There are a number of reasons to be optimistic about the Bears future. Having a young core in place with a young, offensive-minded coach and bringing in quality free agents this offseason gives fans those optimistic vibes. However, there is a mighty obstacle in the way: the NFC North.
Unfortunately, the Bears do not have the luxury of rebuilding their team in a weak division. The NFC North is looking like it will be one of the better divisions in football in 2018. Chicago has been in the cellar of the North for the past several years, while all other teams have made the playoffs at least once since 2015. The Bears last trip to the playoffs was in 2010.
Looking at the other three teams, each one is tough in their own way. Probably the most “questionable” one is the Detroit Lions. They fired Jim Caldwell after a second-place finish at 9-7, and now have Matt Patricia as their head coach. Still, with most of last year’s core in place and Matthew Stafford playing well, they should still be in the playoff race if all goes right in 2018.
The other two teams are the ones that are really scary. The Minnesota Vikings, who won the division last year, have kept their incredible defensive unit intact while getting Dalvin Cook back from an ACL injury and adding Kirk Cousins at quarterback. This team is not as good as last year; it is even better. While Case Keenum did great things last year down the stretch, there is no doubt Cousins is a better quarterback. How he will do in potential big games with the Vikings remains to be seen, but on paper, this Vikings squad is stacked.
Last, but certainly not least…Green Bay. There isn’t much to say about them other than Aaron Rodgers. If he is healthy, they can be considered favorites to win the division, even with that great Vikings team. Green Bay may not be a good team without him, but Rodgers alone makes that team great.
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The Bears only have beaten Rodgers twice since 2011, which have cost them playoff spots in several seasons. Beating the Lions and Vikings will be tough enough, but Rodgers and the Packers have completely controlled the rivalry in the past decade and still remain as the biggest hill for the Bears to climb.
One could say, “Well once Rodgers retires” or “The Vikings will have to worry about cap soon,” but at the stage where the Bears are at, that is just not what to hope for. The reality is, if this Bears core wants to contend for a playoff spot in the near future, they have to beat these teams. Mitch Trubisky has to beat the Vikings defense, Matthew Stafford and most importantly, Aaron Rodgers.
The Bears overall have three NFC North wins going back to 2015. They have played in some cruelly close games which they could have or should have won, and also have gotten destroyed in a number of them. Regardless, they have to come out on top. They cannot win the NFC North or even a wild card without winning at least some games against the Vikings, Lions, and Packers. The division is essentially one giant snake with the Packers as the paralyzing venom and the Bears have to bite the head off of it. There is no way around it.
A nice advantage the Bears have is that they have an incredibly young core, and will hopefully be around a few years. Matt Nagy will bring in a modern style that is not “Traditional Bears Football”, which is incredibly outdated. They are on the right track to having the right pieces and philosophy to bite the head off of the snake, but they still need to execute it. Winning one to two NFC North games vs. four or five makes an incredibly big difference in a playoff race and the Bears have been on the wrong side of that for the past five-some years.