ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Now the real fun begins.
The Bears took care of business with a 41-9 laugher over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at New Era Field, upping their NFC North-leading record to 5-3 at the halfway point of the 2018 season. With that record will come a string of three critical games in 12 days, starting with next week’s home date with the Detroit Lions. After that, the Minnesota Vikings come to town, then the Bears head to Michigan for a Thanksgiving date with the Lions.
How the Bears fare in that three-game stretch could tee them up for a legitimate run at the playoffs, or force them into a difficult position come December.
The Bears did what they needed to do against the New York Jets and the Bills, beating two teams over which they had a significant talent advantage by a combined 36 points. Leonard Floyd had a pick-six and Eddie Jackson forced a fumble and returned it 65 yards for defensive touchdowns, while Mitch Trubisky largely took what the Bills’ defense gave him and Jordan Howard plowed in for two scores himself. This was a game that was over at halftime, with the only drama in the second half revolving around how much worse things could get for Nathan Peterman and the woebegone Bills’ offense.
That being said, it wasn’t an entirely clean game. The Bears committed 14 penalties for 129 yards and Trubisky sailed a throw over an open Trey Burton that was picked off in the second half, for starters, and an offensive line missing Kyle Long struggled to create room for Howard all game. But it was a more than good enough effort to handily beat one of the worst teams in the NFL, quarterbacked by the worst quarterback in the NFL.
The challenges will be greater in the Bears’ next three games, though the potential of the returns of outside linebacker Khalil Mack and wide receiver Allen Robinson — both of whom were inactive the last two games — would buoy this team’s hopes. The Bears are 3-16 against the NFC North since the beginning of 2015, and last were .500 against the division in 2012. It’s been eight years since the Bears won more games against division opponents than they lost, which not coincidentally was the last time this franchise made the playoffs.
The scenarios are tantalizing for the Bears if they were to win two or three games this Lions-Vikings-Lions sandwich. Emerge with seven or eight wins and then take care of business against the New York Giants and a difficult December (vs. the Los Angeles Rams, vs. Green Bay, at San Francisco, at Minnesota) looks manageable for the Bears to navigate into the postseason.
But for that stretch to be meaningful, the Bears had to handle the Jets and Bills. They did just that.
And again: Now the real fun begins.