When training camps began at the end of July this year, most people would have agreed that the NFC North was one of the toughest, if the not the toughest, divisions in the NFL. The Minnesota Vikings, coming off an impressive postseason run, were in the conversation of Super Bowl contenders after adding Kirk Cousins this off-season. Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers had Aaron Rodgers returning at quarterback and anytime you have the most talented quarterback in the league on your team (easy every member of the Patrick Mahomes fan club; he has only played 6 career games), you are a threat to make the playoffs. Not to be overlooked (but always are), the Detroit Lions quietly went 9-7 in 2017 and per usual, seemed talented enough offensively to be a possible wildcard favorite and last but not least, people were even bullish on our own Chicago Bears, as general manager Ryan Pace had spoiled new head coach Matt Nagy with a brand new treasure chest of offensive toys, not to mention the top linebacker in the NFL draft.
The aggregate pre-season ranking of the NFC North had the Vikings winning the division, with Packers, Lions, and Bears following in that order. Optimists in Chicago believed the Bears had the potential to possibly jump the Lions and finish out of last place for the first time in four years, but their place in the bottom half of the division was all but confirmed. They seemed to be a year away from joining in on the wildcard conversation that the Packers get tossed into by default.
Fast forward two months and our Chicago Bears are sitting at the head of the table in the NFC North at 3-1. The Vikings, once considered a lock for the playoffs, sit tied with the Packers (literally tied them as well) at 2-2-1, and the Lions have taken our place in the cellar of the division. Now it is only approaching Week 6 and there is still a lot of football to be played, but the odds that the first five weeks would have played out like this have to be about the odds that you fill out a perfect March Madness bracket (there is a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance of filling out a perfect bracket).
Now I can’t exactly explain how the Vikings got blown out by the Buffalo Bills despite being 16.5-point favorites or the fact that the Lions have lost some of the worst teams in the league (New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys), while beating the elite (New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers), is baffling as well. What I, along with every other person in Chicago, can explain though is how the Bears find themselves to be 3-1 in October and on top of the NFC North; why, Khalil Mack of course.
The Bears would be at best 1-3 right now (I think we could have still handled the dumpster fire that is Tampa Bay) without Mack on the team, as he has single handily won us three games. A turnover creating machine, he was the missing piece to our already stellar defense and has created playoff aspirations in Chicago out of thin air. Talking about the playoffs is no longer something we joke about after the Bears score a touchdown or win a game. This division is not what we thought it was. The Vikings have glaring holes on their offensive line and their defense does not resemble the juggernaut of last season. The Packers look to be Aaron Rodgers and the bad news bears and the Lions are 00% on brand so far; they aren’t going anywhere.
Mitchell Trubisky is still a work in progress and I really hope everyone understands his week 4 performance was an outlier (please keep in mind Tampa Bay has the 29th pass defense in the NFL). It was promising to see he has the ability to light up a poor defense and watching our offense score at will is not something I may ever grow accustom to. To be honest, watching a Bears quarterback throw six touchdown passes was the closest I have been to visiting the twilight zone. If Trubisky can regress to even being a slightly above average quarterback for the rest of the season, the Bears have no reason not be playoff bound. Their defense is for real and should only continue to get better.
So, how will the rest of this season pan out? If we have learned anything through five weeks this season (besides what a tackle is. We definitely have not learned that yet. We are straight flunking that class), it is that parity in the NFL is at an all-time high. Outside of the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs, it is still difficult to decipher who is good and who is bad. Pick-em and survivor leagues are a war zone, as every week produces few to no locks (week 2 took out 71% of my 7000 member survivor league). The Bears should, barring major injury, be able to get to double-digit wins and at least grab a wild card spot in the NFC. Will we head into the playoffs wearing the NFC North Division Crown though? With Mack leading the charge, I like our chances.