The Bears are 4-3 coming off a bye week — just as they were one year ago near the midway point — and in position to battle several contending teams for a wild-card spot in the second half of the season.
That's a good, not great, situation.
It will probably take a stellar post-bye run, similar to the 7-2 finish they had last season, to make it into the playoffs. It will be tough to do and will quickly go from possible to extremely daunting if the Bears don't beat the Eagles or Lions in the next two weeks. They have to play very good football coming off the bye or their playoff hope becomes a lot less realistic in a hurry.
Yet, despite the ups, downs, injuries, contentiousness between some players and the front office over contracts, and Jay Cutler firing an expletive Mike Martz's way, the Bears have legitimate playoff potential eight weeks into the season, which is more than about one-third of the league can say at this point.
Will just getting into the postseason be enough to please Bears fans, though?
Last season's run to the NFC championship game gave Chicago an exhilarating ride it celebrated, even though it ended with a devastating loss to the rival Packers at Soldier Field. It earned head coach Lovie Smith a contract extension and GM Jerry Angelo goodwill from some who had been very critical of his moves in the past.
They are not going to get the same treatment this time around.
The goal is to win a title. The franchise hasn't had one since the 1985 season, and few are honestly expecting the drought to end this season. They came two wins short of a championship last season, and if they don't win it this season, do the prospects for 2012 look any better?
Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman — these are the team's core defenders, and they are all more than 30 years old. They appear to have plenty of good football left in them, but the prime years could soon be behind all of them. The Bears are younger on offense, but the talent at receiver and on the offensive line is lacking, and that won't change quickly without dedicating significant resources to addressing the positions in the offseason.
If the bar isn't raised at some point, Smith and Angelo will be leading the Bears for a long time. They have proven they can put together and coach a winning team on a fairly consistent basis. Give them credit — a lot of clubs around the league struggle to do that.
That doesn't mean fans should overlook the bad decisions, or the fact that just getting to the playoffs, while a great achievement, isn't ultimately what they sign up to see when they pay for tickets, buy a jersey and make an emotional investment in the team.
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