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Bears hit bye week with momentum

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: Staley mascot of the Chicago Bears looks on during the NFL International Series match between Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium on October 23, 2011 in London, England. This is the fifth occasion where a regular season NFL match has been played in London. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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We’re checking in with teams as they hit their bye week. Or at least we are trying to.

Next up: The Chicago Bears.

Familiar position

Lovie Smith told everyone to calm down after the team’s loss to the Lions on Monday Night Football in Week 5. He pointed out that if the team could beat the Vikings and Bucs, they would be 4-3 just like last year at the bye.

Give Smith credit: That’s exactly what happened. After a tumultuous training camp and start to the season, the Bears are in decent enough shape.

The Bears season has a different feel to it after two strong efforts. They completely destroyed Minnesota, and controlled the action against the Bucs in London.

The Bears have proven capable of beating mediocre competition. They can’t beat the best NFC teams: The Packers, Saints, and Lions all have wins over Chicago.

Forte leads the way

Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL. Matt Forte may be the most important to his team. Forte leads all players by a wide margin in yards from scrimmage with 1,091. He is just off Chris Johnson’s all time yards from scrimmage record pace.

It’s hard to overstate how good Forte is as a receiver. He has a shot to be the first running back since Marshall Faulk to put up over 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. It’s no coincidence Mike Martz was involved in both seasons.

Improving passing game

Jay Cutler may have enjoyed the best two game stretch of his Bears career in the loss to the Lions and the win over the Vikings. He is looking more comfortable. His pass protection has improved from absymal to simply lame.

The offense still has to be more consistent after some early ugly outings, but it’s headed in the right direction. It’s 12th in scoring despite the 21 sacks Cutler has taken. The team has a +4 turover margin.

Safety dance

Chris Harris started the season at strong safety; he was released Thursday. Brandon Meriweather was signed for $3.25 million and now sits on the bench. The team is going young with Major Wright and Chris Conte at the position. This is a shaky secondary overall.

Average defense

Lovie Smith teams are supposed to be built on defense. At this stage, the Bears have been ordinary stopping opponents. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are still playing at a high level, but they don’t get a lot of help. The defensive line has been decent. Julius Peppers has played at less than 100%.

Chicago’s only chance to make a postseason push is for the defense to improve dramatically.

Angling for a wild card

The Bears are three games back in the NFC North, so their only hope for a playoff spot is a wild card. They are in decent shape with wins over NFC contenders like Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

The next two weeks after the bye are huge. The Bears travel to Philadelphia before hosting Detroit. Sweeping those two games would put Chicago in terrific position before an oddly timed four-game tour through the AFC West.

After seven weeks, the Bears are in the mix. Their recent play indicates we’ll probably be talking about Bears tiebreakers come late December.