Nate Caminata: The Bears appear to be winning difficult, almost ugly. They've also enjoyed their fair share of luck by drawing teams playing with unfortunate quarterback situations. Are there similar intangibles between this team and the fortuitous 2006 squad?
John Crist: The Monsters of the Midway did have some less-than-pretty wins earlier in the season, which is going to happen when you have a terrible offensive line that can't open up holes for running backs and allows quarterbacks to get sacked way too often. That being said, Week 12's victory was entertaining to watch on both sides of the ball, as Jay Cutler threw four touchdown passes against zero interceptions on just 21 attempts and the defense did a better job keeping Michael Vick in check than any other team had done so far in 2010. Assuming Drew Stanton gets the start for Detroit, he will be the second third-string QB Chicago has faced in three games, so, yes, that does suggest some bounces are going its way.
As far as the injury report is concerned, the Bears are expected to have their entire 53-man roster available Sunday, plus I think it's safe to say that every Super Bowl winner in NFL history got its share of lucky breaks from time to time.
NC: Statistically speaking, Chicago isn't even in the top half of the NFL in most offensive categories. They again appear to have a strong defense, however. Do they have enough to seriously challenge for a playoff berth with tilts against the Patriots and Jets, plus trips to Minnesota and Green Bay still looming?
JC: It's taken me a long time to start thinking the Bears may have a winner on their hands this year, highlighted by the fact that I was convinced Philadelphia would come into Soldier Field and emerge victorious last week, but you know what they say in this league: You are what your record says you are. Right now, Chicago is 8-3 and alone atop the NFC North, and that lead is strengthened by the fact that it has already defeated the second-place Packers back in Week 3 at home. Both the defense and special teams have been playing at a high level all season long, and with the offense turning the corner and converting on third down more consistently, I think it's time for football fans around the country to take this squad seriously.
The final stretch of their schedule is tough, no question about it, but even if the Bears only win two of their final five, that's 10-6 and likely enough for at least a wild card.
NC: Cutler turned in a strong performance in Sunday's win over Philadelphia and has tossed nine touchdowns and just three interceptions during Chicago's four-game win streak. Has Cutler finally arrived, and has he shaken his difficult start in the Windy City? What has been the cure to his ills?
JC: Just cutting to the chase, Cutler and former offensive coordinator Ron Turner didn't see eye to eye, so not only did Cutler never fully embrace the system he was initially running in the Windy City, but Turner rarely took advantage of No. 6's diverse skill set – like getting him out of the pocket on rollouts and bootlegs. While he has been playing better, Cutler still gambles too much in the red zone and will make a decision here and there that can't help but make you scratch your head, although they have been fewer and farther between the last month or so. A lot of experts out there figured pairing Cutler with Mike Martz was a recipe for disaster since they're both fiery type-A personalities, but so far the two of them have gotten along beautifully both on and off the field.
Against all odds, Martz has cast aside his throw-first mentality and committed to the ground attack the last four weeks, which has taken some of the pressure off Cutler and brought the offense as a whole some much-needed balance.
NC: Did Chicago fans and media alike anticipate this division run? Was there any particular catalyst that helped launch them towards what seems to be an improbable playoff destination?
JC: Most of the Bears media, including myself, figured this was a seven-, eight- or at best a nine-win team while watching training camp, and some of us even moved our estimates down a victory or two after witnessing an 0-4 preseason that made eyes bleed all over Chicagoland. The decision makers at Halas Hall were banking on an awful lot of things to go right in order to turn around a team that had gone a collective 23-25 from 2007-09 and didn't make the playoffs in any of those three campaigns. The offense needed the Cutler-Martz combination to be a match made in heaven and the skill-position talent to be better than most of the experts figured they'd be, while the defense needed Julius Peppers to be every bit as dominant in Chicago as he was in Carolina and Brian Urlacher to return to Pro Bowl form.
So far, pretty much all that has happened, and then when you consider the in-season improvement along the offensive line and the surprisingly solid play at both safety positions, you get an 8-3 division leader.
NC: The Lions still have that controversial season-opening loss fresh in their minds. There's no doubt that most players believe it has somewhat determined a porous 2010 campaign for Detroit. What was the reaction in Chicago to "the catch that wasn't" at the time, and does this weekend have the undercurrent of a trap game for the Bears?
JC: According to the letter of the law, the Calvin Johnson "catch" wasn't really a catch and got ruled correctly in Week 1, although I'll tell you that everyone in the press box thought it should have been a catch and the Bears got the break of the century. In the interview room after the game, coach Lovie Smith had to have been lying through his teeth when he said that he never thought it was a catch and had full faith and confidence the call would go his way. I expect the NFL to revisit the interpretation of said rule and perhaps make a change or two before next season.
Trap game? Absolutely, the signs are there. With home dates left against the Patriots and Jets, plus road games at Minnesota and Green Bay, that's two AFC Super Bowl contenders and two division rivals – nowadays, Detroit hardly qualifies as the latter.
To read Part III of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John and Nate highlight matchups and make final predictions, Click Here. To go back and read Part I, where Nate answered five questions from John, Click Here.
John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Nate Caminata is the publisher of RoarReport.com.
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