both in the division and in head-to-head. This final game of the regular season could be critical for both teams, a tuneup for playoffs for one or both teams -- or utterly meaningless. Since 2000, the Bears are 9-12 against Green Bay, and now 2-3 against them in the post-Brett Favre era (since 2008). One thing we can be assured of for this day-after-New-Year's game: it will be cold. The average high temperature in Green Bay on January 2 is 24 degrees and the all-time record low for that date is -20.

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