I was sitting on a stool at The Copper Kettle, my local in Woodside, Queens, and a liquored up friend of mine, a mumbling Irishman known as “Mel” who loves the Pittsburgh Steelers, turned my way. “You know I think you’re going to the Super Bowl,” he said, referring to the Chicago Bears. He actually said, “Joe, binky broofer soul” but I got where his brain was going.
I did what I always do when that particular suggestion is made (and it’s happening more often these days). “We’ll see,” I said. It wasn’t a response out of modesty or fan humility. It wasn’t an attempt to avoid a jinx. In other words, it wasn’t bullshit. It was about altering expectations. That can take time.
I came into this season, especially after the acquisition of Khalil Mack, believing the Bears could weasel their way into the postseason if the quarterback and offense came along by midseason. After watching the Bears dismantle the Vikings from a Paris hotel room in the middle of the night, those expectations changed to a division title. The Bears were clearly the best team in the NFC North. They needed to finish the season atop the table. They did.
Now, with two weeks to go in the regular season, there are only a pair of teams in the NFC with better records than the Bears: the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. And I’m no longer convinced the Bears can’t beat both of them. In any building.
Make no mistake about it, this is not a column predicting the Bears to win or even make the Super Bowl on February 3rd. Matt Nagy has never done it on the big stage. Mitch Trubisky has never done it on the big stage. Even Khalil Mack, the team’s 2018 MVP, has never been tested in the big moment. (But, honestly, Mack is not a concern.) The Bears are clearly ahead of the schedule many had laid out prior to the beginning of this campaign.
But those arguments in the paragraph above are the same ones I’ve been making in this space all season long, aren’t they? How many times have I written, “I think the Bears are the better team but I wonder about their inexperience in this moment?” And every “big” game this team has faced, and to my mind there have been three, Nagy’s Bears have delivered. Against Minnesota and L.A., the defense dominated. Against Green Bay, with the title on the line, Trubisky put the team on his back when things seemed to be drifting away. The stage, the moment, has never been too much for this group in 2018. So why would that change when the calendar flips to 2019?
Of course the counter-argument is a simple one. All three of those games were at Soldier Field and the Bears were 7-1 in their own building this year. They’ve been a .500 team away from home, playing their three worst defensive games in Green Bay, Miami, and New Jersey. And more than likely the Bears will need to win twice away from Chicago to play in Atlanta.
What’s the most likely path for the Bears to get to the Super Bowl?
- Home to Seahawks/Vikings.
- At Rams
- At Saints
They’d be a heavy favorite in the first game. I’d pick them to win the second. So that would conceivably put the Bears one game away from the Super Bowl. If New Orleans survives the Division Round, it’ll be in one of the NFL’s toughest environments. Not easy.
But in this NFL, if the Chicago Bears can get one game away, why can’t they win it? Why can’t they throttle Drew Brees with their pass rush and contain Michael Thomas with Kyle Fuller, the best corner in the league this year? Why can’t they shut down the two-pronged Saints rush attack with the second best run defense in the game?
The answer is simple. Of course they can. Of course the Bears can end up in the Super Bowl this year. But for the time being, I’ll stick with “we’ll see”.