The Chicago Bears play the Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field, before heading to their bye week (and then not playing again until Monday, November 4th in Green Bay).

Let's take an overall look at where things currently stand for the Bears, looking at the NFC North and NFC standings in general, the Bears' remaining schedule, the Bears' health situation, statistical leaders on the Bears, and much more (including grades from the outstanding Pro Football Focus).


(Via ESPN.Com)

Quite a cluttered, competitive situation we have right now in the NFC North, and that's certainly nothing new. Last year we saw the Bears be left out of the playoffs and finish third place in the NFC North, while going 10-6. We could have a similar situation brewing this year (and hopefully with the Bears on the good end of such a situation this time around), with three NFC North teams having winning records. In fact, the NFC North is currently the only division in the NFL that has three teams with winning records.

After beating the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football in week six, the Bears are currently tied for first place with the Detroit Lions. The Lions hold the tiebreaker after beating the Bears in week four, but keep in mind these two teams meet again in Chicago in week 10, so the Bears will have the chance to eliminate the head-to-head tiebreaker scenario there.

The Green Bay Packers are 3-2, and I think most still consider them the divisional favorite, or at least the team to beat until the Bears or Lions prove otherwise. Right now, those three teams seem pretty even, and their records would indicate that. Injuries are hitting the Bears and Packers very hard right now though, and it will be interesting to see how much those injuries impact each team's performance going forward.

It sure looks like the Minnesota Vikings are on the outside looking in when it comes to this NFC North race, but maybe newly acquired quarterback, Josh Freeman, improves their passing game (he'll need to play much better than he has over the last year+ though). Even still, the Vikings are at least two games behind each of the other three teams, so it would take them dominating the rest of the way while all three of the other teams disappoint. Unlikely scenario, but crazy things are constantly happening in this league so who knows.

Looking at week seven specifically, the Lions are slight favorites at home against a solid Cincinnati Bengals team, the Packers are quite likely to win as they host the Cleveland Browns, and the Vikings travel to New York to face the winless Giants on the road for Monday Night Football.

As for the NFC in general, the Bears enter their week seven game as the current No. 6 seed, behind the No. 5 San Francisco 49ers due to conference record, where the Bears hold a 2-2 record (the 49ers are 3-1). This is where a win against the Redskins would also help when looking to potential playoff tiebreakers down the road.

Currently, nine NFC teams are .500 or better, and I wouldn't count out a team like the 2-3 Carolina Panthers just yet either (they have three straight very winnable games coming up too).

The best bet at this point is certainly that the two NFC wild card slots are represented by teams in the NFC North and NFC West. The NFC East doesn't have a team over .500 (although that will change after the Eagles and Cowboys, each 3-3, meet Sunday), and no teams after the New Orleans Saints are .500 or better in the NFC South.

Remaining Schedule

Week 7- at Washington Redskins (1-4)

Week 8- BYE

Week 9- at Green Bay Packers (3-2); Monday Night Football

Week 10- vs Detroit Lions (4-2)

Week 11- vs Baltimore Ravens (3-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 12- at St. Louis Rams (3-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 13- at Minnesota Vikings (1-4); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 14- vs Dallas Cowboys (3-3); Monday Night Football

Week 15- at Cleveland Browns (3-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 16- at Philadelphia Eagles (3-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 17- vs Green Bay Packers (3-2); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Given the Bears' injuries and the team trying to find itself defensively, the bye week really couldn't come at a better time. Especially when you factor in that they get some extra time to heal and prepare for the dreaded annual trip to Lambeau Field (and on Monday Night Football), and then the crucial Lions game I talked about earlier.

There's really nothing close to a gimme on the schedule, but there also aren't any "Oh god, that's a surefire loss" games either.

We should have a better idea soon about a Bears game that could be 'flexed' to Sunday Night Football, but weeks 11, 16, and 17 all would appear to be legitimate possibilities unless any of those teams (Bears included) go downhill over the next month.

I have a hard time seeing the Browns keep up their level of play enough to be considered a very realistic flex right now in week 15. I certainly would love to see them prove me wrong on Sunday in Green Bay, of course. The Rams are 3-3 but have been blown out in a couple games and have a difficult schedule over the next four weeks. They're also not a ratings getter, so they're not going to be selected for a flex spot unless their record cries out for it (and that won't be the case).

Bears-Packers at Soldier Field in week 17 would obviously make all the sense in the world for the NFL and NBC, especially if it's for the NFC North division crown.

Bears' Injury Report

We wrote about the Bears-Redskins injury report twice this week, with the notable injury concerns for the game being the 'Questionable' tags for the Bears' Martellus Bennett and Charles Tillman.

Looking at the big picture rather than just this game, the defensive front-seven continues to be decimated by injuries with Henry Melton, Nate Collins, and D.J. Williams all being lost for the season in recent weeks. The good news is at least that Stephen Paea should be good to go vs the Redskins. Paea's absence was noticeable against the Giants.

