November 29, 2021

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Why Bears aren’t best team in NFC North, but can still contend for playoffs

The Bears are not the most talented, nor the most well-coached, team in the NFC North. The Minnesota Vikings are (to both). 

Right now, on paper, that’s where the NFC North stands. The Vikings should be the favorites, with the Bears and Green Bay Packers neck-and-neck for second/third, and the Lions still at the bottom (despite being improved from last year’s three-win disaster).

But as we look ahead toward the 2020 season, consider this a quick primer on where the Bears stand, unit-by-unit, among their NFC North peers. The good news: It wouldn’t take much for the Bears to wind up as the most talented team in the NFC North; the bad news is it also wouldn’t take much for the gulf between them and the Vikings to be wide.

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Anyways, here’s my stab at these rankings:

Quarterback

1. Packers
2. Vikings
3. Lions
4. Bears

The gap between Aaron Rodgers-Kirk Cousins-Matthew Stafford is awfully narrow, and then there’s a gulf between the Lions and the Bears here. In short: The Bears are far and away the worst in the division at quarterback. 

Running back

1. Vikings
2. Packers
3. Bears
4. Lions

If Dalvin Cook actually holds out, the Aaron Jones-led Packers would vault to the top here. The difference between the Vikings/Packers and Bears/Lions is significant, even though David Montgomery and De’Andre Swift have good upside. Tarik Cohen gives the Bears the edge over the Lions here. 

Wide receiver

1. Lions
2. Bears
3. Vikings
4. Packers

Hear me out: Kenny Golladay is awesome, and a healthy Marvin Jones is the best No. 2 receiver in the division. The Packers’ weapons around Davante Adams – the best receiver in the NFC North, in my mind – are sub-par, and while Vikings first-round pick Reggie Jefferson has upside, he’s probably not going to replace Stefon Diggs’ production in 2020. Allen Robinson is great, and I’ll take Anthony Miller’s Year 3 potential to push the Bears over the Vikings here.

Tight end

1. Vikings
2. Lions
3. Bears
4. Packers

The Kyle Rudolph-Irv Smith combo is easily the best in the division, and T.J. Hockenson’s Year 2 upside should be pretty high. The Packers seem to be betting on 2019 third rounder Jace Sternberger – who only played in three regular season games last year – as a solution, and while Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet have some questions, they’re ahead of Green Bay here.

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Offensive line

1. Packers
2. Vikings
3. Lions
4. Bears

While there were some notable departures here (Bryan Bulaga, Graham Glasgow) the Bears’ lack of notable additions sticks them at the bottom of the division.

Defensive line

1. Bears
2. Packers
3. Vikings
4. Lions

There’s no question a healthy Akiem Hicks, paired with Eddie Goldman and good depth, gives the Bears the best defensive line in the NFC North. A quick mention here should go to the perennially-overlooked Kenny Clark, who’s a big part of a menacing front seven in Green Bay. 

Edge rushers

1. Bears
2. Packers
3. Vikings
4. Lions

There’s not as big a gap between the Bears (Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn) and the Packers (Za’Darious Smith, Preston Smith) as you might think. If the Bears didn’t swap Leonard Floyd for Quinn in March, the Packers would top this list. 

Inside linebackers

1. Vikings
2. Bears
3. Packers
4. Lions

Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr have been a tremendous combo for years, though if Roquan Smith makes good on his potential in Year 3, the Bears could end 2020 with the best group of inside ‘backers in their division.

Cornerbacks

1. Packers
2. Bears
3. Lions
4. Vikings

There’s a lot of young talent in this group, from Jaire Alexander to Jeff Okudah to Mike Hughes. I’m not sure there’s much separation here with the variability of those recent high draft picks, but the Bears also still have the best corner in the division in Kyle Fuller.  

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Safeties

1. Vikings
2. Bears
3. Packers
4. Lions

Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris is an incredible combination the Vikings seem ready to enjoy for one more year before Harris hits free agency. Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are a solid combination in Green Bay, but the presence of Eddie Jackson gives the Bears the edge for the second spot here.

Special teams

1. Lions
2. Bears
3. Vikings
4. Packers

Matt Prater is the best kicker in the division and Jamal Agnew is an explosive returner. The Bears’ special teams – led by Cordarrelle Patterson’s return and coverage contributions – aren’t all that far behind, even if Eddy Pineiro is a question mark.

Coaching

1. Vikings
2. Packers
3. Bears
4. Lions

There’s not a whole lot between the Packers and Bears here, and those could easily flip as Matt LaFleur enters Year 2. But Mike Zimmer is the best coach in the NFC North, full stop.

For what it’s worth, each team’s average ranking here: Vikings (2.1), Bears (2.4), Packers (2.4), Lions (3.1). So that tracks with my initial thought on the division, and with there being a much wider valley between the Bears/Packers and Lions than the Vikings and Bears/Packers. 

When it’s time for season predictions (sometime in early September, probably), I’ll probaly take the Vikings to win the NFC North. But as long as the Bears can navigate a difficult division, they should be right there in playoff contention in 2020, too. 

 

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Why Bears aren’t best team in NFC North, but can still contend for playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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