Take the North? Bears enter gauntlet without divisional win since 2021

The next NFC North game that GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus win together will be their first. The Bears are the only team in the NFL to be winless in their division since the start of the 2022 season.

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Carolina Panthers v Chicago Bears

Bears coach Matt Eberflus looks on against the Panthers.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Ryan Poles thanked God and Bears chairman George McCaskey.

He laid out his plan as the Bears’ new general manager, which was to build through the draft and try to fix the team’s many weaknesses. He detailed his connections to the franchise and the city, from suiting up for training camp in Bourbonnais to proposing to his wife on a sailing trip off Navy Pier.

Then, just as Poles was ready to introduce his handpicked head coach on Jan. 22, 2022, he delivered the line he knew would be aired across the world to hungry Bears fans.

‘‘The last thing, the most important piece,’’ he said, ‘‘is we’re going to take the [NFC] North and never give it back.’’

The next NFC North game Poles and coach Matt Eberflus win together will be their first. The Bears are the only team in the NFL to be winless in their division since the start of the 2022 season.

Their three most recent divisional losses have been by six points to the Vikings, 18 to the Packers and 31 to the Lions. The New Year’s Day loss last season was the Bears’ worst in Detroit since Eberflus was 11 years old.

Take the North? How about dent the North? Make someone in the North nervous?

The game Sunday in Detroit will be the most difficult in the NFC North the Bears have played under Eberflus and Poles. The Lions are 7-2, lead the division and are second only to the Eagles in the NFC.

Sunday also marks the start of a stretch of three consecutive divisional games. The Bears travel to the resurgent Vikings the next week, then host the Lions after a bye. They’ll play more divisional games in a 21-day span than they have all season to this point.

If Poles and Eberflus ever were going to try to take the North, now’s the time. Finishing atop it seems impossible, but being competitive in the division — against the three teams the Bears hold themselves up to as a measuring stick — is one of many steps they need to take to move their rebuild forward. And maybe even to save their jobs.

‘‘All wins are important, of course, and division wins do have more weight,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘We certainly know that. . . .

‘‘The guys are excited about it. The guys know it’s an important part of our season. We’ve talked about that since training camp, and they know it’s a big part of our success.’’

In the summer, receiver Darnell Mooney made light of the Lions on a podcast hosted by the St. Brown brothers — the Bears’ Equanimeous and the Lions’ Amon-Ra.

‘‘I had a comment in the summer about the Lions always being the Lions,’’ Mooney said. ‘‘They’re definitely not that team. They’re playing very good ball — offense, defense, special teams. They’re playing very good ball. Kudos to those guys.

‘‘Obviously we’re trying to get some wins. It’s a big test. They’re playing very good football.’’

Fellow receiver DJ Moore was focused on beating a good team, regardless of the division. In 1 1/2 seasons with the Bears, Eberflus has yet to defeat a team that entered the game with a winning record.

‘‘The divisional games are important games,’’ he said. ‘‘Taking out people at the top is probably going to be a great feeling. What it’s going to show is that we’ve improved what we needed to improve on coming out of this. After a win, we’re going to look at what we’ve improved on and what we can get better at.’’

Moore sounded as though he knew a victory was coming.

‘‘You’re always ready for a breakthrough,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s the NFL. One game can turn your whole season around.’’

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