The Bears could clinch the NFC North this weekend with a win over the Vikings and a Packer loss. Both of these things could easily happen. But only if conditions are right.
First let’s take a look at how the Bears are reacting to the way that the Patriots dominated them. This is what tight end Greg Olsen is saying via Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times:
“It still hurts. We took a lot of pride in playing well, and it was a big stage for us, and we didn’t take advantage of it at all.
“‘But we have to move on. One loss could become two, and then you’re snowballing down the wrong path. We have to bounce back. We play the Vikings — a division game. Maybe a week from [today], we’ll be celebrating being NFC North champs. We’ll see.”
Sounds good. As long as they aren’t assuming they are going to beat the Vikings and they concentrate and give it full effort this week instead of letting the post-game hangover affect them. There’s still a chance that they could play the Vikings in the Metrodome and the Bears have lost seven of their last eight there. If they don’t, they could be playing outside at the University of Minnesota which, as Sean Jensen, also at the Sun-Times, points out, may not be much better. It isn’t like the Bears looked fast on the snow Sunday.
But I think the Bears can handle the Vikings. What is more in doubt in my mind is the Packers-New England game. Yes, I’m aware that the Patriots have won 26 in a row at home. And I’m aware that Aaron Rogers might not play. Without him, the Packers are almost certainly sunk.
As I pointed out last week and as numerous people have pointed out since the game ended, the Patriots were practically built to beat the Bears. They specialize in executing a patient, short passing game that works well against the cover two. As Don Pompei at the Chicago Tribune pointed out yesterday, the Patriots forced the Bears to play a lot of man-to-man because they are so good at setting up mismatches with their personnel against zone defenses.
So the Bears problem was that they don’t specialize in playing man-to-man. The Packers do. In contrast to the good match up that the Patriots had against the Bears, the matchup with the Packers defense is terrible. They play tenacious man-to-man defense and they have the personnel to do it. You could argue that even their backups are better at it than the Bears starters are, particularly in the snow.
And, of course, there’s always the possibility that coming off of two tough wins, the Patriots could let down. Things like that don’t happen to Bill Belichick‘s teams, you say? All you have to do is remember that the Browns beat them 34-7 just last month. No one is in top form all the time. Though the best do manage to minimize it, it’s human nature to let down at least a little in these situations.
I know it was garbage time and I know better than to make a big deal of it. But I’ll say out right that the Patriots played a very sloppy second half against the Bears and if they play at all like that against the Packers with Rogers in the line up, home game or not they’ll lose.
So even if the Bears react properly and come out on fire against the Vikings, the Packers aren’t going to just lay down and die. The Patriots could have their hands full next week.