Judgements IV: Bears assert their place as best team in NFL's best division

Photo courtesy of USA Today
Clark Judge

There is no better division top to bottom than the NFC North, with four teams capable of winning the division.

Me? I’ll take Chicago again, especially after Sunday’s defeat of Minnesota in a game they had every reason to lose. There was no Akiem Hicks, no Roquan Smith, no Taylor Gabriel and no Kyle Long.

And that’s before the ball was snapped.

Then, on the sixth play, there’s no Mitch Trubisky, either. He bowed out with a shoulder injury that looks serious and stay tuned.

In the meantime, look what happened: Chicago rolled out backup quarterback Chase Daniel, unleased a suffocating defense and … presto! just like that … had its third win in three weeks.

Of course, this was more than another victory. This was a lesson for the rest of the division that the Bears are still the team to beat. Chicago might have been Second City once, but not anymore. Drilling Minnesota without the Bears’ defensive playmakers and without their starting quarterback should gain everyone’s attention … not just in the NFC North but across the NFL in general. Because defense still matters, and few play it as well as Chicago … as the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook just found out.

Now look at the rest of the NFC North. Chicago has one loss, and it was inflicted by Green Bay. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and an improved defense, so consider them dangerous.

But what about Detroit? I didn’t pay attention until Sunday when the Lions lost to unbeaten Kansas City in a game that, frankly, they deserved to win. It was Detroit’s first defeat, but it was much more than that. It was a reminder not to sleep on the Lions.

Then there’s Minnesota at the bottom of the division at 2-2, and I think you get the point: If the Vikings are your fourth-best team the division must be stacked front to back.

And the NFC North is.

SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED

1. New England won’t go 16-0. The Patriots didn’t beat the Bills as much as they escaped them.

2. The Daniel Jones hype is legit. Over the past six quarters the Giants outscored opponents 46-6 and are 2-0. The previous 10 they were outscored 91-41 and were 0-2.

3. So Cleveland is better than we thought, but it may not be better than what we hoped. All I know is that the next three weeks will reveal what the Browns are all about. They play, in order, San Francisco, Seattle and New England – opponents with a combined record of 10-1.

4. New Orleans is still the team to beat in the NFC South ... and maybe in the NFC. Part of it has to do with the job Teddy Bridgewater is doing in place of the injured Drew Brees. The guy is 2-0. But part of it has to do with a Saints' defense that held Zeke Elliott to fewer than two yards a carry, forced three takeaways and shut down Dak Prescott. That wasn't supposed to happen. Neither was this: The Saints won without scoring a TD for the first time since 1998. In fact, they were 3-54 prior to Sunday when they didn't score a TD, which is why this victory is so important. The Saints are winning games they're not supposed to, and the envelope, please: A week ago New Orleans scored the first September defeat of Pete Carroll in 16 home games in Seattle. Now they knock off the unbeaten Cowboys without putting up a TD. Both without Brees. Remember that in January. The Saints will.

5. Houston is DOA if it can’t protect Deshaun Watson. This is the second straight year he’s served as a piñata, with six sacks Sunday upping his season total to 18. At that rate, that has him at 72 for the season and in line for the next casting call for “Grey’s Anatomy.”

THIRD-AND-25

1. Now that the NFL and its referees agreed on a new seven-year deal, when do they agree on pass interference?

2. So how bad is Miami? This bad: The Dolphins have been outscored 81-0 in the second half this season, the first team to go scoreless through the second halves of its first four games since the 1977 Green Bay Packers. Just tank, baby.

3. With Dwayne Haskins the presumptive starter in Washington, the oldest QB in the NFC East is Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz. He’s 26.

4. Proof that Buffalo’s defense is for real: Tom Brady’s average of 3.8 yards per attempt is his lowest in a victory.

5. In his last two starts, Jameis Winston has seven TDs and two interceptions. In his last three he has passer ratings of 103.4 or better. And in his last one he and his teammates set a franchise scoring record in a resounding upset of the defending NFC champions. The moral: Hire Bruce Arians to coach your quarterback.

6. Memo to Cam Newton: Take your time getting well. Carolina hasn’t lost with Kyle Allen … ever. He’s 2-0 this year and 3-0 for his career.

7. There is no overstating the importance of that win for the Browns. Baltimore is their only speed bump in the AFC North, and they just walloped the Ravens at home, and, yes, that's a big deal. Baltimore was 10-1 vs. Cleveland under John Harbaugh.

