Could the Chicago Bears miss the playoffs?

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After a 51-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans in week nine of the regular season, the Chicago Bears held a 7-1 record and were beginning to look like a legitimate Super Bowl contending team. That is, until they lost their next four out of five games.

Following their 31-point blowout victory over the Titans, the Bears lost at home to the Houston Texans 13-6 after a miserable offensive performance that included losing their starting quarterback Jay Cutler to a concussion. The next week, they went to San Francisco to play the 49ers and got blown out 32-7. After two straight weeks of horrible offense and a game against the 49ers in which their defense was completely humiliated, the Chicago Bears’ season has been in question ever since.

Until week eight, the Bears had the league’s best rushing defense, allowing only 71 rushing yards per game. Throughout the last six, their opponents have all run for more than 100 yards per game on the ground and have averaged 141 yards rushing. Though a lot of these problems have to do with the long list of injuries, the Bears’ defense seems to be aging as the season progresses. Aside from age concerns, the Bears have just not been able to stay healthy.

Their injured reserve list consists of many defensive starters who have been vital to the team this season. Linebacker Brian Urlacher is currently listed as out for the regular season with a hamstring injury, and the Bears have not dealt too well with the presence of their defensive captain missing.

Along with Urlacher, first-round draft pick defensive end Shea McClellin and defensive tackle Henry Melton have missed most of the season with concussions, Pro-Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings has been out one game with a dislocated shoulder, and the list goes on.

On the offensive side, the Bears have been struggling to put up points as projected in the preseason. The Cutler to Marshall combination has been golden this season, but aside from that, their offense really has had nothing to show for.

Even with Brandon Marshall averaging over 100 yards receiving per game, the Bears are averaging just 212.3 pass yards per game. Granted, some of this blame falls on quarterback Jay Cutler, but most of the blame should be put on the offensive line and their poor pass protection. Cutler has been sacked 31 times, the highest number of times in the league this season.

Along with their troubles passing the ball, the Bears have had a more disappointing running game than anticipated with their two running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush. The two have combined for an average of 122 yards per game, but have scored only eight total touchdowns.

Key injuries on the offensive side include left guard Lance Louis, who is out for the season with a knee injury, wide receiver Earl Bennett’s concussion, and running back Michael Bush’s concussion.

Though the Bears are still three games over .500 and only one game out of the divisional race, a loss to the Packers this week at home would mean that they will have to fight for a wildcard position with Seattle, Washington and possibly the Dallas Cowboys.

“It’s not like we are playing terrible football. We’re going to tighten up a few things, which we are doing, that’s our routine, and we’re going to win a few football games and everything is going to be OK,” said Coach Lovie Smith to ESPN.

What Smith said is exactly right. If the Bears beat the Packers this week, they are most likely going to make it to the playoffs. However, beating the Packers may not be as easy as it seems. After a slow start to the season, the Packers have won five straight games and are coming off of a 27-20 comeback victory over the Detroit Lions this past Sunday.

With Tim Jennings and Brian Urlacher not playing this week, the Bears will have to score as many points as possible to win this game. Even if the game gets close, the Bears will be without kicker Robbie Gould, who suffered a season-ending calf injury during Sunday’s warm-ups.

If the Bears can pull off a victory over the Packers, their next two games will be against the Arizona Cardinals at Arizona, and another away game at Ford Field against the Detroit Lions, both of which are very winnable games.

The keys to winning Sunday’s game are very simple, yet complicated.

First, the Bears must put more than 24 points on the board. Their offensive line will have to play almost perfect football in order for both their passing and running games to get going.

Second, they must have excellent pass defense. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a former MVP Pro-Bowl caliber player who is capable of throwing for more than 300 yards at any given moment and must be contained.

Third, and most importantly, Jay Cutler will have to throw no interceptions. The Bears’ offense is too shaky to be giving away turnovers to a very fast and hard-hitting Packers defense.

It may not be time to panic about the playoffs yet, but it is appropriate to be concerned. If the Bears lose on Sunday, their playoff hopes will most likely still be alive, but not guaranteed. If they win, they could potentially be looking at an NFC North title.

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