Pam Eggemeier, SVM editorial page editor
It's hard not to make comparisons between this Chicago Bears team and the 2016 Cubs championship team. Could the Bears' postseason success also come sooner than expected?
Before the season started, I would have been happy with a .500 team that showed signs of improvement, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The acquisition of Kahlil Mack, however, took the defense from very good to elite, giving the offense more margin for error in its development.
The Bears aren't a great team yet – they have a new coach, a new and complicated offensive system, and a young quarterback who has a lot to learn. While their growing pains were to be expected, the surprising part of this season is the underachieving Vikings and the train wreck that is the Packers. An NFC North crown seemed highly unlikely when the season started.
Now that the Bears are in and don't have to fight their way through as a wild card team, anything could happen. This is a season in which no team has pulled away from the pack to establish itself as a clear-cut favorite. While either the Saints or Rams looked positioned to do it earlier in the season, both have looked vulnerable in their last few games.
The playoffs, in any sport, are about who's hot now. The Bears have as much momentum as anyone coming into the postseason. They also can play much looser than some other teams because no one really expected them to be here.
If they keep everyone healthy and ward off the turnover bug, this defense should keep them in every game. No matter what happens in the playoffs, however, it's exciting to know that this franchise has turned a corner and should be competitive for years to come.