Bears return to the playoffs in NFC North?
By: Ian Evans
The Chicago Bears had themselves quite an interesting 2020-2021 NFL season. They started the season 5-1 through the first six weeks. However, that changed in rather quickly as they immediately went on a six-game losing streak and quickly dropped to 5-7. The Bears would end up finishing the regular season at 8-8 and just barely clinching playoff birth as a wildcard.
Their one and playoff game last season was all too fitting for Chicago. There were dropped passes, missed opportunities, and costly penalties which ultimately ended their season as they lost to the New Orleans Saints 21-9 in the Wild Card round. Did I mention that they also lost on Nickelodeon? That can’t be fun.
However, there are some bright spots for the Bears in 2021. They finally moved on from Mitch Trubisky and signed Andy Dalton to start at quarterback. Chicago fans had to be elated when they drafted sensational Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields with the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. And made some subtle moves during the offseason adding Damien Williams, the speedy Marquise Goodwin, extended their consistent kicker Cairo Santos, and adding Desmond Trufant to replace Kyle Fuller who they released this past March.
For Chicago, this upcoming season has some promise, and if the correct pieces fall in line they could find themselves in the playoffs in 2021. Although they have the third most difficult strength of schedule, there are some positives for Bears fans to look forward to this season, especially after having quite possibly the best draft in 2021. From aspects such as their division to their stout defense, these are the three reasons why the Chicago Bears could get back to the playoffs.
1. The Current State of the NFC North
It’s no secret that the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers have a relationship to repair. There is some speculation that the reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers could end up leaving the Packers for a variety of reasons. But one of the main reasons why the Bears have had trouble winning the NFC North (besides 2018) is because of him. In his entire career, Aaron Rodgers is 22-5 against Chicago. For a team that’s trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 15 years, they would love to see him go.
If Rodgers does end his tenure in Green Bay, this opens up the door for the Bears immediately. Why? Because the rest of the division is rather weak. The Lions are rebuilding after trading long-time Detroit Lion Matthew Stafford to the Rams and now have Jared Goff as their quarterback of the future. The Lions are not in “win-now mode” and most likely won’t be a threat in the 2021 NFL season.
The only roadblock for the Bears if Rodgers does leave is the Minnesota Vikings. This team is led by Dalvin Cook, Adam Theilen, and their emerging star Justin Jefferson in an offense that ranked fourth in yards (6,292) and yards per game (393.3). However, there are still some questions surrounding Kirk Cousins and his ability to lead as the starting quarterback. They had a great draft and even added veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson to their secondary, but their defense did rank 29th in team defense last season. I think it’s safe to say their defense won’t have a major jump this upcoming season.
If everything falls in place with Rodgers leaving, the Vikings remaining inconsistent, and the Lions playing for draft picks, then the Chicago Bears should find themselves in the driver seat to win the division and in the playoffs for the second straight year.
2. A Potential Top-10 Defense (Or Better)
This defense deserves a lot of credit for how they have played in recent years. If it wasn’t for this defense the Bears would never have made it to the playoffs. Why? They were ranked in the top half of the league in yards allowed per game (344.9, ranked 11th), passing yards allowed per game (231.6, ranked 12th), rushing yards per game (113.4, ranked 15th), and points allowed per game (23.1, ranked 14th).
This defense is only getting better even without the presence of Kyle Fuller. Khalil Mack has an incredible supporting cast around him with, Roquan Smith and Akiem Hicks helping him on the defensive line. The secondary consists of Desmond Trufant, Eddie Jackson, and the recently signed Artie Burns. In the pass rush and pass defense, this team has the potential to wreak havoc and cause problems for opposing offenses.
This defensive roster has the potential to be in the top ten instead of just barely scraping the top 15. If this defense plays as good as they are on paper, they should be able to compete with anyone in the league.
3. Plenty of Young and Improving Offensive Talent
The young talent for the Chicago Bears, especially on the offensive side of the ball is impressive and they’re only getting better. The future could potentially look extremely bright with the offensive talent they have drafted and improved.
As I previously mentioned, the team drafted Justin Fields from Ohio State who could potentially be their quarterback of the future. If Andy Dalton fails to play well, Fields could not only see the field but also find a way to win the starting job. Having a former college sensation under center would raise the level of excitement in Chicago.
Besides Fields, there are other prospects that can make an immediate impact this year. Darnell Mooney out of Tulane University is a player with crisp route running and speed who is only improving. He broke the Bears’ receiving record for a rookie, and his expectations for his sophomore season are high. Cole Kmet has the potential to be a consistent tight end for them and Anthony Miller could be motivated to play well as has a lot to prove after it has been reported that he’s on the team’s “bubble.”
Then there are the two talented offensive tackles Chicago drafted in Tevin Jenkins from Oklahoma State and Larry Borom from the University of Missouri to help boost their pass protection (which they desperately needed). This gives Dalton the time to throw to the reliable hands of Allen Robinson and time for David Montgomery and Damien Williams to actually produce in the ground game. These young guys could be carrying this offense in 2021.
If the young talent can improve their game with consistent quarterback play from either Dalton or Fields and their running back and receiving core boost their level of play from last year, this offense has the potential to be sneaky good. Granted, it depends on a lot of moving pieces and other aspects, but the potential is there. The young talent in Chicago is another major reason the Bears make the playoffs in the upcoming 2021 NFL season.