The bottom line is that the Bears can ill afford to lose another starting defensive lineman or linebacker to injury. It's hard to imagine the pass rush and run defense getting better if you have to keep playing undrafted rookie free agents or guys signed off the street in the middle of the season.

Bears' Statistical Leaders

Note: Overall NFL ranking in parentheses; statistical ranks among NFL players based on games before Sunday; Bears players placed on Injured Reserve are not included.

Passing Stats

Jay Cutler: 143-217, 65.9 Completion % (6th), 1,630 Yards, 7.51 Yards/Attempt, 272 Yards/Game, 12 TD (Tied for 6th), 6 INT (Tied for 7th), 9 Sacks Taken, 95.2 QB Rating (8th).

Rushing Stats (Running Backs Only)

Matt Forte: 100 Carries (9th), 442 Yards (7th), 4.4 Yards/Carry, 73.7 Yards/Game, 3 TD (Tied for 6th), 1 Fumble, 1 Fumble Lost, 22 1st Downs (Tied for 7th).

Michael Bush: 24 Carries, 44 Yards, 1.8 Yards/Carry, 7.3 Yards/Game, 1 TD, 0 Fumbles, 3 1st Downs.

Receiving Stats (Top 5)

Brandon Marshall: 40 Receptions (5th), 58 Targets (Tied for 9th), 465 Yards, 11.6 Yards/Reception, 5 TD (Tied for 6th), 77.5 Yards/Game, 109 Yards After Catch, 25 1st Downs (Tied for 7th).

Matt Forte: 33 Receptions, 38 Targets, 244 Yards, 7.4 Yards/Reception, 0 TD, 40.7 Yards/Game, 211 Yards After Catch, 10 1st Downs.

Martellus Bennett: 31 Receptions, 45 Targets, 349 Yards, 11.3 Yards/Reception, 3 TD (Tied for 6th), 58.2 Yards/Game, 190 Yards After Catch, 21 1st Downs.

Alshon Jeffery: 29 Receptions, 50 Targets, 456 Yards, 15.7 Yards/Reception, 2 TD, 76.0 Yards/Game, 75 Yards After Catch, 18 1st Downs.

Earl Bennett: 8 Receptions, 15 Targets, 47 Yards, 10.0 Yards/Reception, 2 TD, 13.3 Yards/Game, -1 Yards After Catch, 5 1st Downs.

Tackling Stats (Top 5)

Lance Briggs: 56 Tackles (42 Solo, 14 Ast) (6th), 7 Tackles For Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 4th).

Major Wright: 45 Tackles (33 Solo, 12 Ast), 0 Tackles For Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 4th).

James Anderson: 33 Tackles (27 Solo, 6 Ast), 3 Tackles For Loss.

Chris Conte: 31 Tackles (28 Solo, 3 Ast), 0 Tackles For Loss, 0 Forced Fumbles.

Charles Tillman: 23 Tackles (17 Solo, 6 Ast), 2 Tackles For Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 4th).

Sack Stats

Lance Briggs: 2 Sacks.

Julius Peppers: 1 Sack.

Corey Wootton: 1 Sack.

Shea McClellin: 0.5 Sacks.

Stephen Paea: 0.5 Sacks.

Coverage Stats

Tim Jennings: 3 INT (Tied for 6th), 2 INT Returned For TD (1st), 8 Pass Deflections (Tied for 9th).

Charles Tillman: 2 INT, 3 Pass Deflections.

Major Wright: 2 INT, 1 INT Returned For TD (Tied for 2nd), 3 Pass Deflections.

Zack Bowman: 1 INT, 2 Pass Deflections.

Chris Conte: 1 INT, 2 Pass Deflections.

Special Teams Stats

Devin Hester: 19 Kick Returns (2nd), 575 Yards (1st), 30.3 AVG (3rd);  6 Punt Returns, 35 Yards, 5.8 AVG.

Robbie Gould: 10-10 On Field Goals (Tied for 1st in percentage, obviously), Long Field Goal Of 58 Yards (1st).

Adam Podlesh: 26 Punts, 43.0 AVG, 39.3 NET, Long Punt Of 59 Yards, 11 Punts Inside The 20 (Tied for 8th).

Bears Grades From Pro Football Focus

Before looking at some grades of individual players on the Bears, let's look at Pro Football Focus' cumulative Bears grades (combining the grades of each player that apply) in specific departments through week three.

Note: Grade ranks based on games before week seven; Bears players placed on Injured Reserve are not included.

Bears Cumulative PFF Grades

Offense Overall: +14.9 (12th)

Passing Offense: +19.6 (7th)

Rushing Offense: +2.4 (8th)

Pass Blocking: -19.4 (28th)

Run Blocking: +11.9 (10th)

Penalties (On Offense): +11.9 (4th)

Defense Overall: -41.9 (29th)

Run Defense: -27.4 (31st)

Pass Rush: -13.6 (26th)

Pass Coverage: -8.6 (19th)

Penalties (On Defense): +7.7 (Tied for 8th)

Special Teams: -7.7 (28th)

And here's some PFF grades of individual players on the Bears...

