NFC North

PFF: Bears have 16 percent chance of winning NFC North

PFF: Bears have 16 percent chance of winning NFC North

Now that actual football is right around the corner, optimism surrounding the Chicago Bears chances at a playoff run in 2018 may be dissipating.

Pro Football Focus published its NFC North preview and the Bears were given virtually no shot at a division title. They came in last with only a 16 percent chance at wearing the crown.

Probability of winning the division: MIN 38%, GB 23%, DET 23%, CHI 16%

For the Bears to have any chance at competing for the division, they have to prove capable of pressuring the quarterback. Aaron Rodgers remains under center for the Packers while Matthew Stafford returns once again in Detroit. Add Kirk Cousins to the Vikings and Chicago is facing three of the NFL's most talented passers six times in divisional games. That's brutal, and it's a big reason why their odds of winning the North are so low.

The Bears' playoff chances were a little better at 25 percent.

Probability of making playoffs: MIN 50%, DET 35%, GB 34%, CHI 25%

Much will change between now and the start of the regular season. Injuries in training camp or the preseason can quickly change the complexion of the NFC North and give the Bears a better chance at making a run. But fans expecting Chicago to be Kings of the North in 2018 may want to pump the brakes on their excitement, especially if you support the value of analytics.

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

The Chicago Bears are less than one month from the start of training camp, but the praise for general manager Ryan Pace's offseason continues to pour in.

Pace and the Bears received an A for their offseason -- the best grade in the NFC North -- from Sports Illustrated. A big part of the perfect score was the overhaul at wide receiver.

Chicago had one of the weakest receiving groups in the NFL last season—the team ranked dead last in passing yards per game (175.7)—so that position was clearly an area of focus this offseason for general manager Ryan Pace. The additions of Allen Robinson from Jacksonville, Taylor Gabriel from Atlanta and Anthony Miller via the draft will boost a stagnant group, assuming Robinson returns fully healthy from last September’s ACL tear. If 2015 first-round pick Kevin White can stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his ill-fated career, it’s an added bonus.

Much is expected from the revamped group of pass-catchers even though none of them have an overwhelming history of production. Robinson had a dominant season in 2015 (1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns), but his last two seasons involved mediocre production in 2016 and a torn ACL in Week 1 last year. Gabriel's never topped more than 621 yards in a season and tight end Trey Burton has been a backup his whole career. Miller has yet to play a snap in the NFL and White, now entering his fourth season, is still looking for his first touchdown catch.

Mitch Trubisky has a lot of work to do once training camp kicks off. Not only must he master coach Matt Nagy's offense, but he must do so while building chemistry with all of his new receivers. Growing pains will happen, but the upside and expectations for the Bears in 2018 are higher than they've been in many years, and it's all because of a great offseason had by the front office.

NFC North ranked 2nd-toughest division in NFL

NFC North ranked 2nd-toughest division in NFL

Every team in the NFL starts the regular season with playoff aspirations. It's no different for the Chicago Bears in 2018, but their road to the post-season may be a little more difficult than most.

According to NFL.com, the Bears play in the second-toughest division in the NFL.

2) NFC North: Vikings, Lions, Packers, Bears

This is no longer the Aaron Rodgers Invitational. The Vikings kept all the best parts of their NFC title game squad while upgrading at quarterback, defensive tackle and the No. 3 receiver spot. Matthew Stafford has the perfect combination of scheme continuity, weapons and a bolstered offensive line to enjoy a career season. Rodgers is due for another MVP campaign that reminds everyone he might be the most talented ever at his position, while the Bears finally look interesting again.

Chicago's anticipated revival is the key. I don't need to watch another six-minute montage prior to a Bears-Packers national television game calling it the sport's greatest rivalry before another 38-13 target-practice sesh for Rodgers. If the Bears' hype pans out, the NFC North has the highest ceiling of any division: Two true title contenders and two dreaded "teams no one wants to face."

The Bears don't want to just be a team that no one wants to face. They want to be contenders, and the NFC North will be the ultimate test for coach Matt Nagy and QB Mitch Trubisky on the path to contender status. 

Former coach Mike Ditka offered his opinion on the NFC North in a recent sit-down with NBC Sports.

"In the National Football League you have to look at your division, that’s where it all starts," Ditka said. "You got Green Bay, you got Detroit, you got Minnesota, you got Chicago. Now Chicago has to understand they got to come out of the six games with Minnesota, Detroit and Green Bay with at least four wins. At least four. If you come out 5-1 or 6-0, fantastic, but that’s going to determine how you play the rest of the league."

No one is expecting the Bears to finish 5-1 or 6-0 in the division this year. They only won five games, total, in 2017.

A more reasonable expectation for Chicago is a 4-2 finish in the North. If they can sweep the Lions while splitting with the Packers and Vikings, meaningful games with playoff implications will be in the cards for December.