LIONS AND PACKERS ASIDE, BEARS DON'T HAVE PLAYOFF LOOKBy Melissa Isaacson
Even without two 5-0 teams in their division, the Chicago Bears show absolutely no signs of being a team capable of reaching the playoffs.
While a young Detroit Lions defensive front is bound to continue maturing, the Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson combination does not appear to be falling off in any way and Jahvid Best flashed some of that serious potential Monday night. Detroit should only get better.
The Packers apparently have two left tackles better than any left or right tackles on the Bears' roster. No quarterback in the league is playing at a higher level than Aaron Rodgers. And even a defense that had been among the most porous in the league the first four weeks of the season buckled down, and held Atlanta scoreless and to just 106 yards Sunday, after the Falcons scored on their first two possessions.
How exactly are the Bears going to get any better at this point?
They're getting older and looking thinner depth-wise at nearly every position, and the likelihood of Jay Cutler avoiding injury the rest of the way grows dimmer with every vicious hit.
The injury situation has been overstated -- a rookie lineman in Gabe Carimi, a slot receiver in Earl Bennett (who is not close to returning, by the way). Chris Harris was thought to be able to solidify a scary secondary with his return, but that obviously didn't happen.
When a team shows a lack of aggressiveness or any real intensity against a divisional rival on "Monday Night Football," as the Bears did, how are we to expect that team to suddenly discover those qualities to the point of rising to among the best in the NFC?
Over the past several years, the Bears could at least count on their defense, but they haven't been able to do that since the first game this season.
"Defensively, we stink," Brian Urlacher said. "We stop the run, [then] we can't stop the pass. We stop the pass, [then] we can't stop the run. We're just all over the place."
Worse, the Bears are showing a glaring lack of discipline this season, with nine more false-start penalties to bring the grand total this season to 17. They still struggle with time management issues. And the next form tackle by Brandon Meriweather will be his first.
Meanwhile, the Bears are already three games behind the Packers and Lions with losses to both, while the Green Bay-Detroit Nov. 24 showdown at Ford Field looms as the most meaningful Thanksgiving Day game for the Lions in a very long time.
Until then, the Packers, who looked almost bored in their victory over Atlanta on Sunday, face a winless Rams team coming off a bye Sunday in Green Bay, then the hapless Vikings. Following a bye in Week 8, they play the Chargers on the road, then the Vikings and Buccaneers at home.
The Lions have a tougher road, facing the NFC West-leading 49ers on Sunday in Detroit, before playing the Falcons at home and the Broncos on the road. They have a bye in Week 9, then face the Bears at Soldier Field and the Panthers at home.
The Bears, with a short week, can't even be optimistic about the Vikings at home Sunday night.
Not if Adrian Peterson is coming.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
IT SOUNDS CRAZY, BUT BEARS STILL HAVE CHANCEBy Jon Greenberg
From the looks of this team after the first five games, I'm not making any hotel reservations for the Super Bowl.
But it's not impossible to have three teams from one division make the playoffs, even if one of my Twitter followers told me so Monday night. To think, a fan could be wrong, too.
In the 2008 playoffs, the four wild cards came from two divisions, the AFC South and the NFC East. It was the second year in a row that three NFC East teams made the playoffs.
The leaders for the second wild card, as it stands now, are the Giants and Buccaneers, both at 3-2. The Bears are a pretty pitiful 2-3, but 2-3 nonetheless.
Things look bleak. When the Bears lost two in a row last season, to Washington and Seattle, to go into the bye at 4-3, both losses were by three points. The Bears' three losses this time around are by almost 13 points, but to stronger teams.
The pass rush should get better, thus helping the back four out a bit, and the offensive line can't get any worse. But I was really pleased at what we saw from Jay Cutler in Detroit. He took a beating, yes, but he made plays under duress.
Facing relentless pressure, Cutler looked like a true franchise quarterback, accurate and improvisational. You couldn't blame much on him or on Mike Martz. OK, you can blame the inability to get plays in on time on Martz, but that's it. He called running plays, even when the Bears were trailing in the second half.
If Cutler can get better with his supporting cast and the defense gets back to near-normal, the playoffs are still in reach. It sounds crazy, but it's true.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.