Bears

Confident Bears have 'a different feeling' with playoffs in mind

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Confident Bears have 'a different feeling' with playoffs in mind

Various Bears have spoken the “P” word – playoffs – with an even-handedness over the past couple of weeks, as if they took seriously the possibility of playing a 2015 season of more than 16 games in spite of losing the first three.

Suddenly the scoffing that came with Kyle Long, Tracy Porter and others thinking the “P” word isn’t quite as noisy. And coaches aren’t discouraging that sort of look-ahead, because the playoffs are a lose-and-done proposition, and the Bears are in reality in playoff mode now whether they like it or not. And their attitude is that somebody has to get hot; why not them?

“I thought I could start to feel it three weeks ago, even when we had some of those close losses,” said tight end Zach Miller. “It’s a different feeling and we started to build a little more confidence.  We didn’t finish well in those weeks, but now we’re getting to the point where we’re starting to.”

[MORE BEARS: Adam Gase's play calling has Bears' offensive line 'fired up']

Here’s why:

First, the Bears, where notables have occurred on both offense and defense, in consecutive weeks, both on the road.

They held what was then the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense (San Diego) to one touchdown and Philip Rivers to 280 net passing yards, Rivers who is second by one yard only to Tom Brady in average yards per game (338 vs. 337).

Then they put 37 points on a St. Louis Rams defense that ranked No. 6 in fewest points and allowing half that (18.6 ppg.) coming in.

Second, the NFC. Right now there are seven four-win teams in the NFC. Seven. Using strictly current standings, none of them are wild-card teams but only because there are two second-place teams (Atlanta, Green Bay) with six wins, and overcoming a two-game deficit with seven to play is some level of longshot.

But the Bears play the Packers in a week. And they play two of the other four-win teams – Tampa Bay, Washington – yet this year, while already holding a head-to-head edge on St. Louis. So the simple fact is that the Bears taking the playoffs seriously is both mathematically and realistically not to be summarily dismissed.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

One NFL reality is that every year there are outliers, good and bad, teams that surprise with their unexpected under-achievement and ones that upset predictions by max’ing abilities and opportunities (those are not “overachievers” – other than by artificial means, there is no such thing as an “overachiever,” just ones who got all they could out of what they had – that they were better than expected just means experts were stupid and wrong about you – but that’s for another discussion).

Ironically, last year the Bears were one of those disappoint’er teams, expected to take a step forward after reaching 8-8 in Marc Trestman’s first year but didn’t. So were the San Francisco 49ers.

On the plus-side were the Detroit Lions, going 11-5 in Jim Caldwell’s first season as head coach after more years of failure under Jim Schwartz. This year the Lions became hood ornaments for the other trend line, back to tied for the NFL’s worst record after many prognostications of breakthrough for Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and associates.

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

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USA Today

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

Chicago Bears training camp is right around the corner with the first practice (non-padded) scheduled for July 21. 

Bears veterans and rookies will report a few days ahead of that first session to acclimate themselves to their new (for some) surroundings. Rookies report on July 16, with veterans coming three days later on July 19.

All eyes will be on QB Mitch Trubisky and the potentially high-flying offense under coach Matt Nagy. Training camp will take on extra importance because of the plethora of new faces on the roster and coaching staff as well as the installation of a completely new offensive scheme. It's critical that Trubisky builds chemistry with wide receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Kevin White, all of whom he's never thrown a regular-season pass to. Add Trey Burton to that mix and a lot of miscues should be expected in the preseason.

The rookie class is led by linebacker Roquan Smith, who remains unsigned. With less than 30 days until rookies are required to report, a greater sense of urgency -- even if it's not quite a panic -- is certainly creeping in. Assuming he's signed in time, Smith should earn a starting role early in training camp and ascend to one of the defense's top all-around players. 

The Bears have higher-than-usual expectations heading into the 2018 season making fans eager for summer practices to get underway.

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

The Chicago Bears need a big season from outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. He's the team's best pass-rush option and the only legitimate threat to post double-digit sacks this year.

Floyd joined the Bears as a first-round pick (No. 9 overall) in 2016 and has flashed freakish talent at times. The problem has been his health; he's appeared in only 22 games through his first two seasons. 

Floyd's rookie year -- especially Weeks 5 through 9 -- showed a glimpse of the kind of disruptive force he's capable of becoming. He registered seven sacks and looked poised to breakout in 2017. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to only 10 games and four sacks.

Despite his disappointing sophomore season, NFL.com's Gil Brandt has high hopes for Floyd in 2018. The long-time NFL personnel executive named Floyd as the Bear with the best chance to earn a first-time trip to the Pro Bowl.

CHICAGO BEARS: Leonard Floyd, OLB, third NFL season. Floyd had seven sacks as a rookie in 2016, but missed six games last season due to a knee injury. He's a talented guy who can drop into coverage or rush with his hand on the ground and should play much better this season. He also has become much stronger since coming into the league.

The Bears will be in a heap of trouble if Floyd doesn't emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber player. There aren't many pass-rushing options on the roster outside of Floyd aside from Aaron Lynch and rookie Kylie Fitts. Neither edge defender has a resume strong enough to rely on as insurance.

It's a critical year for Floyd's future in Chicago, too. General manager Ryan Pace will decide whether to pick up Floyd's fifth-year option in his rookie contract next offseason. If he plays well, it's a no-brainer. If not, Pace could be looking at two straight first-round picks (see: Kevin White) that he's declined the extra year.

We're a long way from that decision. Until then, the Bears' season may sink or swim based on its pass rush. It begins -- and ends -- with Floyd.