If the Bears fall to Detroit in Week 17, will it be better for the team in the long run?
It’s that time of year again Bears fans. No, I’m not talking about making New Year’s preparations and looking forward to a nice long bye week heading into the playoffs. It’s time to look back on what was once a promising season, and hurriedly scramble together a scenario that has the Bears backing into the playoffs as the 2nd Wild Card team.
This year, the equation isn’t all that difficult: take care of business against Detroit at Ford Field, and then hope for a little help from “our friends” from Green Bay as they take on the Vikings.
But in the grand scheme of things, would it actually be better for the Bears to lose this Sunday and miss the playoffs all together?
I can hear all the diehards yelling at me through their computer screens. But hear me out.
First, we should consider if the Bears deserve to be in the playoffs at all. It’s hard to look at this objectively, but when I strip my fanhood from the situation, I don’t believe they are playoff material.
If you were to ask me the same question when they were 7-1, I would have questioned your football IQ for asking me such a thing. But in the Lovie Smith Era, the Bears have perfected the art of the late season collapse.
During Lovie’s tenure, he’s led the team to a 61% winning percentage (44-28) in the first half of seasons, only to follow up with a winning percentage of just over 50% (36-35) in second halves.
This season may be the most pronounced implosion yet. The Bears have followed up their torrid start with a 2-5 record and have an injury list more loaded up than the cast of “Jersey Shore” at a New Year’s party.
Blame what you want: injuries, lack of coaching ingenuity, or plain old bad luck. The bottom line is that the Bears have once again found a way to peak early, tease the fan base into believing they are elite, and then struggle down the stretch.
The real proof that the Bears are not a playoff team lies in the difficulty of the teams they did beat, and the sheer lack of offensive production.
In the 9 games they have won, their opponents have combined for a 56-78-1 record. That’s a winning percentage of 41%. That list also includes only 1 surefire playoff team, the Indianapolis Colts.
Let’s just say the Bears were lucky to catch Andrew Luck on day 1 of his NFL career. If those two teams were to meet again, the outcome would probably be different.
Looking at the 6 games they lost, those opponents racked up a 63-26-1 record, a 70% winning percentage, and feature 4 guaranteed playoff teams.
The Bears are supposed to thrive while playing against the bottom feeders of the league, and that’s what they did. But they should also be competitive against other playoff bound teams if they plan on making a run to the Super Bowl.
That simply didn’t happen, and now there’s a good chance they won’t even get an opportunity to make a playoff run.
The biggest sign that the Bears are not ready for the playoffs is how terrible they are on offense.
Brandon Marshall IS the offense. Granted, he’s already set franchise marks for receiving yards and receptions in a season, and only needs 3 touchdowns this week to break the touchdown record (which isn’t a stretch considering how good Marshall is). But even all of those accomplishments haven’t prevented the Bears from having the 28th ranked offense in the NFL in terms of total yardage.
The defense, which is 5th in the NFL in yards allowed despite all the injuries, can only mask the offense’s shortcomings for so long. It’s just not feasible to think they can do it multiple times against elite competition in the playoffs.
But let’s say that the Bears do manage to scrape their way into the playoffs. This would set up a road matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, the same team that mopped the floor with the Bears to the tune of 32-7 in week 11.
Chances are, the 49ers would probably win that playoff game, giving the Bears yet another one-and-done trip to the playoffs.
Hey, I’m just looking at things realistically. We can all root for the Bears and pull for them until our noses bleed, it still won’t make up for their paltry offense.
So what we’d be left with would be a perfect microcosm of the season. Win the final 2 games of the season, get everyone’s hopes up, and then get humiliated in the first round of the playoffs by a clearly superior team.
This would also give the front office reason to keep Lovie around for another year, or even extend his contract. On the surface, a playoff berth looks pretty nice, but we all know it wasn’t smooth sailing. I know I was singing his praises a few weeks ago, but I think it’s time for Lovie and his regime to go.
He has showed this year that he is almost incapable of adaptation on offense. He still thinks that in a pass first league, the Bears can succeed as a run first team. And even though they don’t have a line capable of protecting the run or the pass, he still hasn’t found a way to work around having that sub-par line. The offense has now become completely one dimensional (Cutler to Marshall), and defenses can game plan accordingly.
Sure, he’s led the defense to being one of the top units in the NFL year in and year out, but the highest the offense has ever ranked in yards per game in Lovie’s tenure has been 15th. It doesn’t matter how good the defense is, it will become overtaxed in trying to make up for the offense’s mistakes, and then the whole team will collapse.
If Lovie returns next year, it will be the same old song and dance. Everyone will get excited for smash mouth Bears football. We’ll all remember how great a guy he is and how well he gets through to the players. And they’ll most likely start out hot again, and all of the shortcomings from 2012 will begin to fade.
But then Lovie will keep on using the same game plan that the opponents can sniff out from a mile away. The offense will start sputtering, and injuries will inevitably mount up. Then we’re left with a solid but aging defense, no offense, and an awkward situation where our playoff hopes dwindle on a weekly basis.
Kinda like this season.
If it were up to me, I’d rather avoid that mess. We have to acknowledge that Lovie did do some amazing things on defense in his time here, but I believe his time is up. And no better way to send that message than for his team that was once 7-1 with the best record in the NFC to miss the playoffs entirely.
I’m not exactly sure who the Bears would bring in to replace him, but they need an offensive minded coach who’s willing to toy with the offense in a way that will bring out the potential in every player.
In a perfect world, I’d want the Bears to keep Lovie as a defensive coordinator. But the cost is just too high, and I’m sure head coaching jobs will open up for him elsewhere this offseason.
But a loss this Sunday to the Lions, or a Vikings victory against Green Bay, might be what the Bears really need.
With a new coach, the team can squarely focus on bringing up the offense’s production to match the defense, and try to put together a championship contender in the limited time some of the aging veterans have left to give.
Do you think the Bears are better off missing the playoffs this season? Or do you believe they have a miracle playoff run in them despite all of their recent struggles?