Mark Potash: Analyzing the Bears’ successes, hurdles as home stretch begins
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The home stretch is here, with the Bears’ first playoff berth since 2010 well within reach. Sun-Times Bears beat writer Mark Potash breaks down the Bears’ biggest challenges, and achievements, at the quarter pole:
Are the Bears a legit Super Bowl contender? …
They are if Trubisky not only returns but continues to grow along with the offense. In that scenario, the Bears have the offensive and defensive balance they need to win in the playoffs and on the road. All postseason prospects for this team are based on them getting better in the final month.
Biggest concern down the stretch …
Whether Trubisky can stay healthy when he returns. The Bears won’t coddle Trubisky, which is a good thing. He needs to let it all out to continue his maturation process. But it also comes with obvious risk. All it takes is one bone-jarring hit to change everything for the Bears.
Over the final 4 games, Mitch Trubisky must …
Stay healthy and be more efficient against above-average defenses. Against the top three defenses he has faced, Trubisky has had passer ratings of 77.2 (Packers), 76.0 (Bills) and 61.9 (Vikings), throwing for 171 yards or fewer against each of them. Assuming he returns, he’ll get another shot at the Packers and Vikings and will face the 49ers, who are 12th in total defense, though 27th in defensive points allowed.
Does Trubisky’s injury concern you?
Yes. Three things in particular: Just how healthy he is and how effective he’ll be if he’s not 100 percent; how much rust he’ll have whenever he returns and how quickly he’ll regain his rhythm with the offense; and whether he’ll be able to stay healthy.
Matt Nagy’s biggest challenge will be …
Not getting too cute. Nagy has pushed many of the right buttons to keep his players engaged and focused and defenses on their toes. But when things work as well as they have — Akiem Hicks’ touchdown, Tarik Cohen’s touchdown pass against the Giants, for instance — you can get closer and closer to going over the line where inventiveness becomes hazardous.
The Bears’ MVP is …
Mack. He hasn’t been the unstoppable force he was in his first four games, but he gets a slight nod over Hicks. Even when he’s not a major factor, Mack still can make a difference with one play — like the third-and-eight sack that took the Giants out of field goal range in the fourth quarter. But if that game was the real Daniel, the Bears’ MVP is Trubisky by a mile.
Who makes the Pro Bowl?:
Mack, Hicks, Jackson, Fuller, Trevathan and Cohen.
Bears’ final record ….
10-6, assuming Trubisky returns. Good enough to win the North, the No. 3 seed in the NFC and a home game in the wild-card round of the playoffs.