Matt Ryan is on pace for career highs in passing yards per game (335.6, best in the NFL) and completion percentage (70.8, fourth-best).
It was former Bears coach Lovie Smith who said November is the time a team discovers its identity.
In the first half of the schedule through October, new parts are molded and find their way preceding a two-month push for the playoffs.
“There is a part of the year where you get yourself in position,” Smith said. “You can’t be out of it. By the time you get to November, that’s what a team is. Early on, you’re working through different things.”
The Bears won their first game of November last week, trouncing the Bills 41-9 and ending a six-game losing streak in the month over the previous two seasons. Now they enter a critical portion of their schedule, facing three NFC North rivals in a 12-day span beginning Sunday against the Lions at Soldier Field.
Rookie coach Matt Nagy isn’t inclined to use the p-word — playoffs — but he has maneuvered the team to make a run at the postseason. At 5-3, the Bears sit atop the division with the easiest remaining schedule of the four teams. With games against the Giants and 49ers, the winning percentage of the Bears’ remaining opponents is .463.
Coming off a tough two-game stretch with road losses to the Rams and Patriots, the Packers’ remaining opponents are at .470. The Vikings, who are off Sunday, have the most difficult slate with opposing teams at .563 — they play the Bears twice and still must travel to New England. The Lions’ remaining opponents are at .544; they play the Bears twice in the next 12 days and are host to the Rams.
“You’ll never hear the word ‘playoffs’ from me,” Nagy said at the start of the week. “We’re worried about Week 10, that’s it. If we worry about the playoffs, then we’re worrying about the wrong thing. We have a lot of season left.”
Nagy might not be comfortable talking about the playoffs, but the Bears certainly are aligned to make a push. The upcoming stretch will only increase the focus on the Bears’ bid to end a seven-year postseason drought. Three games in 12 days will push the Bears, and it is the kind of challenge good teams answer. The Bears are in position, as Smith would say.
For the first time since 2004, only two games separate all of the NFC North entering Week 10, setting up what should be an interesting race.
A look at the four teams: