Bears Eyeing First Round Bye After Clinching NFC North

With a 40-14 victory over the Vikings on Monday night, the Chicago Bears clinched the NFC North title for the first time since 2006. At 10-4, the Bears can earn a No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs if they win their remaining two games.

The Eagles — leaders of the NFC East — have the same record, but lost to Chicago in Week 12. In a less-likely scenario, the Giants (9-5) could win the NFC East with the same record as the Bears, but the Giants hold the tie-breaker with a head-to-head victory in Week 4.

In our preseason predictions, we didn’t have the Bears finishing any higher than third in the division, but we certainly weren’t the only ones not high on the them. It appears there aren’t many people, including myself, who believe in them now — even after they’ve clinched the division. Jay Cutler’s penchant for throwing interceptions has been well documented, though to this point he has half as many (13) as he finished with last year. His decision making is still suspect, and we know he’s capable of imploding on any given day.

In any event, the Bears control their own destiny. A first-round bye and a home game would be huge, especially if they are matched up against an indoor powerhouse like the Saints in round two. Having played outdoors and in the cold, Chicago would have en enormous advantage in January against a dome or west coast team, so that has to be the goal. If they beat the struggling Jets and injury-plagued Packers, they’ll accomplish their mission.

Favre’s Retirement Opens NFC North for the Bears

When training camp started, I had a mental list of where I thought each team would finish in the NFC North division. I believed the Green Bay Packers would finish in first, followed by the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Bears and lastly, the Detroit Lions. But when news broke on Tuesday morning that Brett Favre planned to retire, the division picture changed dramatically.

I could not believe my ears when I heard that the Minnesota Star Tribune said Favre told teammates he planned to retire. Wasn’t he just saying that he feels more at home in Minnesota than he did during his time with the Packers?  If Favre does not return — which I’m not convinced until the season begins without Favre around — the race for second place becomes much tighter.

Favre had a career best 2009 season with only seven interceptions thrown. His dominant postseason play gave the Vikings a real shot at bringing the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Minneapolis until the New Orleans Saints shut them down in the NFC Championship game. Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels will have to fill big shoes this season if indeed Favre decides that 19 seasons are enough for him. I don’t believe that Jackson or Rosenfels are capable, at least not yet, of leading the Vikings to a Super Bowl let alone an NFC North title. And this is good news for the Bears.

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