PFW examines the Bears as they prepare for the playoffs, identifying the keys to the offense and the defense, a player to watch, and what they have to do to win the Super Bowl.
11-5 / First place in NFC North
Keys to offense: The changes made during a Week Eight bye — most notably committing to giving RB Matt Forté a steady and sizable workload — helped the offense turn things around in the second half. Continuity in terms of personnel on the offensive line also led to improvement. Reverting to their early-season form is what the Bears must avoid in the postseason. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz can't get pass-happy, the O-line has to do a better job of protecting Jay Cutler, who was sacked more than any other quarterback during the regular season — including six times in Week 17 against Green Bay — and Cutler has to avoid turnovers for the offense to work well.
Keys to defense: The defense helped clear a path to the postseason by bending, but not breaking, and the "D" is predicated on the front four getting pressure on the quarterback. This unit can live with giving up yards as long as it tightens up in the red zone and forces turnovers. Aside from a bad game or two, Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers has been a force vs. the run and as a pass rusher, drawing penalties and double-teams with regularity. He and MLB Brian Urlacher are the biggest difference makers, and they have to continue playing at a high level for the Bears to advance.
Player to watch: This is uncharted territory for Cutler, who will be participating in an NFL playoff game for the first time in his five-year career. He has been the subject of scrutiny and a lot of criticism during his career, but he played about as well as he ever has during the second half of the season, and some say he has the potential to be even better.
They'll win the Super Bowl if ... they put forth a much better performance against elite teams like the Patriots, who beat them 36-7 at Soldier Field in Week 14. A disruptive pass rush and mistake-free play by Cutler would be a good start, but the Bears also might need a little luck to go all the way.