Can The Chicago Bears Make A Playoff Run?

Can The Chicago Bears Make A Playoff Run?

With the NFC North standings contracting after losses by both the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings it’s reasonable to ask if the Chicago Bears have a realistic chance of winning the division or earning a wildcard playoff berth.

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Of course, the odds are not favorable. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Bears have a much better chance of earning a top three pick in the draft (13.1%) than a wildcard spot (2.6%). And, while those odds were determined after week 8 the scenario is clear… Don’t bet the mortgage.

Nonetheless, crazier things have happened. To get a better idea what kind of a chance the Bears have we’re asking four questions… beginning with:

Can The Bears Win Out?

This is clearly the first step to making a playoff run. The Bears have to win their next eight games – finishing the season with a nine game winning streak.

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Starting things off after the bye with a road win at Tampa Bay against the Bucs isn’t inconceivable. The Bucs have lost their last two games, both at home. Their problem is a defense that allowed 30 points against the Oakland Raiders and 43 versus the Atlanta Falcons.

Fans can really begin to believe in the possibility of a miracle the following week if the Bears can go into the Meadowlands and upset the New York Giants. Currently 5-3, with three of those wins at home, the Giants are a stern test. New York is one of four teams the Bears will face who currently have a winning record. The Packers are 4-4. So, only three teams they face have losing records.

After the Giants, the Bears return to Soldier Field for two very winnable games. The Tennessee Titans (4-5) and San Francisco 49ers (1-7) have only two road wins this year (Titans own both).

Three of the Bears last four games are against division rivals with the Ford Field contest maybe the toughest as the Bears have lost their last three games in Detroit. In the midst of those division game is a tough home game on Christmas Eve against the Washington Redskins.

Not a piece of cake.

What Gives The Bears Hope?

Health. The Bears appear to be getting healthy. On Monday, five starters returned to the practice field. Pro Bowl guards Kyle Long (triceps) and Josh Sitton (ankle) joined nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle), receiver Eddie Royal (toe) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (hamstring).

We know that Pernell McPhee is back. And, while he’s going to play a limited number of snaps, McPhee’s presence is huge. It’s no accident that Leonard Floyd’s play has improved dramatically since McPhee took the field. He’s the vocal leader of the defense and makes them believe they’re capable of great things. After the win over the Vikings, McPhee wanted his teammates to realize the need to get mad. “I hope it pisses everybody off,” McPhee said, “to know we could dominate the league if we really put our mind to it. We just played a great team and we dominated them. It’s got to piss everybody off and (make us) say we shouldn’t lose no more games to teams we don’t have business losing to.”

The Bears receiving crew could get help from Marquess Wilson who practiced Monday. He fractured his left foot back in June and the Bears now have 21 days to determine if they want to activate him from the Physically Unable to Perform list.

There’s also a chance receiver Kevin White could join the team very late in the season. He and cornerback Kyle Fuller are both on injured reserve and either one of them could provide a big boost.

Besides improved health, and an ascending defense the Bears have discovered a running game in the name of Jordan Howard. Winning in the NFC North in November and December is much easier done with a strong run game. Howard with 505 yards rushing in five games and a robust 5.1 yards rushing is proving he can deliver. Jeremey Langford, also returning from injury, might be the perfect complimentary back with his electrifying, big-play speed. Add in Ka’Deem Carey’s spark plug play and the Bears rushing attack could become the centerpiece of the team’s playoff push.

Can Jay Cutler Lead?

Besides improving health, there’s the return of Jay Cutler. His return to the lineup energized the team in their win against the Vikings. Cutler has never been known for his leadership skills. While he’s held the respect of some teammates, it’s clear Cutler has never been regarded as the team’s leader like a Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger.

But, now, the circumstances behind John Fox’s lack of commitment to Cutler might actually work for the team. Cutler issued a pre-game speech to the entire team that resonated with every player. And, while the talk fired up the team, Cutler’s play was more valued. “I was so happy [to have Cutler back],” tight end Zach Miller said. “He’s the emotion on the football field. To have him back means a lot. We play well around him. Everybody played well. It was just good to get a win.”

Even members of defense agreed, “Stone cold, cold-blooded execution,” Acho said. “He talked about it, so seeing him execute, it fueled (the defense) to say, OK, now we have to go out there and execute.”

Cutler’s stay on the sideline gave him time to reflect on his NFL career. After the Vikings game he referenced his 11 years in the league when asked what inspired him. He knows what is on the line these next eight games: the opportunity to remain the team’s number one quarterback in 2017 or earn a new lucrative contract elsewhere. It’s possible that this ripened and re-inspired Cutler is going to deliver a second-half performance needed for a playoff run.

Can Division Rivals Help?

Both the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings are in tailspins that could see their playoff hopes flushed away. The Packers have lost three of their last four games. While they made the playoffs a year ago, the truth is that there’s been a whiff of mediocrity growing with the Packers since week eight of 2015. The Packers lost six of their last ten regular season games last year. Add it all up and they are 9-11 since November 1st (playoffs included). All of those games with Aaron Rodgers.

The Vikings had every right to begin printing playoff tickets after their 5-0 dominating start. But, erosion in their offensive line led to bad play that is spreading like a deadly virus. The Vikings have lost three straight games and their offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, resigned. Word is that he really wasn’t pushed out by head coach Mike Zimmer nor general manager Rick Spielman. Instead, Zimmer was surprised and his distress over the unexpected resignation was on display at the press conference. This dysfunction will only grow worse if the Vikings do not win next Sunday in Washington.

The hottest team in the NFCN is the Detroit Lions, winners of four of their last five games. Every one of those wins and their opening week victory against the Indianapolis Colts was a nail-biter. The Lions are benefitting from Matthew Stafford heroics and little else. They have no running game. Their defense is unreliable (that may be kind). And, there’s no confidence in head coach Jim Caldwell.

In Conclusion

Coming into this season, much was made about John Fox’s past record for second-year turn arounds. At Carolina, he took the Panthers to a Super Bowl. At Denver, the Broncos galloped to a 13-3 record. Anything short of a 10-6, maybe 9-7, record in Chicago would be a huge disappointment.

Fox has an opportunity now to turn the Bears disastrous first-half around. He has a healthier squad, a defense that can match it’s growl with a bark, a deep running game, a rejuvenated quarterback and division rivals ready to implode.

A playoff berth is unlikely, but not out of the question.

 

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Aldo Gandia

Aldo Gandia

Among my career highlights I have produced two films while in high school that received nationwide attention; leaned out of a helicopter over the Gulf of Suez at the age of 20 to shoot movies of oil rigs; won an Emmy award for a sports special and another for a kid's fitness show; and led a team of very talented creative professionals to produce break-through corporate communications.



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