Bears Individual Player PFF Grades

Top 4 Overall Grades On Offense: 

1. WR Brandon Marshall, +11.5 (2nd)
2. QB Jay Cutler, +8.1 (10th)
3. WR Alshon Jeffery, +6.3
4. G Matt Slauson, + 4.8

Bottom 4 Overall Grades On Offense:

1. OT Jordan Mills, -13.0
2. HB Michael Bush, -4.1
3. TE Steve Maneri, -2.4
4. TE Martellus Bennett, -2.1

Top 4 Overall Grades On Defense:

1. CB Tim Jennings, +3.6
2. DT Stephen Paea, +2.8
3. DE David Bass, +0.8
4. CB Isaiah Frey, +0.3

Bottom 4 Overall Grades On Defense:

1. S Major Wright, -11.9
2. DE Shea McClellin, -10.2
3. CB Charles Tillman, -4.3
4. DT Landon Cohen, -3.6

Top 3 Overall Grades On Special Teams:

1. K Robbie Gould, +8.6
2. LB Blake Costanzo, +5.5 (Tied for 2nd in ST coverage)
3. KR Devin Hester, +2.4 (+3.2 as a returner, tied for 4th); Eric Weems, +2.4

Bottom 3 Overall Grades On Special Teams:

1. LB Jon Bostic, -3.5
2. P Adam Podlesh, -3.3
3. CB Zack Bowman, -3.0

Looking at the PFF cumulative team grades... you get the message rather easily. The Bears' offense has been good and the defense has been bad. Pretty simple. And it's like the bizarro world for the Bears, right? It would be nice if the offense and defense could ever be clicking at the same time.

But looking at the offense, what's really nice is the Bears have definitely not come close to peaking there. They're just six games through a brand-new, complicated offense, and with some key new pieces (we could even consider Alshon Jeffery a part of this given his injury-plagued rookie season). There's plenty of room for improvement across the board. It speaks to the talent level of the offense and what Marc Trestman can get out of that talent in his system.

Additionally, keep in mind that the team is starting two rookies on the right side of the offensive line in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, and perhaps they improve as the season goes along. As you can see above, Mills has graded quite poorly this season, but he hasn't killed the team out there either, and he has exciting potential at right tackle.

Take out Jay Cutler's brutal half against the Lions, and he's been as good as any quarterback outside of Peyton Manning this season.

PFF had this to say about Cutler in their "Three To Focus On: Bears-Redskins" article:
He’s been able to be a game manager while still taking timely shots down the field. His +8.1 grade is 10th overall and his PFF QB rating of 95.38 is fourth in the league. His overall Accuracy Percentage has also seen a 6% uptick from last year, and at 76%, it ranks seventh. Having the second- and 11th-ranked wide receivers has definitely given him a boost as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have combined for a +17.8 grade, 69 receptions, 921 yards and seven TDs.
As you can see, they highlight the performances of Marshall and Jeffery as well. Much was made about Marshall's quiet few weeks leading up to week six, but he quickly put those doubts to rest with a stellar game against the Giants, reeling in nine catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns. Marshall and Jeffery have graded very well as run-blockers as well.

Defensively, the Bears only have four guys on their active roster that PFF has graded positively this year. Not good.

There are some very ugly grades, particularly from Major Wright and Shea McClellin. Wright has two interceptions on the season but has frequently found himself out of place and has missed a lot of tackles. McClellin, well, he hasn't done anything well this year. He's been especially terrible against the run, where his -8.9 PFF grade is the worst for 4-3 defensive ends, and he hasn't done much in the pass rush department either. It's definitely time to be concerned about his ability to handle being a 4-3 defensive end, although many were as worried about that the day he was drafted.

Our Overall Take

Between the injuries to the front-seven, and healthy players on the front-seven like Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin not performing nearly as well as the Bears hoped coming into the season, there's plenty of reason to be concerned about the Bears' ability to generate a consistent pass rush and stop the run.

The good news on defense is that the takeaways are still there, with the team ranking second in the NFL in takeaways with 17, before week seven started on Thursday night. But you don't want to have to basically rely on turnovers defensively, especially when you're facing quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers that won't give you many chances to take the ball away. So the Bears need to show improvement in their pass rush and against the run, but it will be tough to make a ton of progress in each department, given the loss of Melton, Collins, and Williams.

However, the offense overall looks very good, and can get much better as the year goes on. And in the modern-day NFL, it's about quarterback play and putting points on the board. If Cutler and the offense keep improving, the Bears certainly can get by with deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball.

Sunday's Bears game against the Redskins is a big one. You'd feel much, much better about things going into the bye with a 5-2 record instead of a 4-3 one. It's especially the case with the Packers and Lions games to follow.

I mean, really, even with the defensive concerns and the season-ending injuries, you would have to be pretty satisfied with being 5-2 headed into the bye week, right? Hopefully the Bears can get it done.

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