There is an interesting perception prevalent among Bears fans and a fair number of NFL analysts around the country that the difference between the Packers and Bears last season was one blown coverage on a fourth-and-8 play with just over 30 seconds remaining in the final game of the season.
To be clear, I have no doubt the 2014 Bears are capable of winning the NFC North, and I expect them to make a real run at it.
But the idea that the Bears and Packers were that close last year and the Bears just need to make minor strides to catch them ignores the facts.
The 2013 Packers were 6-2 with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, if you don’t count the first Bears game in which he went out early. The Pack was 2-5-1 with anybody else at quarterback.
The ’13 Bears were 5-5 with Jay Cutler at quarterback, if you don’t count the Redskins game in which he went out early, and they were 3-3 with anybody else at quarterback.
The Packers were one of the best teams in the league with Rodgers, one of the worst without him. The Bears were just average no matter who was at quarterback.
So just how do the Bears rate against the Packers?
Jay Cutler has had an excellent offseason and appears to be a changed man both off and on the field, giving us cause to expect he will have the best year of his career. But Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL today. Advantage Packers.
Matt Forte is one of the five best running backs in the NFL today, coming off back- to-back Pro Bowl seasons. Eddie Lacy was the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Forte is at the point in his career where running backs start to hit the wall. Lacy’s arrow is definitely pointing up. Still, based on their bodies of work, I give a slight edge to Forte.
But the Packers are far superior in depth at the position, with James Starks, so you have to call running back a draw.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are the best starting wide receiver duo in the NFL, but the Bears have little or nothing behind them.
In Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and Davante Adams, the Packers have very good starters and much better depth than the Bears.
I’d give the slightest of edges to the Bears at wideouts because of the starters.
Martellus Bennett gives the Bears a clear edge at tight end.
The offensive lines are a draw. The Bears' success is more scheme-driven than talent-based, and the Packers have a little better talent but are not special.
The defenses are tougher to compare because they’re different schemes.
If B.J. Raji bounces back in a contract year, Julius Peppers has anything left and youngsters Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Josh Boyd play to their potential, the Packers can be pretty good.
The same can be said for Jared Allen, Jeremiah Ratliff, Lamarr Houston and company. They should be better, but until we see it, who knows?
Both teams have questions at linebacker, but you have to give the Packers a slight nod because they have fewer questions, and Clay Matthews is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year who missed four games two seasons ago and five last year because of injuries but should be just reaching his peak.
In the secondary, both teams are good at cornerback and both have questions at safety. The Packers have slightly fewer questions than the Bears. Maybe it’s a draw; maybe it’s again a slight edge to the Packers.
The bottom line is these two clubs are very close, but based on last season and heading into this season, probably not quite as close as Bears fans like to think.
• Chicago Football editor Hub Arkush can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.