Gabriel: Are Bears True Super Bowl Contenders?

The Bears' biggest roadblock to their big dream could be their playoff seeding.

Greg Gabriel
December 18, 2018 - 2:29 pm
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(670 The Score) With the Bears having clinched their first playoff berth since the 2010 season, the natural question becomes this: How far can they go in the postseason?

And with that in mind, are these Bears legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

It's worth reminding that it's not always the best teams that advance to and win the Super Bowl but sometimes the hottest and healthiest clubs. The Bears certainly fit the bill as a strong team that's been hot and healthy, as they've won seven of their past eight games and have displayed continuity and rhythm at a key time of year.

Beyond that, it's crucial to note the Bears have only suffered injuries to a few key players. Nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan is out for the rest of the season with a broken bone in his foot. Right guard Kyle Long (foot) could return for the regular-season finale or the playoff opener. Safety Eddie Jackson is dealing with an ankle sprain, but the hope is he'll be recovered in time for the playoffs. So it's possible the Bears enter the postseason missing just one regular, which is nearly unheard of in today's game.

Another key characteristic the Bears have going for them is their vaunted defense, which ranks third in yards allowed per game and third in scoring defense. The Bears have also forced an NFL-best 35 turnovers, which is vital in any playoff run.

A worrisome component for the Bears in the playoffs is their lack of experience. It's natural for that to be the case, as the Bears have a young roster having its first breakthrough after the franchise struggled in recent years. 

Tight end Trey Burton won the Super Bowl with the Eagles last season. Offensive lineman Bryan Witzmann, offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and backup quarterback Chase Daniel are others with playoff experience, though Daniel never played in a game. Top receiver Allen Robinson was injured long before the Jaguars advanced to the AFC Championship game last season.

Linebacker Danny Trevathan was a key member of the 2015 Broncos that won the Super Bowl. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and cornerback Prince Amukamara also have a bit of playoff experience. They're the veterans whom the Bears will have to turn to for leadership in the postseason.

Another key component of a journey to a championship is playoff seeding. The Bears are in line for the third seed in the NFC playoffs. That would mean they'd host a game on wild-card weekend, then perhaps face road games against the Rams and Saints just to advance to the Super Bowl.

The seed line is arguably the biggest roadblock to the Bears' championship hopes right now. Under the current playoff format, 20 of the past 28 Super Bowl winners (71.4 percent) have been a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Winning the title as a No. 3 seed can certainly be done, it's just difficult.

The Bears could still pass the Rams for the second seed to earn a first-round bye and host a game in the divisional round if Chicago wins its final two games and Los Angeles splits its final two. But it's worth noting the Rams have a soft schedule left with games looming against the Cardinals (3-11) and 49ers (4-10). 

Another potential concern for the Bears is the play of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who's having a strong second season but is nonetheless inconsistent at times. There's little room for error against the best foes, and the moment could prove to be too big for him in his first run through the playoffs.

I'm a big Trubisky fan and believe he can eventually be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. I just don't think it will be this season.

This Bears team is talented and has shown the ability to rise to the occasion in big games. That will give them a chance in any playoff game, but it's also a different atmosphere. Playoff experience is crucial, and this Bears team feels like a superb club that's most likely a year away.

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who's an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.​​​​