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Take 2: Time for Bears to cancel the draft party?

In this week’s edition of Take 2, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley and Mark Potash discuss whether winning two-straight games changes the perception of a Bears’ season presumed doomed after Week 3:

PATRICK FINLEY: Potsie, it looks like we can cancel the draft party. (Too bad, too: I bought all these snacks). The team that picked No. 1 last year, the Buccaneers, had two wins; the Bears have two through five games and a winless Lions team on Sunday. My question: have your expectations for the season changed? Should they?

MARK POTASH: First of all, it’s good that it looks like Bears fans can cancel the draft party, because the Bears’ progress is real. It’s not like they won a couple of meaningless Week 16-17 games against teams that aren’t interested to bump themselves out of the No. 1 pick. That said, they haven’t done much more than win winnable games against beatable opponents. I’m not about to adjust my 7-9 prediction yet. These “work-in-progress” seasons rarely go in a straight incline. Until they get healthy on offense and beat a playoff-bound team, I’ll stick with my original analysis of the Bears season — they’ll be better at the end than they are at the beginning.

FINLEY: The players undoubtedly believe in John Fox and his staff; each comment about this season’s motivations makes last year look worse. The players think they’ll get better, and I do, too, provided that hamstring strains stop being contagious. Still, Potsie, the teams they beat are bad ones. The Raiders and Chiefs were each a single third-down conversion from a victory. Does that diminish the Bears’ win? Or is it the opposite — that the Bears would have lost such a game last year?

POTASH: Never underestimate the mediocrity of the NFL. Only two of the Bears’ final 11 opponents have a winning record — the unbeaten Broncos and Packers. The other nine opponents are a combined 13-30 today. (And John Fox’s intimate knowledge of the Broncos won’t hurt his preparation for that game). The Bears have a lot of winnable games remaining on their schedule and they’ve proven the last two weeks that they can win winnable games, with quarterback Jay Cutler making the difference. I think that’s how you win in the NFL. The Bears — regardless of what level they’re at — seem to be on the right track.

FINLEY: That’s also how the NFL is designed. The Bears are playing a last-place schedule because the league wants every team, at the start of the season, to be plausible contenders. We haven’t reached that part of the schedule yet — see you in December, Redskins and Buccaneers (and the train-wreck 49ers). As the Bears get healthier and gain more confidence, is it reasonable to expect more than a “work-in-progress” team?

POTASH: Playoffs? Are you talking playoffs, Pat? With this coaching staff, this schedule, a healthy Jay Cutler and the mediocrity of the NFL, anything is possible, my friend — the 2-2 Vikings currently hold the No. 6 playoff spot in the NFC. There will be some backwards steps, but consider this: Fox’s first team in Denver (2011) won seven of eight after the bye and made the playoffs; his first team in Carolina (2002) won four of its last five to set itself up for a run to the NFC title game the following year. My advice? Until further notice, keep your eye on the big picture.

FINLEY: I never said the P-word. How about playing relevant games after Thanksgiving?
The Broncos team you mention started 1-4, while the 2002 Panthers went from Sept. 23 to Dec. 1 without winning a game. The point is, momentum ebbs and flows during a long football season. Speaking of which: win Sunday, and the Bears will have their first three-game winning streak since the first games of the Marc Trestman era. Remember how well that started?