Many little things have to go right for a team to reach the NFL playoffs. Still, the Chicago Bears can at least look to some guidelines for 2014.
Jay Cutler must play at least 14 games
Having the starting quarterback healthy most of the season is crucial to the success of any team. Jay Cutler is no exception. He’s easily the best at his position on the roster and when healthy and protected as good as any in the league. The team wins when he’s on the field more often than they lose. Last season the Chicago Bears were 6-4 in games he started and finished. Based on that percentage he must start at least 14 games in 2014 in order to reach a winning record.
Matt Forte must rush for 1,000 yards
This goes without saying really. When the Bears offense is humming, it’s because Matt Forte is running the ball well. It’s no coincidence that the team was so effective last season. Forte posted a career best 1,339 rushing yards and scored nine touchdowns. His presence on the ground allowed Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to victimize secondaries across the NFL. To see a repeat of that, Forte must gain another 1,000-yard season.
Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston must post 20 sacks
Posted 31 sacks in 2013 is good for two players. For an entire team? That is really bad. Chicago was dead last in the league with that number and it has to change if they want to fulfill their off-season goal of improving what was probably the worst defense in franchise history. The two keys to that turnaround are their two most expensive free agent signings, defensive ends Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. They must set the tone for the season. In order for the defense to function, an objective of 20 sacks between the two of them is a good mark to shoot for.
Defense must rank at least top 20 against the run
By that same token the Chicago Bears were even worse against the run in 2013, if that’s possible. For the year they allowed 161 yards per game but towards the second half of the season it ballooned to 190 yards. No team can win many football games that way. It’s why GM Phil Emery used free agency and the draft to increase both the depth and size of his front seven. The hope is the increased beef and strength will limit the number of big runs. In order to think about the NFL playoffs at least, and facing teams like San Francisco and Seattle, the Bears must field a top 20 run defense. That’s at minimum.
Beat Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit at least once
Any player will say the same thing. The quickest avenue to reaching the postseason is winning in the division. Teams with the best division records win the most tiebreakers and more often than not are in the thick of the race until the very end. Last season the Chicago Bears were 2-4 in divisional play. That is not going to get it done. To get over the hump in 2014, it will take winning the close games against the familiar foes. In other words they have to beat Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota at least once. Anything above that is gravy.
Win four of eight games on the road
Nearly every team except for the cellar dweller can win the majority of their games at home. Chicago was 5-3 at Soldier Field in 2013. However, to reach the playoffs a team must be able to go on the road and beat good opponents. A closer look at the landscape of the playoffs last year, every participant had at least four wins on the road. The only team that didn’t was Cincinnati and they were 8-0 at home. The Bears can’t bank on that happening, so the mark must be set at four road wins in order to advance.