Yes, that's right folks. This is my formal 180, and you can consider this article better backpeddling than Zach Bowman did in front of Calvin Johnson with 24 seconds left on Sunday.
The Chicago Bears could win the NFC North Division. Here's how.
These are not your daddy's Chicago Bears. Oh no... don't sit on your couch on Sunday and expect to see Sayers or Payton or, heck, even Neal Anderson getting their hands on the rock 35 times each week.
No, these are the "New and Improved Mike Martz Bears," featuring a happy-chucking pass attack that was good enough (yes, against the Lions) for Jay Cutler to establish a new franchise record for passing yards on Opening Day (362). To put that into perspective, Cutler threw for more yards on Sunday than Doug Flutie did in his entire Bears career (361).
Ok, so using Flutie's Bears' career for "perspective" sucks. Sorry. But it's true.
Maybe this will be more impressive: Matt Forte's 151 receiving yards are the most by a Bears running back ever (that includes Payton and Sayers), and the most in the history of the NFL for Week One.
Better than Flutie?
The first three years he was in Martz' offense, Marshall Faulk had 244 receptions and 19 receiving touchdowns. He also posted 38 rushing touchdowns during that three year stretch, during which he was 27-29 years old. After his performance in the preseason, and again on Sunday, it appears Martz is putting the same faith in Forte that he once granted Faulk.
Meanwhile, the Bears defense looked hungry. While the offense had issues holding onto the ball, Julius Peppers was doing what he got paid $90 million to do this spring: hurt quarterbacks.
When Matthew Stafford left the field, he effectively took the Lions' ability to move the ball with him.
Brian Urlacher also had a sack, and Tommie Harris added a few "rushing" yards to the pile. Overall, the Bears defense has a strong week while some "elite" teams, like San Francisco, struggled against teams they "should beat."
If the Bears can continue to mix it up on offense, and the defense can get after the quarterback every week, they could win a few games.
Looking at the schedule, the Bears could beat/should be able to beat the NY Giants, Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills, and the Seattle Seahawks are a team the Bears should handle as well. If the Bears get to Week 10 at 5-4, there's reason to believe.
Drink the Kool-Aid, folks. The Bears have a chance!
My statement of "confidence" that the Bears can win the division isn't completely tied to what I saw at Soldier Field on Sunday.
The Green Bay Packers, who many (including me) would consider the prohibitive favorites to win the division, lost their starting running back for the year. Ryan Grant has a torn tendon in his ankle that will require surgery; he'll be on crutches for 10-12 weeks.
This injury cripples the Packers' offense almost as much as it does Grant.
Last year, the Packers were 11-5 and finished second in the North Division. Grant's performances were a huge barometer for how successful the Packers would be.
In the Packers 11 wins, Grant averaged 20 rushes for 90 yards. He scored eight touchdowns in those 11 victories.
In the Packers five losses, Grant averaged only 13 carries for just 52 yards, scoring only three touchdowns.
Clearly, losing Grant is a huge issue for the Packers, and will strengthen the Bears' chances of competing with them.
Yes, Aaron Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. But after Grant went down on Sunday, the Eagles sat back in a nickle defense and begged the Packers to give the ball to Brandon Jackson. Rodgers threw for under 200 yards and the Packers barely got out of Philly with a win.
Jackson has 689 yards and four touchdowns in his career. He is now the starter for the Packers.
The schedule gives the Packers a little help early on, though. After winning in Philly, the Packers now have the Buffalo Bills before the Monday night game in Chicago. They host the Lions the following week.
After those first four games, all of which the Packers might be able to win without Grant (hedging against the Bears showing up in prime time), they then have Washington on the road, Miami and Minnesota at home, at the Jets and then host the Cowboys. None of these teams are going to do the Packers any favors.
The Packers could be 5-4 at their bye week, and they come back from a week off to play in Minnesota.
Meanwhile, the Vikings looked like a hot pile of garbage on Thursday night. Brett Favre looked ancient, and his inability to move on his bad ankle was apparent on a handful of occasions. He threw for only 171 yards and one touchdown, got picked off once and sacked once and his only legitimate target appeared to be his tight end, Visanthe Shiancoe.
The saving grace of the Vikings' offense would have to be Adrian Peterson, but he only ran for 87 yards against the Saints.
It appears that Minnesota has the opposite problem of the Packers. While teams are sitting seven or eight players in pass coverage in Green Bay, making the Packers beat them with the running game, it looks like teams will put seven or eight in the box against the Vikings and force Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin to run routes and catch the ball; teams will load up to stop Peterson and, until Favre finds a go-to receiver while Sidney Rice is out (six to nine weeks), it could be tough sledding for the Vikings.
The Vikings don't have an easy start to their season, either. They have Miami this week and then the Lions (a win) before their bye week. After the bye, Minnesota has four straight Super Bowl contenders in a row: at the Jets, host the Cowboys and then on the road for the Packers and Patriots.
There's a very real possibility the Vikings could start the season 1-6 or 2-5.
Looking at the competition, and the schedule, there's a good chance the Bears will have something to play for in the second half of the season. A NFC North Division title is not out of the question considering the health of the teams around the Bears.