LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Some may look at the Chicago Bears' 5-3 record at the midway point of their season and see a squad that has lost three of its last five and is entrenched in mediocrity, but coach Lovie Smith has framed the first half in a more positive context.
"We're not sitting in first place right now, but to me, because we've played one less game than the [Packers] ... that's why this game is so big for us," he said. "Again, we just want to matter. Right now, I think you can say the Bears really matter by what's going on in our division."
Smith lauded the balance achieved by the offense in the team's win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, while acknowledging the defense didn't perform up to standards.
"We're 5-3 right now, [and] a lot of times it seems like we're 2-6 or something like that," Smith said. "As we've said, we're a good football team. I think in time we'll prove that more and more.
"We just finished up the halfway point of our season. We're in pretty good shape. It's our fifth win. We needed to get it to set up a huge game this week against Minnesota."
Smith pointed to the club's depth and good health as two of the less-publicized storylines that should help the Bears during their stretch run for a shot at the postseason. The coach also complimented the play of the offensive line -- which allowed just one sack Sunday -- saying he'd like to keep the unit together in the coming weeks.
"I felt like we had good protection pass wise; we like this group," Smith said. "Our entire line played well."
Smith said the defense "didn't play as well as we've been playing, especially on third down" where the unit allowed Buffalo to convert 63 percent of its opportunities.
"Of course, we still need to improve in a lot of areas," Smith said. "Taking the ball away three times helped a lot."
The coach also gave an update on the condition of defensive end Julius Peppers, who appeared to be shaken up after an attempt to stop Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the end zone. Smith said the play looked "a lot worse than it ended up being" and expects Peppers to be available Wednesday for practice.
"He's gonna be alright," Smith said.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.