The 2010 Chicago Bears are going to the playoffs! I'm more than a little surprised. I expected them to finish below .500, miss the playoffs, and fire Lovie Smith. It goes to show you how little any of us know no matter how much football we watch. This team looked terrible in the preseason and they were coming off of three straight seasons with a defense that looked to be in decline. But, a healthy Brian Urlacher, the newly acquired Julius Peppers, and some contributions from young players like Melton and Toeania have revitalized that unit. Their offense is still a work in progress, but it has shown it can be effective if the offensive line performs even at an average level. Their special teams, as usual, are outstanding (congrats to Hester!). With all of that said, can this team make some noise in the playoffs? I'm not sure (why would you trust my opinion anyway?), but at least we'll get the chance to find out.
After that first touchdown by the Vikings on Monday night, I started to panic a little. The defense couldn't tackle, Favre looked rejuvenated (briefly), and the fans were into it. But, the Bears didn't panic at all. They started making plays and didn't let up until they had punched their playoff ticket. Cutler can't make bad throws (like that interception) if the Bears hope to win a playoff game or two, but he seems to be limiting those mistakes compared to last year. Who knows, maybe he'll start going two or three games in a row without a dumb decision. Until that happens, though, the Bears can't be considered a true Super Bowl contender. When he is playing well, there are few quarterbacks I would rather have. But, he just needs to find some consistency with his decision making. He's taking us to the playoffs, though, so I can't be too upset.
The Bears control their playoff seeding destiny. If they win out, they'll be sitting at home during the first week of playoffs devising a brilliant offensive and defensive game plan for their eventual opponent. If they lose one game and the Eagles win out (which they likely will), then the Bears will probably end up playing the Giants or Packers that first week. I kind of want to see them take on the Packers just because they've only met one time in the playoffs (1941), which seems unfathomable (I'm trusting Wikipedia, by the way). A playoff game between the Bears and Packers would be great for this historic rivalry.
So, can they win out? Well, the Jets this weekend will be a tough, but winnable game. They don't have an explosive offense, but they are physical running the football, and they have some downfield threats (albeit inconsistent) with Edwards and Holmes. Their defense is aggressive as hell, and they have some corners who will play man-to-man all day. The Bears will have a hard time running the ball, and I think the offensive line will struggle with blitz pickups. But, Cutler should be able to take advantage with quick throws in the middle of the field. If he gets some time on deep drops, Knox or Hester might be able to get behind the corners. I see this being a close, low-scoring game that the Bears will win with a defensive or special teams score.
Bears 17, Jets 13