Does Khalil Mack Make Chicago Bears a Legitimate Playoff Contender?

Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders.(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders.(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Khalil Mack is a Chicago Bears. Are the playoffs next?

Making the playoffs is the goal of every team in the NFL. The Chicago Bears have made it crystal clear to the rest of the NFC that their goal is no different in 2018. After winning five games last year, Ryan Pace has gone out and overhauled his whole team with the plan of improving this team enough to have them make the jump to a playoff level.

First, he went out and hired Matt Nagy, an offensive-minded coach to help develop QB Mitch Trubisky. Next he took to free agency to give Trubisky a bounty of weapons to utilize in the new offense. After that, he took to the draft and found potentially three players who could be starting for the team this year. Finally, he made the biggest splash of them all, acquiring elite defender Khalil Mack.

Any one of those four moves would breathe some life into a 5-11 team, but all four of those moves could provide this team the chance for a big leap. But there is something standing in their way: the NFC.

If the Bears were in the AFC, you could argue they would be one of the best teams in the conference and almost certainly one of the top six and be headed to the playoffs. Unfortunately, for Bears fans, the Bears are in the NFC, a conference that’s far deeper and has significantly more talent.

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This is the NFL and anything can happen. Teams that are expected to be Super Bowl contenders end up going 6-10 and teams that are headed for a top 5 pick end up in the conference championship. There is parity in the league and a couple of injuries can separate the elite from the mediocre pretty quickly. So yes, if everything aligns for Chicago, of course they can make the playoffs. But let’s look at this objectively.

If none of the Bears’ defensive players suffer a significant injury or regress, the Bears should be looking at a top 5 defensive unit. The Bears defense was 9th last year. They return their entire defensive unit and have added arguably the top defensive player in this year’s NFL draft in the person of Roquan Smith and added the best pass rusher in the NFL in the person of Mack. Mack and Smith could arguably be the Bears’ two best defensive players.

If the Bears’ defense is a top five unit, that should be enough to catapult the team into meaningful December games, but it may not mean those meaningful games result in the playoffs. For that to happen, Mitch Trubisky has to make a jump to an average NFL quarterback. That doesn’t mean that’s where Trubisky’s ceiling has to end, that just means that’s where he needs to be this season.

If that happens, the Bears have enough talent around him to make their offense pretty average. An average offense and a top five defense certainly sounds like a playoff contender, but can they jump above six teams in the NFC?

All things being equal, an objective Bears’ fan has to admit that the Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles all stand a better chance to make the playoffs than the Bears. Those three teams are the elite of the league. The New Orleans Saints have a lot of pieces in place to succeed and Drew Brees running the offense, so that’s another team that you have to consider ahead of the Bears. The Green Bay Packers are tricky and this starts to be where the Bears start figuring in. The Bears roster is probably stronger than Green Bay’s but the Packers have that pesky Aaron Rodgers running the offense and he’s the ultimate trump card. If you put the Packers ahead of Chicago still on Rodgers alone (which being we haven’t seen the new-look-Bears play a game so one should give Rodgers the benefit of the doubt), that leaves one wild card spot remaining.

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The last spot will be a battle between the Bears, the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers, the Dallas Cowboys and any other team that could potentially pop up. That’s not to say that the Bears couldn’t potentially top one of the elite teams in the NFC if things don’t break right for that particular team.

The bottom line though, despite a tough conference and a tough division, there’s no reason to think the Bears won’t be battling for a playoff spot in December. That’s something that hasn’t been the case since Lovie Smith was the coach and it should make for an exciting season in Chicago.