I know it’s kind of sacrilegious to look ahead to the championship game when the tournament hasn’t even started yet, but hey, I’m not playing, and I think that fans of this year’s Bears are beginning to have that Nagy feeling the team might be able to compete for a Super Bowl.
So many things have to go right for a lower seed team to win the big game and they usually don’t. Only two number 3 seeds since the NFL went to a six team playoff format ever made it to the Super Bowl, the 2006 Colts who won in Super Bowl XLI and the 2003 Panthers who lost in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Colts beat the Bears 29-17 and Panthers lost to the Patriots 32-29.
This Bear season has been one of exceeding expectations. While many of the so called experts had the Bears 7-9, 8-8, 9-7 and not making the playoffs most everyone had them winning more games under the gutty Matt Nagy than last year’s boring John Fox and showing some kind of guile and promise.
Then Khalil Mack came, like almost from the sky and a city started to wonder. Then that first Sunday night game of the season came against the Packers. Then that first half.
It reminded me a lot of my drinking days. The kind of misconception and false euphoria you get. Sometimes I could crawl inside the bottle and not even catch the whiff of a buzz, and other days just one drink and I was on the wings of love.
After that first half sip of the season against the Packers I was on the wings of love. I thought the team was at least going to be competitive and at best going to have a shot at making the playoffs. Was it real or just a buzz?
The playoffs have a tendency to do what statisticians call reverting back to mean. Meaning if the regular season was something like a fluke, the better teams in the playoffs will find a way to cull the worser teams out.
What does that have to do with the Bears? Well, they’ve only played three teams with winning records for the whole year and they’re 2-1. The loss coming to the Patriots and the wins coming against Rams and Vikings, and all three games at home.
That’s probably why this week’s game against the Vikings at Minnesota has them as five point dogs. A game on the road against a playoff caliber team will probably be a similar forecast should they get that far.
But what about the fact that everyone in the NFL on any given Sunday can be not only good playing at home but maybe even great. The numbers always show that most teams do better at home. It’s something impressive I think to go into anyone else’s home and win.
What is it about this team that might be the kind of team that is able to go on the road and win?
Well for one, they’ve exceeded all realistic expectations of a first year coach and have him looking and sounding a lot like a Coach of the Year. Two, they have taken the ball away 36 times, 9 times more than the next team and are easily the best in football at it. Three, they’ve given up an average of 18.2 points a game, the best in the NFC and the second best to the Baltimore Ravens who average 17.5.
I decided to look back at history to see teams that won the super bowl with 11-5 and 12-4 records and how they stack up against this team.
11-5 TEAMS THAT WON THE SUPER BOWL THAT REMIND ME OF THE BEARS
2001 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
They beat the Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI on a last second field goal by Adam Vinatieri. They didn’t dominate anybody in the playoffs. They just played great defense and won. Kurt Warner and the Rams and the Greatest Show On Turf never got on track. Tom Brady got his chance and never looked back. The beginning of a dynasty. I think the Bears are easily as good as this team except for the kicker, the quarterback and the coach. Ok it’s a stretch, but a dynasty has to start somewhere.
2005 PITTSBURGH STEELERS
They beat the Seahawks and Mike Holmgren 21-10 in Super Bowl XL after some really bad officiating that went against Seattle. On “A Football Life” Holmgren admitted he asked an official if the game was too big for him, and said it was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made in his career. Just goes to show you even fantastic minds do really stupid things, and all it takes is a couple of bad calls and you could be holding up that trophy. That Steelers team had a great defense and gave up 16 points a game in the regular season and reminds me a lot of this year’s Bears for that reason.
12-4 TEAMS THAT WON THE SUPER BOWL THAT REMIND ME OF THE BEARS
1993 DALLAS COWBOYS
Those Jimmy Johnson teams were great and the team that beat the Buffalo Bills badly 30-13 in their second meeting in Super Bowl XXVIII was definitely better than the Bears. They had home field advantage and never looked back. They beat Green Bay and San Francisco in the playoffs who were undeniably good and were improving with each game. This Cowboys team was ranked 2nd in the league in scoring and 2nd in the league in points allowed. They gave up an average of 14.3 points per game. Even as great a defense as this Bear team is they’re not that good, are they?
2002 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Brad Johnson was no Hall of Fame QB but he played great that year and had a defense that was outstanding. Only three players on the defense that year made it to the Pro Bowl, Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, and Derrick Brooks, but it was filled with studs and Dexter Jackson won the Super Bowl MVP. They caused turnovers and scored points when they did, and against the Oakland Raiders it was a route 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII. The game was never close. We’ll see how good Jon Gruden can make the Raiders. I wouldn’t bet against him. In the playoffs they gave up 16 points in the Divisional and Championship game combined and in the regular season only gave up 12.3 points a game. The Bears have four Pro Bowl starters on this year’s defense and of course are a turnover causing machine.
2006 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Have to mention the team that beat Lovie’s best Bear team 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI. Many Bear fans I know still remember fondly that Devin Hester return for a touchdown to start the game. Peyton Manning was probably in his prime and coach Tony Dungy had a lot of good teams over the years and when he got his shot he was really ready for the big game. Even after going down 14-6 the team rallied quickly and by the 4th quarter the Bears seemed like they were already beat. Something about that Colts team I remember, that defense was ranked 23rd in the regular season in points allowed, but in the playoffs, they beat the Chiefs in the Wild Card round 23-8, and the Ravens in the Divisional round 15-6. Dungy was always known for his great defensive mind. Bear defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, also known for his defensive mind, seems for sure to get his head coaching chance after this year.
2010 GREEN BAY PACKERS AND 2007, 2011 NEW YORK GIANTS
There’s three other teams I think are worth mentioning here. The 2010 Packers that won super bowl XLV was the team that beat the Bears in the playoffs 21-14, and as a number six seed they won all their playoff games on the road, and their defense was on fire the last two games of the season and into the playoffs. Bear fans will remember Lovie not resting his starters in the final game against these Packers and lost 10-3. What does it have to do with this year’s Bears? Well this year’s Bears have won 8 of their last 9. A win this week against Minnesota makes it 9 of their last 10 going into the playoffs, and also the defense has been playing its best football. That Packer team gave up only 15 points a game in the regular season. The only huge difference of course is that team could do it on the road. Will this year’s Bears have a chance to do the same?
The other teams I remember were the New York Giants beating the Patriots twice. The XLII game was 17-14 and the XLVI game was 21-17. Neither team managed to win more than 10 games in a season. Nothing amazing on the stat sheet about those Eli Manning/Tom Coughlin teams, but they did beat Bill Belichick twice and that is maybe one of the greatest NFL accomplishments in the history of the league, and 5 of the 6 games they won in the playoffs combined came on the road.
It just gets me thinking that if the Bears can ever get comfortable playing on the road, no easy feat, but if they can, they might just hit a bunch of teams squarely in the mouth the way those Giant and Packer teams did.
Good tackling and blocking, limit the number of mental miscues, don’t turn the ball over, score touchdowns in the red zone, don’t get rattled by the big game, pressure the QB——there’s a number of other things too that have to go right I grant you—-but remember this—-nobody this year has blown this team out. They’ve been in every single game. It’s harder to do in the playoffs that’s for sure but nothing in the numbers is telling me they’re going to lay a zero in the playoffs.
Something too about Matt Nagy is also telling me that he’s learning quickly as he goes. Most every Super Bowl winning coach has a name I remember well. Can Matt Nagy add his name to that list?