8. So Jared Goff threw for a gazillion yards. He also missed too many open targets, threw three interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a game-clinching TD. It’s hard to complain when a guy throws for a career-high 517 yards, but Goff must be better for the Rams to be serious playoff contenders.

9. Christian McCaffrey is the definition of MVP. Can’t imagine where the Panthers would be without him.

10. Kansas City didn’t beat Detroit. Detroit beat Detroit. The Lions twice lost fumbles inside the Chiefs’ 10, including a killer at the goal line returned for a 100-yard TD.

11. So much for home-field advantage. Visiting teams were 11-3 in Week Four. Only the Giants, Saints and Chicago held serve.

12. With six ejections in his career, Vontaze Burfict is what he is: Contemptible. What he should be is suspended.

13. I admit it, I was wrong about Vic Fangio. I thought his hiring would energize the Denver defense. It hasn’t. Entering Sunday’s game, the Broncos had no sacks, no interceptions and no fumble recoveries. Now this: Denver couldn’t protect a 17-3 lead, surrendered 20 unanswered points and blew a last-minute lead – at home, no less --- thanks, in part, to a roughing-the-passer penalty vs. Von Miller. That’s the eighth straight loss for Denver, and you can book it: The Broncos miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

14. Baker Mayfield 1, Rex Ryan 0.

15. It’s not the Arizona Cardinals that are getting worse each weekend. It’s GM Steve Keim’s job security, too.

16. So that’s what it looks like when Josh Jacobs is included in the Raiders’ passing game.

17. It’s hard not to root for Gardner Minshew. The more I watch him the more I wonder what happens if/when Nick Foles returns.

18. Early leader for Defensive MVP: Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett. All he’s done in four games is produce nine sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.

19. If I’m Bill Belichick, I call Matt Patricia before playing Kansas City Dec. 8. Though they lost, Patricia’s Lions defended Mahomes better than anyone I've witnessed the past two seasons.

20. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Kirk Cousins is not the quarterback to lead the Vikings … or anyone, for that matter … to a Super Bowl, and here's one reason why: He's 4-27 vs. opponents with winning records.

21. Jay Gruden is a coach waiting to be fired … and he may not be alone. Atlanta’s Dan Quinn just joined the party. Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons are 8-13 over their last 21 starts (including the playoffs) and need to get off the decaf. They’ve been outscored 71-20 in the first half this season.

22. Coming to Pay-Per-View: Marlon Humphrey vs. Odell Beckham Jr.

23. The best catch Sunday wasn't on a football field. It was in Boston's Fenway Park when Baltimore right fielder Stevie Wilkerson robbed Jackie Bradley Jr. of a homer with a spectacular leaping catch. If you haven't seen it, you should.

24. We have a Leonard Fournette sighting. About time.

25. From the Believe-It-or-Don't Department: Four weeks into the season, San Francisco is the only unbeaten team in the NFC.

MY TOP FIVE

1. New England … Biggest weakness? Extra points. Honest.

2. Kansas City … Better than the ribs at R.C.’s.

3. New Orleans … Teddy Bridgewater = Teddy Ballgame.

4. L.A. Rams … Wade Phillips, report to the principal’s office.

5. Seattle … Another year, another Russell Wilson MVP push.

MY BOTTOM FIVE

32. Miami … Tanking for Tua right on schedule.

31. N.Y. Jets … Good news, Jets fans: They didn’t lose.

30. Washington … First in war, first in peace and last in the NFC East.

29. Arizona … Kliff Notes go back on the shelf.

28. Cincinnati … Bengals are five-alarm chilly.

STAT THAT MIGHT INTEREST ONLY ME

Tom Brady has more Super Bowl MVPs (4) than losses to Buffalo (3).

ONE THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU

Cleveland has this season’s longest pass (89 yards by OBJ) and run plays (88 yards by Nick Chubb).

AND ONE THAT MIGHT INTEREST BOTH OF US

Talk about parity. There’s a four-way tie in the AFC South, and you can look it up. All four teams are 2-2.

GOLD JACKET QUOTE

"A dog that poop fast don't poop for long, man." -- Chicago linebacker Khalil Mack on the significance of the Bears' win with 12 games left.

GOLD JACKET QUOTE, PART II

“(I’m) more pissed than I’ve been in a long time.” – Atlanta coach Dan Quinn.

SUNDAY'S GOLD JACKET

BUFFALO RB FRANK GORE. The guy is 36, yet he just ran through New England for 109 yards and became the fourth NFL back to rush for 15,000 career yards. The others (Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders) are in the Hall of Fame. Gore will be, too, if he ever decides to retire.

Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF

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