- Associated Press - Monday, November 5, 2018

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - The Chicago Bears are about to find out just where they stand.

The NFC North leaders are staring at three straight division games after playing four in a row against the AFC East. And they don’t need to be reminded how important this upcoming stretch is.

“We know that going into these division games, it’s going to take a whole other level. They know us, we know them. We play them twice,” linebacker Leonard Floyd said. “We know now that our level of play is going to have to rise even more.”

A 41-9 romp at Buffalo on Sunday after beating the New York Jets at home the previous week gave them back-to-back wins over the teams with the two worst records in the AFC East.

But now, they’re staring at the meat of their schedule.

Chicago (5-3) hosts Detroit and Minnesota the next two weeks, with the game against the second-place Vikings (5-3-1) on Nov. 18 getting moved to prime time. After that comes a short turnaround before a Thanksgiving matchup on the road against the Lions.

“It’s unique, just like it was playing the four AFC East teams we just played from the same division, but it is what it is,” coach Matt Nagy said on Monday. “We put ourselves in a good position, but no one’s gonna be looking past Detroit.”

The Bears matched their win total from last season as well as their best eight-game start since 2013. They’re pushing for their first playoff appearance since the 2010 team lost to Green Bay in the NFC championship game.

But when it comes to division play, the results in recent years are not good.

Chicago has four straight last-place finishes and a 4-21 record against the NFC North since the start of the 2014 season. The Bears also have a 10-game losing streak against the division, their most recent victory coming against Minnesota on Oct. 31, 2016.

Their only game this year against an NFC North team was the season opener at Green Bay. And that loss was a gut wrencher as the Bears blew a 20-point lead against an injured Aaron Rodgers and lost 24-23.

“I understand, but that’s the thing with us and where we’re going - we try not to get to the past,” Nagy said. “We really don’t. We’re in such a good place right now as an organization. The vibe that we have. We’re learning how to win in different ways. We’ve learned what losing’s about and how you respond from that. But we’re trying to really create our own culture and create our own history.”

In his first season as a head coach, Nagy has the Bears positioning themselves for the postseason. But he insisted he does not use that possibility to motivate the team.

“We worry about playoffs, then we’re worrying about the wrong thing,” Nagy said. “We have a lot of season left.”

Getting star pass rusher Khalil Mack (ankle) and No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson (groin) back could help. Both players have missed the past two games, with Nagy saying they remain day to day. If they do play, the question is how healthy and effective they will be.

Their status could become clearer once the team returns to practice. Both players sat out on Wednesday and Thursday the past two weeks before participating on a limited basis Friday and ultimately being held out of the games.

The Bears were able to beat two struggling teams without them. But the schedule is taking a tougher turn.

“You know all we have to do is win,” tight end Trey Burton said. “Don’t listen to what the guys are saying on the outside and focus on what we’re doing on the inside.”

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