Playoffs? Bears coach Matt Nagy couldn’t answer quickly enough when asked if he’s using that as motivation now that his team is 5-3 at midseason.
“Never,” Nagy said resolutely. “You’ll never hear that word from me. You’ll never hear the word playoffs from me.”
“Because we’re worried about Week  — that’s it,” Nagy said. “We worry about the playoffs, then we’re worrying about the wrong thing. We have a lot of season left.”
Be that as it may, the Bears — who were 19-45 the previous four seasons before Nagy was hired — have earned the right to at least think they can be a playoff team after their 41-9 victory Sunday against the Bills gave them their first winning record at midseason since 2013.
The Bears lead the NFC North — ahead of the Vikings (5-3-1), Packers (4-3-1) and Lions (3-5). Their three losses are by a total of 11 points. Their plus-82 point differential is third in the NFL behind the 8-1 Chiefs (plus-101) and the 8-1 Rams (plus-99). The Bears are first in the NFL in net defensive points (points allowed plus points scored by the defense) at 13.9 per game. They are ninth in net offensive points at 25.9 — one of two NFL teams in the top 10 in both categories (the Chargers are the other).
Then again, the Bears have been 5-3 or better at midseason five times since the 2006 Super Bowl season and four of those times they have failed to make the playoffs — in 2008 (5-3), 2011 (5-3), 2012 (7-1) and 2013 (5-3). Those disappointments are a big reason the Bears have made only one playoff appearance in the last 12 seasons — in 2010, when they were 5-3 at midseason, won the NFC North at 11-5 and lost to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field.
The Bears open the second half with three consecutive games against NFC North teams in an 11-day span — the Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field, the Vikings on Nov. 18 on ‘‘Sunday Night Football’’ and the Lions on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. That gives them a chance to turn around a disastrous record in the division that has been the biggest impediment to the playoffs since 2010.
The Bears have lost 10 consecutive division games. They’re 12-31 in the division since 2010, including 6-25 the last five seasons — the worst division record in the NFL in that span. The Bears are 14-10 (.583) against the AFC since 2012 — a pretty credible record considering they’re 32-56 (.364) overall. But it’s the division that makes or breaks you.
But just as Nagy isn’t fixated on the down-the-road future, he’s not fixated on the past, either. The Bears are coming off two convincing victories — beating the Jets 24-10 and routing the Bills on the road. Parlaying that momentum into a victory against the Lions on Sunday is the focus.
“I’m aware [of the recent division record], I understand,” Nagy said. “But that’s the thing with us — we try not to get to the past. We’re in such a good place right now as an organization, the vibe that we have. We’re learning how to win in different ways. We’ve learned what losing’s about and how you respond to that. But we’re trying to really create our own culture and our own history.”