BBAO: Loving this Bears team

We're Black and Blue All Over:

We're going to get a lot of mileage out of the Bears Insider radio show that Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, general manager Jerry Angelo and team president Ted Phillips taped Monday night.

We've already discussed Angelo's announcement on the conclusion of the Matt Forte contract talks (for now) and Phillips' explanation for why the team didn't re-sod Soldier Field last weekend as planned. Now, let's get to a simple assessment from Smith on this year's Bears team.

Said Smith: "This is the best team I think we've had since I've been here."

I know Smith is notoriously optimistic and confident about his team's prospects, and maybe he's said the same thing every year and I've missed it. But with the Bears set to begin practicing in earnest for Sunday's season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, it's worth anchoring his sentiment in a Week 1 blog post and referring to it in our discussions moving forward.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Mike Mulligan notes that six of the Bears' defensive starters "are on the wrong side of 30."

  • Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald wonders why Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox aren't the Bears' starting receivers.

  • Forte's agent, Adisa Bakari, told Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times: "It's the team's prerogative not to negotiate. Matt's going to do his best to focus on the season."

  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel examines Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy's approach in a story headlined "Master of the pieces."

  • Packers defensive end Mike Neal to Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel: "People are writing me off. I read what people are commenting on stories and how they're feeling. If I was in this to please the fans, I wouldn't play. I could care less what anybody's saying or how they feel about me. My thing is just to come in here and do my job."

  • Packers guard Josh Sitton's new contract is worth $33.75 million in new money, including $8.9 guaranteed, according to Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel.

  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette sits down for a Q&A with McCarthy. A highlight: "Let me make something clear: I have an ego. What I've learned in this business is everyone has an ego. It's the discipline of your ego, and that's what I've learned to do a much better job of. I didn't mean to cut off your question, but when people say I don't have an ego or I'm humble, that's not accurate. You wouldn't survive in this business if you didn't have an ego and weren't confident in your abilities. Yeah, I have an ego, but I've learned."

  • Packers linebacker Vic So'oto suffered a back injury during a weightlifting session and is out for Thursday's game against the New Orleans Saints. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com has more.

  • The Detroit Lions are going to have a hard time sacking Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman this Sunday, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.

  • Mike O'Hara writes for the Detroit News that the Lions have a legitimate playoff opportunity in 2011.

  • The Lions learned in 2008 that a perfect preseason means nothing, writes Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com.

  • Minnesota Vikings guard Chris DeGeare was "shocked" after getting released over the weekend, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. DeGeare re-signed to the Vikings' practice squad.

  • The Vikings are a mix of youth and experience, writes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

  • The Vikings are eager to get tight end Visanthe Shiancoe back on the field, writes Myron P. Medcalf of the Star Tribune.