While I prepare my soon to be annual Year In Preview article this year I wanted to chime in on the Bears during their last days of somewhat relevancy until the spring.  For all of you who clamor for less sports in this space I ask for your patience as some good posts are on the horizon after the first of the year so bear with me here.

As for Chicago’s beloved Monsters of the Midway, need I remind you that just five short weeks ago we were all singing the praises of our 7-3 team, noting how the Bears all but had the 5th playoff spot locked up with “the most talented team Lovie Smith has ever coached”?  Jay Cutler had just gotten done out dueling Philip Rivers putting their rivalry to rest for at least the next four years.  The defense was forcing turnovers and the special teams were a weapon in the caliber that we knew from the middle part of last decade. 

After the game news came trickling out of the locker room that Cutler may have broken his thumb.  Then that news was confirmed and Jay was on his way to Colorado for surgery against the team’s wishes and the rest of us were talking ourselves into the Caleb Hanie Era.  I mean, he played pretty well in the 4th quarter of the NFC Championship Game right?  And the Bears only needed to go 3-3 the rest of the way to finish with 10 wins which all but assured them of making the playoffs at which point Jay would return.  But then Hanie threw away the ball game in Oakland and the defense learned giving up fields goals alone wasn’t enough.  The next week the Hail Mary defense that has been drilled into the players heads backfired while the rest of us found reasons to pray for Matt Forte’s knee.  Marion Barber caught a touchdown but couldn’t line up properly before the snap and Roy Williams couldn’t hold onto “the brown thing coming at me.”  Then Marion Barber showed us all why Dallas quit on him and the rest of the team got Tebowed, Sam Hurd’s drug ring collapsed, Mike Martz’s name came up in every college coaching search, Cutler got engaged again, the Seahawks brought their home field advantage to Soldier Field, Johnny Knox almost got decapitated, Hanie got benched, and the Packers dropped the hammer on the team like everyone expected on Christmas Day.  Before you knew it dogs and cats were living together, it was mass hysteria.  Did I miss anything?

So here we are at the end of the year with one game to play and the Bear fans have turned a full 180 degrees – from brimming with confidence to convincing themselves that the sky is falling.  It’s pretty much consensus around your water cooler today that Martz and Jerry Angelo should be fired and Lovie is on thin ice.  Who would have thought that Cutler breaking his thumb would be the best thing for him in terms of getting the city to appreciate him, and the worst thing for Caleb Hanie in having to show the world how in over his head he really is? 

No one is questioning the level of the collapse of the team these past five games, mostly because it was pretty hard to miss.  I would argue however that even with the loss of their two best offensive players the Bears very well could have won at least the three AFC West games if not for a combined three plays between them.  For three plays is it worth blowing up the entire infrastructure you’ve spent the last two years building?  I would argue not.

Aside from adding a year of mileage to Urlacher, Briggs, Peppers, & Tillman I think the Bears are more of the 7-3 team that started the season than the 0-5 team since Culter went down when training camp begins next July. 

I had a conversation at dinner tonight that aside from quarterback and running back there literally is not a position group on the team that you could not justify spending the team’s first round pick on next year, and by the third round you could even make a legitimate case that you could upgrade the backup at those two spots as well.  So please don’t confuse me with someone who is content with the team right now by any stretch.  The Bears have proven the past few years however that they are willing to spend in free agency, and with a decent, middle of the pack pick in each round plus Carolina’s third round pick from the Greg Olsen trade, there are a number of opportunities for upgrades throughout the lineup in the next five months. 

If you fire Mike Martz on Monday then you start shopping for a tight end that looks a lot like Greg Olsen on Tuesday.  You also tell Jay Cutler that he’s in for his fourth offensive coordinator in five years and probably put Matt Forte in an offense not as specifically designed to exploit his skill set.  If Mike Tice leaves then you most likely are resigning yourselves to revamping the offensive line yet again with less of a road grater mentality.  It was only six weeks ago that everyone was praising Jerry Angelo for having too many defensive tackles in the rotation that Stephen Paea and Amobi Okoye couldn’t get enough snaps.  I understand everyone’s frustration these past few weeks but let’s not cut off our nose to spite our faces shall we?

The point has already been made in this space that no team in the NFL is setup to lose their starting quarterback and the guy who they run 40+% of their offense through.  After the Oakland and KC games the defense realized they really were on their own and that’s just not a sustainable model.  The literal straw that broke the camel’s back was Hanie’s pick six toss to the Seahawks defensive lineman to start the second half in Week 15, and just like that, the season was over. 

Generally speaking I am not an agent for change as changes take time and this group is still built to win now.  I say bring everyone back (with some offseason player upgrades of course) and take one more run at it in 2012.  One sane voice rarely overrules the mob however so we’ll see if cooler heads will prevail at Halas Hall next week.

As for this weekend, if the Bears have any sense in them at all they lose this game in Minnesota.  I know Lovie has said all week that they’re not going to lay down and that they only play to win.  I get that.  He has to say that.  The truth of the matter is that the difference in going 8-8 and 7-9 could mean the difference between the 16-20th picks in the draft and the 10-14th slots.  In theory the higher they pick the better the player they get.  Just lose Lovie, just lose.

Prediction: Vikings 28 – Bears 17

Bears Record: 7-8

Chi-Guy Record: 9-6