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NFL schedule 2012: Bears hosting Panthers, Cam Newton

The Vikings and Packers aren't far off in the NFC North standings as the Bears host the Panthers this weekend.

Scott Cunningham

The Chicago Bears host the Carolina Panthers this weekend as they look for their fifth consecutive victory this season. With a 5-1 record, the Bears have the third-best record in the NFL, but they're only a half-game ahead of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North and could be in third place within two weeks.

On Thursday night, the Vikings are playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home, a very winnable game against a team that's lost four times in its past five games. That would put Minnesota ahead of the Bears in the NFC North if they lose this week, although a loss to the struggling Panthers would admittedly be a huge upset.

Meanwhile, the surging Green Bay Packers are hosting back-to-back games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals over the next two weeks. At 4-3, Green Bay would easily would its way back to the top of the standings soon with a bit of luck.

One thing worth noting is Minnesota's increasingly difficult schedule going forward, though. From Week 9 through the end of the season, the Vikings will play the Seahawks, Lions, Texans, Rams, Packers twice and Bears twice.