Despite improving to 10-6 with the win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, the Vikings victory over the Packers means this Bears team has bucked the trend, and not in a good way for Chicago. Since the divisional realignment in 2002, 85.7% of 10-win teams have made the playoffs.
But not this Bears team as their season is over. Even so, they have no one to blame but themselves. Minnesota was able to beat Green Bay and the Bears were not—it's as simple as that.
Recognizing that, is it time for the Bears to blow things up?
Or, if not a complete overhaul, is it at least time for Lovie Smith to be fired?
Well, this author believes that the decision was likely already made prior to the outcome of Sunday's Bears game. However, if you are of the belief that making the playoffs was some sort of mandate for Lovie Smith, then GM Phil Emery must make a change.
Granted, a GM usually doesn't fire a coach after winning 10 games, but in this case, it's the way the Bears limped to the finish that screams for changes. It's the second consecutive season that the Bears finished poorly.
Last year, the excuse was Jay Cutler's injury and the lack of an adequate backup at the position. But what about this season? Sure, Cutler missed a start with a concussion, but to win seven of your first eight games and then go 3-5 is just inexcusable.
It's not all Lovie's fault, of course. Emery could have gone out and acquired help for the offensive line, for example. Still, three playoff wins in nine years would equal rewarding a coach for mediocrity if Emery were to bring him back.
That said, I think there are four main reasons why Smith will return, much to the chagrin of a lot of Bears fans.
First, there's the whole 10 win thing that I mentioned a couple of paragraphs before. Also, the McCaskey's and president Ted Phillips fully support Lovie Smith, and even Emery is said to have a good relationship with the coach.
Another reason is that a GM does not normally make a decision based on such a small sample size of one or two games. Smith has a large body of work for which Emery can review to determine if he should be the guy going forward, so I seriously doubt Sunday's outcome alone matters.
And when Emery looks at that body of work, he might choose to accentuate the positives, such as Lovie's overall winning record, comparison with other Bears head coaches, his players love him and play hard for him, etc.
Personally, I would make the change even considering all those factors. Of course, my feelings have no bearing on the outcome.
The fourth reason that I believe Lovie is coming back is that the Bears are too cheap to pay Smith $5 million to not coach next season, while also having to pay former assistant coaches and another head coach and new staff.
If Emery surprises me and does make a change, I was kind enough to publish an article recently that listed some of the top potential candidates to replace Smith. These are offensively-minded head coaching candidates, as that is what I think the Bears need going forward.
But no matter what they do, the offensive line needs to be rebuilt, the play calling needs to be improved and they need to get a tight end who can catch the ball.
On the defensive side, the core is aging and if Brian Urlacher doesn't come back—though I predict he will if Lovie returns—they need a long-term replacement for the signal caller and heart and soul of that defense.
First off, they need to sign the top free agent offensive tackle in the market, no matter what the cost. If that's Jake Long, then go get him.
Next, they need to draft at least one, and possibly more, offensive linemen.
Meanwhile, go get a tight end, either through free agency or more likely from the draft.
In short, change or no change at head coach, these are things the Bears must do. If a new coach is brought in and he changes the defense, that would mean even more personnel changes.
And that is another reason why I think Lovie comes back. Emery knows a new head coach probably won't want to run a base Tampa-2 as few teams do that. In fact, a potential replacement could want to switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Since the Bears players are more attuned to what they run now, would Emery want a total rebuild with no hope of winning next season? That may the the best thing for the Bears to do over the long run, but I just don't see him taking that chance.
But whatever Emery decides, this is a team that can compete at least one more year with the upgrades I've mentioned. Perhaps the Bears buck another trend and allow Smith to serve out the final year of his contract?
I would be fine with that.
However, that would be taking a chance, as there is expected to be a lot of coaching vacancies this offseason, so the top candidates might be gone by the time Smith's contract ends, leaving Emery without as much flexibility.
As Bears fans, all we can do now is wait. As we've been waiting for another Super Bowl title—27 years and counting.