Despite some gaudy records, even the best teams have their share of flaws.

Lovie Smith is delighted his Chicago Bears won the first two games of their three-game Northeast road trip. He should be, because those wins just about locked up home-field advantage in the NFC.

What they also proved is that even the best teams in the NFL are only a smidgen or two better than mediocre, a notion reinforced last week when Dallas handed Indianapolis its first loss, a defeat that had been pending since the first week of the season.

Yes, 9-1 is 9-1. “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” is the way Vince Lombardi put it 40 years ago.

But this isn’t Lombardi’s NFL. This is the NFL where even the best teams are seriously flawed and the luck of the injury report often determines the standings.

Start at the top with Indianapolis and Chicago.

The Colts’ loss to Dallas last Sunday seems in one sense to be just what they wanted, especially because it was a non-conference game and won’t count in any tiebreakers for AFC home-field advantage. The team’s party line for the past two seasons, when it started 13-0 and 9-0, has been that it cares only about winning the Super Bowl, not about going unbeaten.

It also means the Colts might have to play out most of the season rather than rest regulars, because they lead San Diego and Baltimore by only one game. That means more Peyton Manning, less Jim Sorgi, and perhaps a team playing at top speed entering the postseason.

That exposes more people to injuries, but momentum, as Pittsburgh can attest from its title run last season, can be an important factor.

Right now Indy’s momentum is negative.

Even before they lost, the Colts looked pretty average most of the time, as evidenced by one-point wins at home over Tennessee and Buffalo.

Coach Tony Dungy maintains that close games give teams experience for the tightness of the playoffs, where Indy has been notably unsuccessful, presumably because they’ve won a lot of blowouts in the regular season.

“Sometimes when you win, the other team outplays you and it’s hard to learn from your mistakes,” middle linebacker Gary Brackett says. That may be. But there’s a deeper problem.

Teams that can’t stop the run don’t normally win titles, and Indianapolis remains last in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 155 yards a game. That’s partly a factor of the salary cap. Because Indy’s premier offensive players, Manning and Marvin Harrison, cost so much, the Colts have had to let go of some very good defenders, notably linebackers Mike Peterson and Marcus Washington, to stay under the cap.

Chicago doesn’t have those worries – it pays its defense and hasn’t had any premier offensive players to let go.

More than any NFL franchise, the Bears have maintained the same personality for a half-century or longer: “Monsters of the Midway.” The storied 1985 champions had only one offensive standout, running back Walter Payton, and their 46-10 Super Bowl win over New England was sparked by the defense.

It included a safety, an interception return for a touchdown, and seven sacks. Defensive end Richard Dent was the game’s MVP.

This team doesn’t have a Payton. Nor does it have a wide receiver like Willie Gault or a quarterback like Jim McMahon. It does have a weak division, as did the Bears of the mid-’80s, who from 1984-88 went 35-4 against teams from what was then the NFC Central.

But these Bears can be run on, as Miami did in Chicago’s only loss. And Rex Grossman, for all his early success, remains a quarterback who will be making just his 18th NFL start in New England on Sunday and has been shaky of late.

That soft schedule didn’t help in the playoffs 20 years ago, or last season, and the 1985 Super Bowl is the only one for the Bears.

In 1985, they shut out the Giants and Rams in the playoffs before stomping the Patriots. But they lost at home to the Redskins in 1986 and 1987, and again at home to the 49ers in the 1988 conference title game. In those years, the NFC (other than the Central) was full of power teams. From 1981-91, San Francisco won four titles, Washington three and New York two.

The weak division could hurt these Bears, too.

Last season, Carolina came to Chicago and won 29-21 as Jake Delhomme threw for 319 yards and Steve Smith caught 12 passes for 218. Not exactly the shutdown performance expected from a Chicago defense in January.

Carolina may be the team Chicago wants to face least in the postseason, in part because of that playoff experience, in part because the Panthers’ defense may be almost as good as the Bears’ unit. They had seven sacks against the Rams last week, none by Julius Peppers, a fact that demonstrates there’s a lot of defensive talent there. Carolina’s weakness? The running game, although rookie D’Angelo Williams, back from injury, could make a difference down the stretch.

Still, the Bears could have an easier playoff run than the Colts.

Along with the Panthers, only Dallas seems to be on the rise in the NFC, although Seattle could come on with Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander back. Yes, the Bears embarrassed the Seahawks 37-6 in September, but that kind of game can be meaningless in January – especially with Alexander not having played in the early-season rout.

The Colts’ elusive quest for a title in the stronger AFC might continue to be elusive.

San Diego (8-2) is only a game behind Indianapolis for home-field advantage, and LaDainian Tomlinson has probably moved ahead of Manning in the MVP race. What makes the Chargers more impressive right now is that they’ve been missing defensive stalwarts, to injury (Luis Castillo) and suspension (Shawne Merriman), but keep winning.

Baltimore also is 8-2 and can be scary on defense. Nobody should ever write off New England.

But every team has weaknesses and every team is thin. Injuries are often as big a factor as any in who wins and loses. Dallas’ rise, for example, comes in part because only one important player, Greg Ellis, has a serious injury.

So maybe it’s for the best that the “dominant” teams really aren’t all that dominant. It makes for an interesting postseason.

Just don’t bet on there being a Bears-Colts Super Bowl.

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