It hasnt always been pretty but the Bears are 6-1 and playing a 3-5 team for the chance to win a sixth straight game. Bears teams that win six straight have always made the playoffs since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger (1977, 1985, 1986, 1990, 2001, 2005, 2006).
That is no assurance of true success, however. All but the 85 and 06 teams lost in the first round of the playoffs.
But for the Bears to join the first part of that list will require a meaningful performance upgrade from quarterback Jay Cutler.
This has become a familiar refrain, but with Houston, San Francisco, Minnesota (twice) and Seattle the next five opponents after the Tennessee Titans all but Minnesota (11th) ranked top-five defensively Cutler needs a whole-game show like his fourth quarter against the overmatched Carolina Panthers.
The Chicago defense has been the story of the 2012 season but at some point Cutler is expected and needed to play like the franchise quarterback that at least GM Phil Emery has decided he is.
Cutlers dalliances accounted for three of the six sacks he took against Carolina. This is simply unacceptable from a quarterback into his seventh NFL season and who is working with his virtually hand-picked position coach in Jeremy Bates.
And he really isnt all that convincing looking deeper into this season and whether things will be any better with Mike Tice than they were with Ron Turner or Mike Martz.
Didnt say it was getting better, Cutler said. I never said it was. We could be playing this type of ball in December. I dont know. I cant tell the future.
How I saw it in August
The season has held to the form I expected before it began, which had the Bears winning the ones they have and losing in Green Bay. This Tennessee game, however, was not one I had in the ledger as a W for the team I projected for 11-5.
Heres how it looked after preseason:
9. At Tennessee Titans (2011 record 9-7) Sun., Nov. 4, noon
Analysis: Whether the Bears will be facing Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker is a question but Tennessees offensive line allowed just 24 sacks last year. This is a very dangerous team, adding pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley, aging but solid LG Steve Hutchinson and drafting Baylor WR Kendall Wright a pick after the Bears took Shea McClellin.
Result: L (6-2)
The quarterback issue has come down with Hasselbeck because of Lockers shoulder injury. Wimbley hurt the Bears last year as a Raiduh and Wright already has 40 catches, an average of five per game.
This isnt a trap game where the Bears dont take a bad team seriously and spend three quarters figuring out that theres a game and maybe they should join it already in progress. The Bears appeared to be looking past Carolina and with so much attention on the toughening second half of the schedule, overlooking Tennessee would not be beyond possibility.
The problem is that Titans with Hasselbeck are not the same team as with Locker. The defense is still a serious concern, having given up no fewer than 23 points in the first seven games before taking Indianapolis to overtime and a 19-13 loss.
The Bears very well could go back home with a 7-1 record and narrow win against the Titans. I didnt think they would before this season started and I still dont.
Titans: 23; Bears: 20