While advanced analytics are becoming increasingly popular in pro sports, one simple statistic explains how the Bears were able to win the NFC North title this year.
Coach Matt Nagy's team will enter Sunday's regular-season finale in Minnesota with a 4-1 record against division opponents this year. That matches the win total the Bears accumulated in compiling a 4-20 mark versus NFC North foes while finishing in last place each of the previous four seasons.
"It all starts there," Nagy said. "You've got to win your division games. We talked about at the beginning of the year some goals that we had. When you win your division games, you're giving yourself a really good chance at being able to be there in the end to win the division, which is going to get you a home playoff game at the minimum."
Since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002, the Bears have finished three seasons with a 5-1 record against division opponents. It's no coincidence that those are also the three years they won the NFC North—in 2005, 2006 and 2010.
The only other time the Bears have had a winning record versus division foes since 2002 was when they went 4-2 in 2008 but finished out of the playoffs with a 9-7 mark.
This season marks the fifth time that the Bears have defeated all three of their NFC North rivals in the same year—joining 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Last year the Bears went 5-5 against non-division opponents but finished 5-11 after getting swept by the Lions, Packers and Vikings.
"I've always felt like division games were important because of an old coach of mine when I was first drafted into this league," said defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. "he said if you can't play well against division opponents, then you have no purpose on this team. And it's true because the reason that we are in the position we're in now is because we've played so well against division opponents. It carries a lot of weight."
The Bears entered the 2018 season having lost 14 of their last 16 games to the Packers, nine of 10 to the Lions and six of seven to the Vikings. But after a Week 1 defeat in Green Bay, the Bears have won four straight division games for the first time since 2010 when they won their first five before losing the regular-season finale in Green Bay.
Registering three wins over division opponents in a 12-day span Nov. 11-22 helped catapult the Bears to the NFC North crown.
After beating the Lions 34-22 in Chicago, they followed with a statement win over the Vikings 25-20 in a battle for first place a week later on Sunday Night Football at Soldier Field. They then capped the stretch four days later with a 23-16 victory over the Lions on Thanksgiving in Detroit.
Nagy has pointed to the win over the Vikings in a game that was flexed into the national TV primetime spotlight as the turning point of the Bears season.
With the playoff-bound Bears closing the regular season Sunday in Minnesota, senior writer Larry Mayer ranks their top 10 moves of 2018: