By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) The NFL is the major sport that throws itself the most curveballs. Make your preseason predictions of the postseason, and with the exception of the New England Patriots, you’re going to be wrong on a lot of them.
This is largely due to the NFL being the sport that’s by far most tied to attrition. The teams around at the end are the ones that have been the least unlucky with injuries. All teams are banged up in Week 17 (with the exception of Tom Brady’s orphan blood transfusions for which he has yet to get FDA approval before patenting), but it’s the ones with just enough Toradol left in the tank who get the chance to have Al Michaels say something awkward during their January play.
Some teams get injured in the meantime because a lack of talent is a magnet for it. The Cleveland Browns, for example, were never good enough to begin with. Losing Joe Thomas for the season is just the start of what will be mounting breaks, tears and apathies.
The NFL’s randomness-to-attrition creates situations in which some teams that weren’t really invited into the playoff conversation are suddenly accidentally kinda there. At 3-4, the Chicago Bears aren’t really being discussed at potential contender for a wild-card spot, but 3-4 isn’t what most would have expected the Bears to be at through seven weeks either. Just imagine what a Mike Glennon-less season would have them at.
And now the Green Bay Packers have the most serious issue in the league with Aaron Rodgers out for at least seven more weeks with a broken collarbone. The Rodgers situation greatly alters the NFC North, as we saw last Sunday what the Packers might look like going forward with Brett Hundley under center. The Minnesota Vikings lead the division at 5-2, and that’s been mostly with fictional trial attorney Case Keenum at quarterback. The Detroit Lions are Lions-ing midseason.
The Bears are doubtful to win the division, but with a defense that has grown leaps and bounds under coordinator Vic Fangio and kept them afloat amid a quarterback transition, there’s hay to be made against three teams that today aren’t particularly terrifying. Is that a good thing, though?
This is a rebuild the Bears are supposedly amid. More long-term pieces are needed for this team to be a sustainable non-joke for once. Yet the super-conservative approach with Mitchell Trubisky at the helm in a win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday seemed to prefer victory over letting the kid learn out there. Which, while a bit disappointing when your couch phasers are set to “Mitch,” is fine if the organization is cool with going for it in a season that has yielded a bit of unexpected fortune.
Trading a conditional seventh-round pick Wednesday to the Los Angeles Charger for receiver Dontrelle Inman, a free agent at season’s end, would suggest general manager Ryan Pace is tired of his team being a weekly potential trivia answer with a lack of receiver catches. Maybe Inman is here to specifically help Trubisky’s growth or maybe it’s that and something extra in an NFC that’s hardly airtight.
Seven teams in the conference have more wins than the Bears right now. Two of those are the Vikings and Packers. The Panthers (4-3) have a quarterback who’s having a bad year with the media and has more interceptions so far than passing touchdowns. The New Orleans Saints (4-2), whom the Bears play Sunday, have shown they can get exposed by a decent defense. Same with the Los Angeles Rams (5-2).
Playing the Saints also means you don’t get to be conservative on offense, so maybe in this coming game, Bears offensive coordinator Desmond… DowJones? Loggains unleashes Trubisky’s fury if only because there’s no other choice. A Week 8 game between these two team most would’ve written off as the season started is now a barometer.
The other three-win teams are the Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and Washington and the Arizona Cardinals. All of them have issues, and the Cardinals just lost their starting quarterback as well. While the Bears at this minute might not strike fear into other teams’ fans perusing a remaining schedule, they still get to play a Rodgers-less Packers team, the Lions twice, the Bengals, the 49ers and the Browns. Who knows what the Vikings look like when the Bears visit Week 17 or if they’ll even have anything to play for. There are wins to be had in this Bears remaining schedule after getting through the fourth-hardest portion in the league so far.
Suddenly this season that was written off before it started has immediate potential beyond just getting to see a rookie quarterback try to not die. I’m having as strange of feelings as you are about this, I promise. The odds aren’t great of reaching the postseason, but this team has already shown it isn’t going to have a tickle fight for the second year in a row with the Browns and Niners for the top draft pick. The default setting of rooting for a Bears tanking is out the window unless they leave New Orleans in multiple aircasts. Playing for 6-10 ain’t no fun. Dare I say if all this post-Glennon stuff keeps up that it saves coach John Fox’s job?
(Counterpoint: He believed Glennon was the better quarterback coming out of camp, though.) (Counter-counterpoint: Fox’s boss signed Glennon to a lot of money.)
The Bears in the playoff hunt in a month could be a thing. I mean, it’s the NFL. And it’s weird, man.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.