Pro Football Weekly GM Hub Arkush and senior Bears reporter Bob LeGere debate whether Bears are playoff contenders of products of a soft first-half schedule.
ARKUSH: Bob, here we are at the halfway point of the season covering the first-place Chicago Bears. With five of their final eight games in the NFC North, just a percentage-points lead over the Vikings and all four clubs bunched within two games of each other, do we really know a whole lot more about where these Bears stand in the NFC North or how they stack up against the NFL’s best than we did when the season started?
Bears fans should be absolutely thrilled with the club's 5-3 record, but they don't own a win over a team with a winning record, and their five victims have a combined record of 14-28. The three losses are to the only two winners they've played, the 7-2 Patriots and 5-4 Dolphins, plus the 3-4-1 Packers. The good news is it doesn't get much tougher. Two games against the Vikings and one vs. the Rams are the only ones on the second-half schedule against teams that currently have winning records. But it makes it awfully tough to know if these guys are legitimate playoff contenders or a somewhat improved team that's the product of a cupcake schedule?
LEGERE: What we know, Hub, is that this is the best Bears team in five years. But that’s like being the tallest midget on an elevator. Yes, they’ve played a patsy schedule, but that’s not their fault.
There are a lot of bad teams in the NFL, and the Bears play at least two of them in the second half, the 1-7 Giants and the 2-7 49ers. I’m still not sure how to categorize the 3-5 Lions, but after the Bears play them twice in an 11-day period starting Sunday, we’ll know a lot more. To answer your question, this is definitely a playoff contender, if for no other reason than the defense is good enough to keep them in any game. You may point to the Dolphins loss as evidence that Vic Fangio’s crew isn’t all that great, but I consider that game an anomaly.
ARKUSH: Bob, I want to believe, and my gut's telling me to agree with you, but something keeps holding me back. I completely agree the trip to Florida is an outlier, as even the best teams have a bad day once in a while. I guess what's bothering me is I love the direction they're pointed in, but it feels like there is still more work to do.
Trubisky has had some really nice moments, but he hasn't put 60 minutes together yet, and he hasn't put together that drive where he loads the offense up on his back and carries the team to victory. The offensive line may be heading in the wrong direction with the loss of Kyle Long; it could use a couple of talent upgrades, and the short-yardage running game is nonexistent. The defense is a joy to watch, but it couldn't seal the deal against the big boys like Brady and Rodgers. It just feels to me like these Bears are trending solidly in the right direction but are still a few players and a year away from being the real deal.
LEGERE: Just like another Chicago team we both have strong attachments to, Hub, I think the Bears could arrive a year ahead of schedule, just like the Cubs in 2015. I don’t believe for a second that the Bears are Super Bowl contenders yet, just as the Cubs weren’t a threat to win the World Series in 2015. But I think it’s 50-50 the Bears make it to the postseason this year.
Trubisky doesn’t have to be great for that to happen. He’s already a better-than-average QB in the NFL, and that’s enough to get this team into the playoffs. I don’t think they’re a few players away – it’s more like two, although they might both have to be offensive linemen.