No Time for Overconfidence

The Bears have to come away with a victory against the Saints or their effort in Detroit will soon be forgotten. The trip to Baton Rouge could be classified as a classic trap game, so head coach Lovie Smith is doing his best to keep the first place team focused.

At 4-3 the Bears have a one-game lead in the NFC North, but by virtue of sweeping the Lions they own the tiebreaker and a two-game advantage. The Vikings (2-5) and Packers (1-6) seem to be out of the race because of poor play and injuries to key starters.

The Saints have gone through much more than an injury bug following Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans and their home stadium. Players have been forced to play 16 road games this season. Their "home games" are split between San Antonio and Baton Rouge.

The Dolphins went into Baton Rouge on Sunday and soundly beat the Saints 21-6 with a roster that has less talent than the Bears.

Riding a three-game winning streak and facing a 2-6 Saints squad seems like a great way to keep things rolling. The Bears return home the following week to host San Francisco (2-5), who will likely be competing with the Vikings and Packers for the 1st pick in the 2006 draft.

All of the sudden, a five-game winning streak and a 6-3 record doesn't seem so far away.

"You're looking at that schedule right there. We're looking at New Orleans," said head coach Lovie Smith. "That's what we've done all year. We've looked at the next opponent. For us right now, New Orleans is all we're thinking about."

Smith is a believer of breaking the 16-game regular season into quarters to give the team a short-range goal. While the Bears finished the first quarter 1-3, a win over New Orleans would give them a 4-0 mark into the second quarter.

In what appears to be a two-team race, Chicago would like to open up their lead over Detroit. Like the Bears, the Lions have favorable matchups the next two weeks with games at Minnesota and vs. Arizona.

For the Bears, the third quarter of the season opens up with the 49ers, followed by back-to-back games with the NFC South. Although Carolina (5-2) will prove to be a challenge, Tampa Bay (5-2) doesn't appear to be the same team that started the season with four straight victories without QB Brian Griese.

The quarter comes to a close with the Packers coming to Soldier Field. The Bears haven't beaten Brett Favre in front of the home crowd since 1993. There won't be a better opportunity to end an 11-game losing streak before he retires.

The final portion of the schedule will be difficult. A visit to Pittsburgh is followed by a home date with the Falcons. Both teams will be fighting for playoff position. Even trips to Green Bay and Minnesota could be a challenge because each side could play spoiler for their division rival.

Despite potential bumps in the road, on paper it looks like the Bears should be going to the playoffs. Although it makes good fodder for fans and reporters to ponder midway through the season, this team is not good enough to look past anyone at this point.

Beat the teams below .500 and cruise to the NFC North crown. If not, it could be a struggle down to the wire.

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