Rozner: Flawed Bears have real shot at playoffs

You are what your record says you are.

It's one of those annoying NFL axioms that's hard to argue with — even while all are arguing with it.

That will be the case this season as notably for the Bears as any NFL team.

After defeating Buffalo in the opener they'll face a difficult first-half schedule, including night games on the road against the Niners and Jets, a home start against the Packers, a visit to a Falcons team that should be much better than a year ago and a road game vs. the Patriots.

To reach the bye at 4-4 will be no easy task, but if the Bears can get there it sets up an opportunity to go 6-2 in the second half and gives them a shot at a playoff spot for only the second time in eight years.

Of course, no Bears season would be comfortable without the discomfort of worry, and rest assured there is much to worry about.

Last season the Bears were who we thought they were, an 8-8 team that was much improved offensively and much worse defensively, but rarely does an NFL season unfold as expected due mostly to injuries and surprisingly good or bad performances by opponents.

As we sit here now, the Bears would seem to be getting even better on offense, with Jay Cutler thriving in his second year under Marc Trestman.

They improved from a personnel standpoint on defense. With a better defensive line — especially consistent pressure from Jared Allen — that ought to mask some of the myriad problems in the next two levels.

But special teams, at the moment, look to be nothing short of a disaster. Let's face it, if you're changing long snappers a week before the season, you have serious issues, and that's just one of many.

If you take a broader view, however, consider that the Bears had the second-best points-per-game average in the NFL a year ago and the fifth-best passing offense.

There's good reason to think that Cutler in an offense he likes and fully understands will take it to another level in 2014.

Consider also that the Bears were ranked 29th in defense a year ago and dead last against the run, allowing an absurd 161 yards per game.

They were also sixth worst on third down, opponents converting 42 percent of the time. Middle of the pack was 38 percent. The Bears could get there by eliminating a third-down conversion every other game, something that seems reasonable. Eliminate one every game and the Bears would be second best and knocking on the door of the No. 1 third-down defense.

Of course, it's not nearly that simple, but getting off the field and getting Cutler back on it is an improved football philosophy, and with Allen and a better pass rush the Bears couldn't possibly be as bad as they were on third down last year.

So with better players acquired through the draft and free agency, they figure to make a reasonable improvement on defense. How much? Good question.

But if the Bears can get to 20th or 22nd in defense, and they play as well as they did offensively, while remembering that it was a team that won eight games and had a reasonable chance to win four more, it seems logical to believe that the Bears can win two more games in 2014 than they did last season.

That is an admittedly simplistic view and much could go very wrong for the beloved.

An injury to Cutler pretty much sinks the season if he's out for more than a game, and losing Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery removes an essential weapon that changes significantly how an opposing defense would attack the Bears' offense.

On defense, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs look like they have finally lost out to the calendar, the Bears don't seem to have a single linebacker who ought to be starting, and there are huge questions at safety.

The special-teams unit, if as bad as advertised, could make the jobs of the offense and defense so much more difficult that all of the aforementioned math is as useless as starting on your own 5-yard line.

But all that said, there aren't many teams in the NFL who believe they have all their questions answered, and only a couple that feel really good about each of their units.

Look at any NFL season and you will find seriously flawed teams that reach the postseason, warts and all.

With 10 victories, it says here that the Bears will be one of those teams in 2014.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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