Aaron Rodgers may still be great. He probably is. But the team assembled around him by Ted Thompson, especially on the defensive side of the ball, isn’t very good. And somebody will probably lose their job in Green Bay because of it.
Minnesota’s defense is terrific. They have a young, talented roster and, in Mike Zimmer, a superb defensive mind. Their offense? Serious question. Do they have a single position on that side of the ball settled moving forward into 2017?
Detroit is Detroit – a middle of the road franchise with a middle of the road coach having a middle of the road season. Their season has only found that middle of the road because Matt Stafford is performing at the highest level of his life. He’s among a handful of candidates for MVP through the season’s first half.
And then there’s the Chicago Bears.
In this league, a team doesn’t need to be better than all thirty-one other clubs to make the tournament and compete for a title. All they have to do is be better than the three teams in their division. Then you catch a couple good matchups in the tournament and you can find yourself hosting the Thursday night opener eight months later.
Right now the Bears are 2-6. That’s what they are. But they are 2-6 having played five and a half games with their backup quarterbacks and most off all of the season undermanned at key positions.
But when it comes to the division, this 2-6 club is already pretty damn close. They beat Detroit decisively. They manhandled Minnesota. And before Matt Barkley’s appearance they were every bit Green Bay’s equal, even at Lambeau Field.
And honestly, this should have surprised no one. Especially if you read this blog.
The 2015 Bears were not a fine vintage. But outside of their blowout loss to the Vikings in Minnesota, the other five division games were decided by a total of 22 points. That’s 4.4 points per game. These games included a missed chip shot, silly overtime loss (that went on for days) and a Week 17 Bears AAA squad I was lucky enough to witness live.
The Bears are not good…yet. But they’re getting there. Defense? Getting there. Right now, using every available metric, the Bears have a top fifteen unit. (And it’s probably closer to a top ten.)
Run game? Getting there. Passing attack? If Cutler and Jeffery return, we know it’ll be reliable.
There are a lot of questions being asked about the teams in the NFC North moving from 2016 into 2017. And as we shuffle through November, the Bears may have more answers than their rivals.
That’s what makes the second half of this season exciting. The Bears have the arrow pointed up, clearly up, while the Packers and Vikings are dealing with disappointing swoons in seasons filled with big expectations. (Detroit is, you know, Detroit.) If they can win five or six of their final eight games, develop a rhythm on both sides of the ball and build momentum for the off-season, fans will no longer be in search of hope for this disappointing franchise. Hope will be right there on the field. John Fox may not lead the turnaround fans hoped for record-wise but he could oversee an enthusiasm renaissance much needed at Soldier Field.
Eight more games. Three in division. What happens between now and season’s end will greatly impact the balance of power in the NFC North for the coming years.