Few Reasons to be Optimistic for Bears

While the Chicago Bears are mathematically in the hunt for the playoffs, the likelihood of them making a charge are slim at best. Especially with a roadtrip to Minnesota in Week 12 to face the 9-1 Vikings.

There is no logical reason to think that this 4-6 Bears team, which has lost five of its last six, is going to run the table and get into the playoffs.

But a victory over the 9-1, defending NFC North champion Vikings in Minnesota would right a lot of wrongs for one of the NFL's most disappointing teams.

"We need a win," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "So I know what a win like that would do for our program right now. They're the defending [division] champs, and they're having an outstanding year."

Smith believes the Bears are a good team, but he's having trouble convincing outsiders. A victory over the Vikings would convert some of the skeptics.

The Vikings are averaging more than 30 points per game, they have the consensus top running back in the league and future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre is playing better at 40 than he ever has. Defensively, they're No. 3 against the run allowing just 85.5 yards per game, and defensive end Jared Allen is second in the NFL with 10.5 sacks.

"You could go across the board and talk about all of the good things they've done," Smith said. "So, for us to be able to get a win against them ... I feel like we're a good football team. Our record does not show that right now, but we're a good football team. Eventually we're going to do some of those things that have prevented us from winning games, so why not this week?"

Two words: Brett Favre. The venerable one has an incredible 112.1 passer rating, the best in the NFL by a good margin and 12.6 points higher than his previous best season. He's thrown 21 TD passes and just three interceptions.

The Bears' performance over the past five weeks against standout, veteran quarterbacks does not inspire confidence.

In the past 30 days, the Bears have been lit up by the Bengals' Carson Palmer, the Cardinals' Kurt Warner and the Eagles' Donovan McNabb. Those three have combined to complete 79.3 percent of their passes against the Bears for 738 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception. McNabb's 101.6 passer rating was the lowest of the three. Palmer had a near-perfect 146.7, and Warner's was 132.9. The Bears had a total of four sacks in those games.

Favre might have more trouble sleeping Saturday night than a child on Christmas Eve.

On the other hand, the Bears have shown the ability to contain talented quarterbacks. They held the Packers' Aaron Rodgers to his lowest yardage total of the season (184), and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger to his second-lowest passer rating (80.8). The Bears also had six sacks in those two games. They also held the Falcons' Matt Ryan to his second-lowest yardage total (185) of the season and a mediocre 68.4 passer rating.

So, what if the Bears did pull off the major upset?

TE Greg Olsen
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

"It would lift us up a lot," safety Danieal Manning said. "It definitely would prove what we're talking about, how capable this team is and how good this team is. A win over Minnesota would be great."

Especially considering that the Vikings have beaten the Bears in six of the last seven meetings at the Metrodome.

"It would be huge," tight end Greg Olsen said. "They're arguably one of the top teams in the league."

Sunday afternoon is the first game of what the Bears are looking at as a "mini season."

"We still have a six-game season left, a six game schedule," cornerback Charles Tillman said. "And my advice is to watch us these last six games before you formulate an opinion."

With backup safety Kevin Payne (back) sidelined, Corey Graham played nickel back Sunday night in a bit of a secondary shakeup. For most of the season, free safety Danieal Manning had moved to the nickel spot in passing situations, with Payne filling in at free safety.

"Corey can play a lot of positions," Smith said. "Of course, he's going to be a core special-teams player. He can play safety, he can play corner, he's played nickel and he can play the dime."

Graham is second on the Bears with 13 special-teams tackles. ...

Seven-time Pro Bowler Orlando Pace was supposed to provide a sizeable upgrade at left tackle over last year's starter, John St. Clair, and in the offensive line as a whole. But that hasn't been the case. Jay Cutler has already been sacked 20 times, nine more than he was sacked all of last year, and the Bears were averaging just 3.8 yards per carry on the ground, 27th in the league.

But Sunday night Cutler was sacked just once against the blitzing Eagles, and the ground game picked up 126 yards, although 72 came on one run by rookie Kahlil Bell in his first NFL game.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said recently that he wasn't disappointed in the play of the 34-year-old Pace, a 13-year veteran.

"You know what I expected when we signed Orlando Pace?" Angelo said. "That he was going to play the best football he can play, and he's doing that. Did we hit some rough moments? Yeah, that happens. But you know what? There are rough moments for all tackles in this league for the most part, especially left tackles. He plays hard, and he shows up. We said this when we signed him: He's not the guy that he was six or seven years ago. We understood that, but he's still a good football player. I'm fine with him." ...

Entering Week 11, Matt Forte was the only player in the NFL with more than 1,700 rushing yards (1,720) and more than 700 receiving yards (856) since the start of the 2008 season.

With 2,576 yards from scrimmage since he entered the league, Forte joined Gale Sayers as the only Bears in franchise history with more than 2,500 yards from scrimmage in their first 25 games.

He didn't add much to those totals against the Eagles, who limited him to 34 yards on 14 carries and four catches for 20 yards.

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