Matt Forte runs the ball against the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field on Oct. 2. The Bears defeated the Panthers 34 to 29.
Do the Bears have a shot at the playoffs? The early season hasn't been that encouraging. But as the team heads to London to face the Buccaneers, the upcoming schedule looks promising.
Four upcoming games look to be absolute locks. There's no reason to lose to AFC West implosion factories like the Chiefs or Broncos. Seattle should be an easy win. And the season finishes with a cushy visit to Minnesota for a replay of the Sunday night smackdown.
The bigger problem is simply the competition across the conference. San Francisco will lock up its division by default within a week or two. You have to figure the Packers will take the NFC North. The South and East are toss-ups, but six teams look to be in the hunt for the division titles there. And that doesn't take the Lions into account.
For the Bears to make the playoffs, five things need to happen.
1. They've gotta beat the Bucs Sunday. Tampa figures to be one of the teams in the playoff hunt. This game could be some sort of wild card tiebreaker. Failure to come back home with a winning record could put the team in a very bad spot.
2. Mike Martz must feed Forte. With a shoddy offensive line and questionable receivers, Jay Cutler spends a solid amount of time as a sitting duck. Forte has been a beast in the early going and there's no reason to believe he'll stop. The running game forces defenders to lay off the pass rush. And that's about the only way Cutler will have opportunities to move the ball.
If Martz suddenly forgets where his bread is buttered, Cutler will go down in a heap and you can forget about a return to the win column anytime soon.
3. The defense needs to create turnovers. Right now, the Bears are +2 in the giveaway/takeaway category. All the NFC teams with more turnovers have better records (except the Vikings, who have the supernatural ability to lose with a turnover advantage). In the years the Bears have made the playoffs, they've been able to snag the ball away from the offense. That's not happening a ton this year.
4. Opposing coaches need to continue to be stupid. Kick to Devin Hester. Go ahead. When Hester finds the end zone, the Bears usually win. He's an unstoppable X-factor. Unless coaches remember they can kick away from him. Because they can. But many of them forget that. Because many of them are dumb.
5. The injury gods must arrive. Look at the Colts without Peyton Manning. They're toothless. Now imagine if a plague somehow befell Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Frank Gore and Eli Manning. We're not advocating sending vials of anthrax to opposing teams, but you can always pray for an ACL tear or two or 10.