Fear Not, Chicago Fans: Bears on the Way to First Place

Chicago sports fans need some good news right now. Here it is: The Bears are about to go on a four-game winning streak that will put them atop the NFC North, where they'll stay for the rest of the season.

Say what you will about taking the season one game at a time (and that's what players and coaches always say), but sometimes it's more useful to analyze an NFL season by breaking it up into four quarters of four games each. And looking at the schedule that way, the Bears have just made it through their toughest quarter at 2-2.

Now they have a very good chance of going through their second quarter 4-0. It starts on Sunday in Detroit, where fans at Ford Field will have to find something new to chant because the Lions have finally fired Matt Millen. But those are still Millen's players the Bears will face, and that makes them one of the worst teams in the league. After four hard-fought games to start the season, the Lions should give the Bears their easiest win of the season, to improve to 3-2.

A week later the Bears travel to Atlanta, where they'll again be road favorites. The Falcons are, like the Bears, 2-2, and like the Bears, their two losses are to the Panthers and Buccaneers. But that's where their similarities end. Atlanta is a rebuilding team that got off to a 2-2 start by virtue of a schedule that had home games against the Lions and Chiefs in the first three weeks, and the Bears will beat them to improve to 4-2.

After that the Bears return to Soldier Field to play the Vikings, who are off to a 1-3 start and are in the extremely unusual position of actually improving their quarterback play by installing Gus Frerotte as the starter. But they've only improved a little, and the Bears have to be heavy favorites to beat the Vikings at home.

The Bears then complete the second quarter of the season with a home date against the Lions, and at that point, they're very well suited to be 6-2 and to have Minnesota and Detroit far in their rear-view mirrors in the NFC North.

That means it comes down to the Bears and the Packers, and going forward, the Bears have to be considered the stronger team. Green Bay has been hit hard by injuries, and if Aaron Rodgers' sprained throwing shoulder keeps him out, the Packers are starting seventh-round rookie Matt Flynn.

All in all, even though the start of October hasn't been pleasant in Chicago sports, the Bears have to make fans optimistic. They'll show over the next month that they're the best team in a weak NFC North, and they'll stay at the top through the end of December.

Michael David Smith has covered the NFL for FanHouse, Pro Football Talk, Fox Sports and the New York Times.

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