Turning the corner — and the page — in their 2016 season, the Bears and fans are entitled to a comprehensive look at their year, specifically whether playoffs are even a discussion point. That is, after all, the first objective of a regular season, arguably one notch above player development, which would probably run concurrent with any playoff-grade stretch, but that’s for another conversation.
The Bears in the playoffs? The obvious answer is not yet. But wait, there’s more.
First of all, as noted here in the past, whether or not the Bears are “good” is a meaningless debate. It doesn’t matter. The NFL is all about grading on a curve. The Bears (no pun intended) are one of those two guys around the campfire when a grizzly barrels in on them. The first guy yells, “Run!” The second guy hollers, “No way! We’re not faster than a bear!”
“I don’t have to be faster than the bear,” the first guy yells over his shoulder. “I just have to be faster than you!”
The Bears don’t have to be good. They just have to be better — or even just less bad — than the other guys.
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And right now the Bears are better, or less bad, than the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings, the two teams the Bears have managed to beat in this otherwise abysmal season. The Lions might be more vibrant right now, but the Bears did beat them. Meanwhile, the Vikings have lost three straight; and the Packers have lost three of their last four games, the only win coming against the Bears with Matt Barkley in at quarterback.
Consider: In nine of the past 10 seasons, at least one team and more commonly two or three have reached the playoffs with records of 9-7 or worse. Teams have won divisions with 8-8 records and even 7-8-1 marks. Point being: The bar is not prohibitively high, at least in absolute terms.
“You can spend a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror driving your car,” coach John Fox said. “If you spend too much time looking back, then you wreck.
“So our focus is in front of us now. A couple of those games go the other way, we’re 4-4 instead of 2-6. It sounds a little better, no doubt. But we can’t change that. We are what we are. Right now we can be 10-6 or 2-14; that’s the reality, math-wise. Hopefully we can move more toward the first one.”
But whether the Bears have even a remote chance to reach 9-7 is clearly the far greater unknown. They would need to win seven of eight, this by a team that has failed to win more than two straight games since the improbable 3-0 start in 2013 under Marc Trestman. Little in the John Fox tenure has suggested an ability to sustain any sort of winning football for more than a couple of games.
The Bears’ remaining schedule is a true mixed bag: a lot of winnable games (which every team is looking at the Bears as), but also five of the eight games coming against teams with .500 or better records — Giants, Lions, Packers, Washington, Vikings. Then again, the Bears have beaten two of those five.
All of which means pretty much nothing, because the only thing that does matter is whether the Bears can take a second step toward respectability as of next Sunday. And if they can’t, then the win over Minnesota was just a spot of comic relief and of interest only as part of any Jay Cutler conversation.
“We’ve got a whole half of a season left,” Fox said. “Like the second half of a game, a lot can happen. There’s not as big a difference sometimes as people on the outside might think. We look at the tape and we evaluate things.
“It’s there for the taking; it’s just a matter of being a little fortunate as far as injury wise and the way the ball bounces, and how we do our job.”