With a surprising victory against the Cowboys, the Bears suddenly seem like they’ve got a shot at the playoffs at 7-6. They’ll have to beat at least two of their final three opponents — the Packers, Chiefs and Vikings — to have a chance. Sun-Times Bears beat writer Jason Lieser looks at some key questions they face down the stretch.
Mitch Trubisky has played better lately. Is he the starter next season?
Playing better doesn’t equal playing great. Even with their financial constraints, the Bears would be negligent to plow ahead with Trubisky locked in as their starting quarterback. They need to find a reasonably good veteran, such as Marcus Mariota, and hold a legitimate competition for the job.
What made coach Matt Nagy’s offense finally click?
An improved all-around running game, including Trubisky getting going with 63 yards rushing against the Cowboys. We all know Nagy would rather not run the ball, but that’s the Bears’ best shot at having a functional offense. The offensive line has played better, David Montgomery has been consistent and Trubisky opened up a lot with his running ability.
If Akiem Hicks returns but Roquan Smith is out, is that a net gain?
No, it’s actually a net loss. The Bears are losing Smith, probably for the rest of the season, at the worst possible time. He was playing some of the best football of his career when he injured a pectoral muscle Thursday. Hicks is an elite defensive lineman, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be his usual self coming off a major elbow injury.
What’s the biggest question for the Bears down the stretch?
Can their reshuffled offensive line stay sturdy? Left tackle Charles Leno is the only starting lineman still in place from the opener. The Bears have flipped Cody Whitehair and James Daniels, and Rashaad Coward and Cornelius Lucas are replacements. They played arguably their best game of the season Thursday. Can they keep it up?
What will the Bears’ final record be?
8-8. It’s a significant jump up in competition starting with the trip to Green Bay. The Bears will upset one of the remaining teams on their schedule, but it’s unrealistic to expect more than that.
Will it be enough to make the playoffs?
No. And 9-7 probably won’t get the job done, either. The Bears likely need to sweep their final three games and hope for help. It’s fun to watch them go for it, but it’s still a pipe dream.
What would qualify this as a successful season?
This season? Successful? Get out of here. It’ll be impressive if the Bears dig out of a 3-5 hole to reach 8-8 and even more admirable if they rally all the way to the playoffs, but those are shortsighted goals. They went 12-4 last season and brought nearly everybody back. They were talking Super Bowl. They haven’t come close to backing that up.