Bears think NFC North will be battleground

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The NFC West might sport the top overall winning percentage in football (.625), but that doesn’t mean pound for pound it’s the best division, according to many Chicago Bears players. The NFC North is right behind (.590) and looks as strong as it’s been in years.

“I really do think so,” cornerback Tim Jennings said before the Bears resumed practice on Monday after their bye week. “It’s just that tough. By far this is one of the tough divisions in the NFL.”

Both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions had decisive road victories on Sunday, and though the Minnesota Vikings dropped their game in Washington they still remain a surprise team at 4-2. The Packers, in particular, may have reminded the rest of the league they’re still a contender with a stunning 42-24 drubbing of the previously unbeaten Houston Texans. It came just one week after being upset by Indianapolis.

“Green Bay is a good team,” tight end Matt Spaeth said. “Everyone knows that. I’m sure the sense of panic that was out there, (the Packers) never really felt that. They knew they were a good team. To me, going against them, I know how good they are. I knew they would get it on track.”

The Lions were a playoff team a year ago, but they way they came back in the fourth quarter on the road to beat a good Philadelphia team on Sunday still surprised some Bears. Two games remain against Detroit, including next Monday night, as do two against Minnesota.

“We knew that coming into the year the division was really good,” Spaeth continued. “I knew the Vikings were going to be a lot better but they are kind of the surprise so far. It shows from top to bottom how tough the division really is.”

Jennings added: “Since I’ve been here that’s how it’s been. It’s a tough division. It’s going to be up and down but once November and December hit teams start to get in stride and figure out who they are.”

And though offense has dominated the NFL in recent years, the prevailing thought is the best defensive teams -- when the weather turns bad -- are the ones that have the best chance of surviving. Arguably, the Bears have the best defense in the division -- and maybe the NFL. They lead the league, giving up just 14.2 points per game and that includes one pick-6 given up by quarterback Jay Cutler.

“There’s a lot of great teams in this division and I definitely think it’s going to come down to the wire,” safety Chris Conte said. “I think the Packers are always a team to be reckoned with when they have a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers and all the weapons they have at wide receiver.”

Three teams from the same division making the playoffs is a rare occurrence but it does happen. The last time was in 2007. Though the NFC West might have a say in the matter ,this could be the year it happens in the NFC North. In fact, several Bears think a good team will be left out no matter what happens. Incidentally, the Bears moved into first place over the weekend without even playing a game, but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way to the end.

“It’s going to be a tough race and it’s early in the season so I don’t think you can write off anybody,” Conte said.