1st-and-10: Bears skeptics have earned the right

Bears fans are skeptical about a 5-1 team because they’ve been conditioned to expect disappointment. The Bears have made the playoffs five times in the last 25 seasons.

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Bears quarterback Nick Foles (9) was undaunted by an unimpressive offensive performance in a 23-16 victory over the Panthers last week. “I like where we’re at. I know we’re going to improve,” he said.

Bears quarterback Nick Foles (9) was undaunted by an unimpressive offensive performance in a 23-16 victory over the Panthers last week. “I like where we’re at. I know we’re going to improve,” he said.

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Win ugly or lose pretty?

With all due respect to Nick Foles, it’s a flawed option. These Bears are unlikely to lose pretty very often — not with this defense. If Foles and the Bears’ offense are pretty or even just reasonably attractive — not 50 points, but 27 to 32 — the Bears usually will win.

And that’s the point of the anxiety over Matt Nagy’s struggling offense with a first-place team that has the second-best record in the NFC. It’s not just the sustainability of winning one-score games. It’s that the Bears are potentially wasting yet another glorious era of defense — and not with a revolving door of offensive coordinators, but with a hand-picked offensive-minded head coach hired to make the offense the star of the show. The fear is that by the time Nagy’s

offense arrives, Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the defense will be past their prime. Timing is everything.

Yes, the Bears are winning the close ones. Their average margin-of-victory in five games (4.0) is the lowest for a 5-1 or 6-0 team in the Super Bowl era. But winning ugly historically can only get you so far. The 2001 Bears rode a magnificent wave of uncanny victories to a 13-3 season and a division title — but lost their playoff opener at home. The 2019 Seahawks tied a 16-game season record with 10 victories by one score or less — and lost to the Packers in the divisional round.

Bears fans are skeptical about a 5-1 team because they’ve been conditioned to expect disappointment. The Bears have made the playoffs five times in the last 25 seasons — only the Raiders (4) and 1999 expansion Browns (1) have fewer postseason appearances in that span. In four of those five playoff seasons, the Bears lost at home. And the last time they started 5-1 — in 2012 — it did not end well. The Bears started 7-1, finished 10-6 and did not make the playoffs.

That was one of a series of near-misses that have haunted Bears fans. In 2008, the Bears lost to the Texans in Week 17 with a chance to make the playoffs. In 2011, they started 7-3, but Jay Cutler suffered a thumb injury, the Bears lost five straight and finished 8-8. In 2013, they lost to the Packers at home in brutal fashion in Week 17 to lose the NFC North title and miss the playoffs.

So while it certainly must be frustrating for Nagy, Foles and the Bears to be 5-1 and still face so much skepticism, it comes with the territory as part of great history of the Chicago Bears. There are a lot of monuments at Halas Hall, but — especially lately — a lot of skeletons as well.

2 That said, Foles’ enthusiasm about Nagy’s offense can’t be dismissed, coming from a player with his credentials. The Bears hardly looked on the cusp of a breakthrough against the Panthers — in fact, it looked like a step back. But Foles, whose fortitude is to be respected, saw something else.

“I like where we’re at. I know we’re going to improve,” Foles said. “I’ve been on teams where maybe at the beginning you’re trying to figure out who you are offensively, you’re sputtering and then all of a sudden you just keep believing, you keep working, you keep watching film — who do we want to be . . . and all of a sudden that’s that one game that just clicks. It’s happened many times in my career. But it all starts after games like this.”

3 The List — The Bears are on a pace to finish 13-3 with a plus-32 point differential this season. Five teams have made the Super Bowl with lower differentials: the 2011 Giants (minus-6), 2008 Cardinals (plus-1), 2007 Giants (plus-22), John Fox’s 2003 Panthers (plus-21) and the 1979 Rams (plus-14). The two Giants teams won the Super Bowl.

4 The NFC East is on pace to be the worst division in the Super Bowl era. The Cowboys (2-4), Eagles (1-4-1), Giants (1-5) and Washington (1-5) are a combined 2-15-1 against non-division teams.

The only victories outside the division are the Cowboys’ fluky 40-39 victory over the Falcons; and the Eagles 25-20 victory over the 49ers, who were without Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Solomon Thomas and Dee Ford, among others.

The 2014 NFC South is, by the numbers, the worst division in the Super Bowl era. The Panthers (7-8-1), Saints (7-9), Falcons (6-10) and Buccaneers (2-14) were a combined 10-29-1 in non-division games, with a minus-227 point differential.

5 Be Careful What You Wish For Dept.: With only the top seed in each conference getting a first-round bye in the playoffs, Bears fans already are plotting a scenario in which the Bears finish second in the NFC North to get a matchup with the likely weak NFC East winner.

That hasn’t been a successful tack, though. In fact, since the 2002 realignment, the four division winners that finished 8-8 or worse all won their first-round playoff game: the 2014 Panthers (7-8-1) beat the 11-5 Cardinals; the 2011 Broncos (8-8) beat the 12-4 Steelers; the 2010 Seahawks (7-9) beat the 11-5 Saints; and the 2008 Chargers (8-8) beat the 12-4 Colts.

6 How was Bilal Nichols’ sack of Teddy Bridgewater on the second play from scrimmage not a safety? In the spirit of the game, shouldn’t you have to be moving forward to get credit for forward progress? That was a tackle in the end zone.

7 Cairo Santos or Eddy Pineiro? You have to ride the hot hand with kickers and Santos has made his last seven field-goal attempts, including a 55-yarder against the Panthers and a 47-yarder against the Buccaneers.

Pineiro made his last 14 attempts last season. So in the Bears’ last 12 games, they have hit 21-of-23 field-goal attempts (91.3%) and 22-of-23 extra points (95.7%).

8The Rams signed kicker Kai Forbath off the Bears’ practice squad, ahead of their game against the Bears on Monday night.

It shows you how quickly kicking fortunes can change in the NFL. The Rams had the best long-distance kicker in the game in Greg Zuerlein, who was 16-for-21 from 50 yards or more in 2017-19, including the clutch 57-yarder against the Saints that sent the Rams to the Super Bowl.

But Zuerlein followed special-teams coordinator John Fassel to Dallas in free agency and now the Rams are poaching kickers from — of all teams — the Bears.

9Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Dolphins tight end Adam Shaheen had a career-high 43-yard reception and a four-yard touchdown to spark a 24-0 victory over the Jets.

Shaheen was 22 yards downfield — a rare sight for Bears fans — when he caught the 43-yarder. Shaheen’s longest reception in three seasons with the Bears was 31 yards against the Packers in 2017 — a pass caught two yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Shaheen caught three passes for a career-high 51 yards against the Jets. Shaheen’s best receiving day with the Bears was 44 yards (and a touchdown) on four catches against the Bengals in 2017.

10Bear-ometer: 10-6 — at Rams (L); vs. Saints (L); at Titans (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (W); at Vikings (L); at Jaguars (W); vs. Packers (W).

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