Winners of the championship in the 16-team NFC in the past 10 seasons:
2010 Green Bay
2009 New Orleans
2007 New York Giants
2002 Tampa Bay
2001 St. Louis
2010 Bears Could Become 1984 Bears
Those of you yearning for the Bears to become a more consistent franchise, here's a question: has any team in the NFC been consistently great over the last decade? Consistently good, even? The answer is simple. No, unless you consider Andy Reid's inevitable postseason failings each year good. Peter King actually included an interesting tidbit in his MMQB column this week:
The NFC is wide open each year. There for the taking. And this season the Bears were a miraculous Caleb Hanie-as-Frank Reich drive away from having a shot to take their second conference title in five years. They came up short to a Green Bay Packers team that would not have made the postseason if the Eagles don't complete an improbable comeback against the Giants and the Bucs don't blow a lead at home to the Lions. That's how tenuous success in the NFL can be. This loss, though, may not be the worst thing that's ever happened to the Bears organization.
The 1984 Chicago Bears were a slightly above-mediocre 10-6 and lost in a dismal NFC Championship performance to the eventual Super Bowl champion Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. They took a lashing in the media (shocker) but there was optimism in Chicago about developing defensive strength and continued excellence of Walter Payton at tailback. Chicago knew they were good. But could they become great?
The Bears are poised right now to be successful next season, especially with the CBA disputes on the horizon. 2011 will reward those teams with continuity both in the coaching staff and on the roster and the Bears will be bringing back every important performer currently on the roster. Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers are not young but they are also nowhere near finished as top-tier performers. The remainder of the LoveRod defense showed against Aaron Rodgers once again that they are capable of being one of the top units in the sport.
They also have two other major things going for them. (1) The Jay Cutler Rallying Cry will be something we start discussing at the start of training camp. The way this organization has publicly defended him will be their first bit of motivation for the 2011 campaign. I will also be leading this brigade from the fan side. (2) Their schedule, available here, looks to be easy. I know it's difficult to assess future opponents but the Bears got the two best teams in the AFC West (KC, SD) at home and have exceedingly winnable games against Carolina, Atlanta at home, Seattle at home, at Tampa...etc. You don't look at this schedule and say, "Wow, that's going to be impossible to win". No Pittsburghs or Jets or Pats or Ravens. Eagles and Saints on road are the only "penciled" losses.
Add that the weaknesses of the Bears are easily identified - rare in this current NFL world. They need to fix the offensive line and add a big-target wide receiver. Everything else - youth at linebacker, cover corner, punter, safety depth - would be nice but are not essential moves. Offensive line and big-target receiver are the thing and the latter is not incredibly difficult with Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Vincent Jackson, Sidney Rice being available FA's and Brandon Marshall reportedly available via trade. Spend the money. Get the weapon.
Offensive line is the issue moving forward. The only issue. If the Bears would like to commit to J'Marcus Webb at right tackle then they must find a way to put a capable player at left tackle. Chris Williams can not continue starting and performing at his current level. This unit is the team's signature question mark and the Bears have nine months to get it fixed.
The 1984 Bears seized an opportunity. They seized upon the stains of defeat and the pains of disaster. They returned to football and became the greatest single-season football team that's ever snapped a chinstrap. That's a lot of pressure, I know, for this group of Chicago Bears but it must be the model by which they operate. Last season brought the elite edge rusher, new defensive mentality and offensive system. Now they need to make those adjustments that will elevate them from a good team to a great team. Offensive line. Wide receiver.
The 2011 stage is set. The play is written. They simply need to cast a few essential roles.