On the heels of a disappointing home loss to the Denver Broncos, the Chicago Bears went into Green Bay on a short week and upset the Packers in a 17-13 victory.
With an extended week to prepare, the Bears now head back home to face to Blaine Gabbert and the San Francisco 49ers, who are winless on the road and have lost by an average margin of 21 points per game.
At 5-6, the Bears are right in the mix of the playoff race, just one game back in the standings of the final Wildcard spot. With a win this week, they will get much needed help from matchups across the league, such as the Seahawks at the Vikings and the Falcons at the Buccaneers, which will put them one game closer to a postseason berth.
Can the Bears tranfer their current momentum into a much-needed winning streak? Sunday’s matchup is very favorable but not one to be taken for granted.
Are the Chicago Bears playoff contenders?
At 5-6, the Bears sit in a surprisingly good spot for a playoff spot as they head down the final five-game stretch.
After going 1-1 against two of the toughest teams in the NFL the past two weeks, the Broncos and the Packers, the schedule lightens up to finish out the season.
First in their way is a two-game home stretch against the 49ers (3-8) and Redskins (5-6), who currently lead the dreadful NFC East. The Bears will then head on the road for two games against the Vikings (8-3) and Buccaneers (5-6) and will finish up the season up at home against a resurgent Detroit Lions (4-8) team.
The Bears currently sit one game back in the standings for the last Wildcard spot and three games back in the division. Working against them is a 2-5 conference record, which will land them in a bad spot in any tie-break situation.
After a tough 0-3 start, the Bears are surging and have won five of their last eight games, but can they do enough to make the playoffs?
The Bears have a slight chance of making the playoffs, but as most fans know, things can turn quickly. The 2013 season is a prime example of how quickly a division leader can go from comfortably in first place to finishing in third in less than five games.
Every game matters at this point. The Bears stand a 92 percent chance of making the playoffs if they win out, but those odds drop drastically to 50 percent if they finish at 9-7.
While the magnification of losses to the Lions and Vikings are easy to focus on, it’s worth noting that wins against the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs could have easily gone the other way, so overall they are about even in the “luck” department.
With a 92-percent chance of making the playoffs if the Bears run the table but tie breakers may rob them of the postseason if they come up even a game short.
There’s still a chance but the road will not be easy.
Just how improved are the Bears?
Outside of the absence of Jay Cutler for a game and a half, the Bears have been in every game this season from start to finish. On top of being competitive, they’ve rattled off impressive wins against the Chiefs and Raiders but their best win of the season came on Thanksgiving night against the Packers at Lambeau.
Over the course of the season, we have seen the tremendous progression of a roster that simply lacks top-level talent. The biggest reason for such a quick turnaround: A stellar coaching staff headed by John Fox.
What they lack in talent, they make up for with an overall relentless attack from the opening minute until the final second of each game. Injuries have a played their part but this coaching staff has properly instilled the “next man up” mantra and for the most part, the Bears have not missed a beat.
Through 11 games, the Bears' overall improvement has been evident.
Before the start of the year, USA Today had them projected as a 3-13 team and the consensus seemed to be anywhere from the four- to six-win range, which includes myself.
At 5-6, the Bears are one win away from eclipsing most analyst's top-end projections and are on the verge of sneaking into a playoff spot.
Regardless of how this team finishes the year in terms of overall record, the future is bright and general manager Ryan Pace has sped up a “rebuilding” process that was once expected to take three to four years.
Is this the Kyle Fuller the Bears will get consistently?
Going into the year, one of the bigger question marks on a questionable roster was the development of 2014 first rounder Kyle Fuller.
After a rough training camp and preseason, Fuller carried that poor play into the regular season, where he was carved up before being benched halfway through Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals. Fuller has quietly progressed alongside Tracy Porter, who has been impressive.
Since Week 6, Fuller has allowed just a 39.6 passer rating, and didn't give up a single catche against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Once considered a wasted pick, he now looks like a capable corner that the defense can build around. So, what changed?
Teammate and starting safety Antrel Rolle spoke on Fuller’s struggles early in the year after his benching and sited the young corner’s inability to prepare and simply develop, namely in his film study.
In a recent interview, Fox sited that as one of his major factors to such a surprising turnaround.
“He knows how to study tape.” Fox said. “A lot of guys look at tape; sometimes I’m not sure what they’re looking at. I think he’s very, very smart that way.”
Veteran leadership from Rolle and Pro Bowl candidate Porter have also played a large role in Fuller’s turnaround and overall development, especially after last year’s defensive mess created by former coordinator Mel Tucker.
Fuller continues to grow, and with growth will come growing pains, but it’s safe to expect him to continue his development into and above average corner.
What to watch this week
- What will defensive coordinator Vic Fangio do to fix the woes against the run? The Bears have the second highest rated pass defense in terms of yardage but a bottom-of-the-barrel unit against the run. They allowed a season-high 177 yards against the Packers on Thanksgiving and will need to improve on that moving forward if they expect to compete for a playoff spot.
- Can Deonte Thompson follow up his impressive performance with more explosiveness, creating consistently good field position? He was a factor in the victory against the Packers, especially on his 37-yard return that directly set up a touchdown scoring drive by Jeremy Langford. Bears will need more of that moving forward.
- How will offensive coordinator Adam Gase split touches between Langford, Matt Forte and possibly Ka’Deem Carey on Sunday? Gase didn’t seem to keen on a split backfield last week but might be more inclined to use some creativity moving forward, especially with the lack of depth at the receiver and tight end positions.