Amazing how things change in a relatively short amount of time. In January 2011 we were all talking about the upcoming NFC Championship game in Chicago between the Packers and Bears. What an event, regardless of the fact that it turned out horribly for the Bears and their fans.
Then just five weeks ago we were on top of the world. The Bears were 7-1 with a one-game lead in the NFC North division, their defense looked resurgent and dominant, and they were coming off scoring 50 points for the first time in 32 years. How sweet it was, just over a month ago.
Since then the defense has gotten old fast, and the Bears have lost four out of five. Several losses coming at the hands of NFL power teams, and several others in games they really should have won. The loss to NFL powerhouse Houston could have been a win too, had Brandon Marshall not dropped a touchdown pass in his hands.
There are currently many schools of thought in the mainstream media regarding how things might go for this organization in the season’s final three weeks. There are several divergent opinions from these writers. I don’t normally offer predictions, but I do have a strong opinion of my own. And for once I do feel like going on the record with it. I may be wrong, but I have a strong feeling.
I think the consensus among Bears fans is that they want Lovie Smith fired unless there is not only a playoff appearance, but success in the 2012 playoffs. In fact, a Chicago Tribune poll shows 85% of us already want Smith fired.
I can’t think of exactly who, but I know I’ve heard someone advocate on the radio that they think Smith should be fired not only if he doesn’t reach the playoffs, which seems like a given, but also if they reach the playoffs but lose immediately. This may be coming from WSCR’s Boers and Bernstein, or possibly just may of their callers. I agree with this sentiment, although as I will state below, I am somewhat concerned about what the alternatives are.
Analyst Hub Arkush, on the other hand, believes that if the Bears reach the playoffs, Smith should be brought back to at least finish out the final year on his contract. Even if they lose a game. And Arkush strongly believes the Bears will finish 2-1, lose to Green Bay, but they are a lock to make the playoffs. I do not share his opinion.
Local analyst Mike Mulligan took a completely different angle in yesterday’s Tribune when he wrote that he thinks Smith is the Bears’ best option for next year. While I disagree because it is time for regime change should the Bears fail this year, and I think rebuilding is better done with a completely new organizational philosophy, I do see his point from one angle. Mulligan points out that as many as 10 NFL head coaches may be getting fired at the conclusion of the season. That is scary.
The reason that makes it scariest for the Bears is that Mulligan is absolutely, 100% correct when he states that the Bears move at a snail’s pace when it comes to picking a coach. Also true that every Bears head coaching hire has been a first-timer, and there is no reason to believe the next won’t be. He doesn’t seriously believe the Bears would get into the race to hire Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher, and I can’t argue with that opinion.
Surprisingly in 1993, the Bears went right out and out-bid for the hottest coaching prospect in Dave Wannstedt. Since then they have plodded along, carefully and meticulously making the decision to hire their new coaches in Dick Jauron and Lovie Smith while other teams made decisive moves. This not only caused the Bears to miss out on the strongest candidates (although there were no real strong candidates in 2004), it also ensured that the hottest assistant coaching candidates were long gone when the Bears assembled their new staffs.
I don’t necessarily agree with Mulligan that Lovie should be back if they miss the playoffs, because I think a complete change is in order of that happens. I do absolutely agree that the Bears may very well plod along while 10 other teams make bold moves, and five more long years from now realize they would have been better served to keep Smith for the final year of his contract. It’s the Bears way.
Now on to my opinion on what I think is going to happen in the last three weeks. I certainly don’t want this to happen, but I think it’s most likely. Of course I don’t think there is any chance for the Bears to beat the Packers. They’ve proven that they just can’t do it, unfortunately. I do believe they will then win at Arizona, and as Andy wrote in our comments, Smith should be fired before the press conference if the Bears lose that game.
So I think the Bears will be 9-6 going into the season’s final game at Detroit. A win should get them a wildcard berth, sending them on the road to New York, Dallas or Washington most likely. But here is the deal, unfortunately, I don’t think they’re going to win in Detroit. I just don’t.
They most certainly CAN win in Detroit if they play efficient offense against a pretty poor Lions defense overall, and if the Bear defense can contain Stafford and Megatron throwing the ball all over the field. Which they may.
But after watching the loss at Minnesota, as of this moment, I just don’t think they will.