The Chicago Bears finished agonizingly close to the playoffs last season, just missing out with a 10-6 record. The missed playoff berth spurred the team to make some changes this offseason, and they began by hiring Marc Trestman to replace Lovie Smith as head coach. Trestman is much more offensive-minded than Smith, and he will tasked with bringing the best out of Jay Cutler.
The team also signed Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson in free agency, and added Kyle Long in the first round of the draft. The Bears believe these moves will solidify their horrible offensive line play from the last few seasons. Martellus Bennett was added at tight end to give Cutler another pass catching weapon. The offense must improve this season, or the Bears will be left out of the postseason again.
Defensively, the team chose not to re-sign franchise icon Brian Urlacher, but they believe that the time was right to move on from their veteran middle linebacker. The rest of their top-five defense from last season returns intact, and that unit will be the key for the Bears’ success this season. However, re-creating the exceptional amount of turnovers they forced last season will be difficult, and the defense could take a step back because of it.
Chicago’s schedule is a difficult one for a few reasons, beginning with the NFC North being arguably the best division in football. Success within the division is absolutely crucial to the Bears’ playoff chances. The North produced two playoff teams last year in the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, and the Detroit Lions figure to be much improved. The Bears must be at least .500 in the division to have a good chance.
After evaluating the Bears’ schedule, I believe their final record for 2013 will be 9-7, which will almost certainly leave them out of the playoffs. When I break down a team’s schedule, I split games into three categories: definite wins, definite losses and toss-ups (obviously nothing is perfectly definite, but you get the point). The Bears have 10 games in the toss-up category, meaning their record could really be anywhere.
I picked each of those toss-up games individually, and it actually turned out to be a 5-5 record. That speaks to the difficulty of the Bears’ schedule, because they they will struggle to be too far above .500 despite how good a football team they actually are.
Breaking it down further, there is really one key stretch that I believe will determine whether or not Chicago is a playoff team. In Weeks 11-13, the Bears play home against the Baltimore Ravens, at the St. Louis Rams and at the Vikings. Their record in those games could determine whether or not they make the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Bears, I only see them defeating the Rams in that stretch. That will not be enough to get them to double-digit wins or in the playoffs. If the Bears were in the AFC, they would be a lock for the postseason. Unfortunately for them, the NFC is far more challenging, and the Bears just don’t have enough firepower to make to the playoffs.