The Pro Football Notebook

December 29, 2010 8:09 AM

Chicago's Magic Ride Continues

LovieSmith.jpgWhere I come from in Wisconsin there's a song that makes its way around the radio when the rival Chicago Bears are having a good year, one that's titled bluntly "The Bears Still Suck." And the belief has been that they've had a magical and lucky ride to the top of the NFC North. Whatever the cause, their good fortune continued last night as Minnesota stunned Philadelphia 24-14 and handed the Bears a first-round bye for the playoffs. But upon further review, let's give credit to Chicago where credit is due. This is a team that defends the run very well, has improved running it themselves, does an excellent job on special teams--not just with Devin Hester, but in punt coverage where they also rank very high. And the passing game is respectable, with Jay Cutler being the kind of quarterback who can have just enough hot streaks to pull out some wins in the air when you need it, as last week's 38-34 surprise shootout against the Jets attests. That's the formula for winning close games and being consistent. The parity-driven NFL is about consistency more than dazzling anyone with individual wins. Hence, though Green Bay can look a lot better than Chicago on an individual day--such as Sunday, when the Packers demolished the Giants--the Bears look much better over the long haul where champions are determined. They've earned the week off. But I have enough Wisconsinite in me to say that they still suck.

Here's a brief rundown of the playoff picture:

*Philadelphia and Chicago have clinched divisions in the NFC. The Eagles are locked in as the #3 seed. Atlanta wraps up the South and the #1 seed when it beats Carolina. New Orleans can still take the division in the event of an upset and Chicago could still get the top spot overall. St. Louis and Seattle settle the West head-to-head on Sunday night.

*Green Bay is in as a wild-card if they beat Chicago, with New York waiting in the wings and Tampa third in line.

*New England and Kansas City have clinched AFC division titles and the Patriots are the #1 seed. Pittsburgh locks up the #2 seed and the AFC North with a win. Baltimore can take the same if the Steelers lose. Indy claims the AFC South with a win, while Jacksonville can move in if the Colts stumble.

*New York and Baltimore have each clinched wild-card berths, so the AFC South winner is the only empty playoff spot remaining.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in the NFL, coverage of college basketball.  and bowl commentary in college football. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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