Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 10/29/13
The Chicago Bears started the season at 3-0, but three losses in the last four outings, dropped the team to 4-3, and into third place in the NFC North division.In addition to that, the defense is struggling, giving up over 270 yards through the air and 117 yards on the ground.And with injuries to key players such as Lance Briggs, Henry Melton and Nate Collins, the chances of this unit showing significant improvement are very slim.The offense has played better than what we've seen in past seasons, but does Chicago have enough to talent on the roster to make the playoffs?Let's take a look at a few factors that will help answer that question.1) Can Josh McCown manage the game effectively in Jay Cutler's absence?When Jay Cutler went down with an injury against the Washington Redskins in Week 7, one thought had to cross the mind of every Bears fans—oh no, here we go again, and who could blame them?Although Cutler had completed only three of his eight pass attempts when he left the game, there was little doubt that he was playing at a higher level this season.The good news is McCown did a great job managing the offense, which resulted in three second-half scoring drives, the last one, giving the Bears a 41-38 lead late in the game.The bad news is that Chicago lost 45-41 and the next two opponents on the schedule are the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. Both teams will present greater challenges for the Bears from a defensive standpoint.If McCown continues to play as well as he against the Redskins, the Bears will be in good shape.However, if that is not the case, look for the Bears to be out of playoff contention by the time Cutler returns.2) Can the defense keep the games competitive if turnovers are at a premium?The Bears are one of the best teams in the NFL when it comes to taking the ball away. In fact, they are ranked fourth with 18 takeaways (10 interceptions, eight fumbles). On the flip side of the coin, this unit has struggled mightily when they are unable to create turnovers.As it was mentioned earlier, the chances of defense improving this season with so many injuries, are between slim and none.However, if they can find a way to generate some sort of a pass rush, improve their tackling and get off the field on third downs, that should go a long way towards helping the offense and limiting the opponents' scoring opportunities.3) Can the special teams unit be a factor for the remainder of the season?It is no secret that Devin Hester is one of the most dangerous return guys in the league. In the team's win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, Hester recorded 249 return yards, which helped the Bears with good starting field position for most of the afternoon.Last week, against the Washington Redskins, Hester returned a punt for an 81-yard touchdown, tying him with Deion Sanders for the most regular-season returns at 19.These instances prove that this unit does have game-changing potential, but whether or not they can play a prominent role consistently remains to be seen.With the offense missing its leader in Jay Cutler, along with the defense suffering from injuries and subpar play, the special teams unit will have to play at a high level if the Bears hope to remain in the playoff race.ConclusionOn the surface, it appears that Chicago is heading toward a disapponting end to what began as a promising season.However, keep in mind that out of their remaining nine games on the schedule, the Green Bay Packers (5-2) and the Detroit Lions (5-3), are the only teams with winning records. The remaining teams currently have a combined record of just 17-29.That being said, there is still hope for a playoff a berth, but it will largely depend on how the team peforms until some of the key players are back on the field.
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