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.”
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.
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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.