With the Philadelphia Eagles surprising loss to Joe Webb and the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Bears are secured at least the #2 seed in the playoffs and still have an outside chance at the top seed (if the Vikings can beat the Eagles, the Carolina Panthers have a shot against the Atlanta Falcons).
But although the Bears have clinched a bye week, they still, as Rodney Dangerfield would put it, don't get no respect, at least from most people.
This is mostly from inconsistency from Jay Cutler and a shaky at best offensive line, but the Bears are a team that, when firing on all cylinders, is just as dangerous, if not more, than any team in the NFL.
Let's take a journey through why the Bears should be your sleeper pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Jay Cutler has been outstanding as of late. After throwing 26 interceptions last season, he has come back big time to play with more consistency and has thrown just 14 interceptions, tied for the second fewest in his career.
Out of his last five games, he has had over a 100 quarterback rating in four of them, throwing 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions over that span, plus another rushing touchdown.
Another reason that he can lead the Bears through the NFC in the playoffs is his mobility, something rare in quarterbacks. He can extend a play, elude defenders looking for a sack, and take off and gain good yards if necessary (he has at least 10 yards rushing in nine games this season).
The Bears have been in search for a gunslinger quarterback who can take charge and lead their offense since their inception, and with Jay Cutler under center, they may have finally found their guy.
The offensive line
The Bears offensive line has been a big weakness for the Bears in the past, and a huge drawback early in the season, but they have begun to mesh and their ability to stay healthy has been a huge help in a season where a lot of teams are experiencing big injury problems.
Over the last three games, Cutler hasn't been sacked more than twice, and Matt Forte has had at least five yards per carry each of the last two games.
Although this ragtag bunch doesn't have all the same players expected at the beginning of the season (Chris Williams has slid to left guard and J'Marcus Webb has played surprisingly well at right tackle), they have learned how to play with each other and are a serviceable offensive line.
Another perceived weak spot for the Bears coming into the season has worked itself out as the season has gone on.
Johnny Knox has solidified himself as the top receiver, as he is currently on pace to break 1,000 yards and he has scored three touchdowns over the last two games.
Earl Bennett has become a decent number two receiver and a favorite target for Cutler, he has a catch of over 20 yards in seven of the last nine games.
Devin Hester has been a surprise at wide receiver. Although he still isn't great, he can stretch defenses and is a threat to score whenever he is on the field and has made some spectacular catches this season. Add to that his resurgence in the return game and Hester is a dangerous man.
The Bears brought in Peppers to be their big splash in the offseason and create a pass rushing presence off the edge, something that they were lacking without Alex Brown or Adewale Ogunleye.
Although he's on pace to be below the 10-sack mark, he's still been a force in both the pass and run games defensively.
He has two interceptions and forced three fumbles this season, he's also blocked a kick this season.
Despite his old age, Urlacher is having one of his best seasons in recent memory. His season off last year may have been a great thing for his career, he's been healthy and he's been a force that was missed big time last season.
He's currently on pace to have the most tackles he's had since the Bears went to the Super Bowl in 2006. He also has three and a half sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception.
He's the leader that can take over a game defensively and single handedly stop an offense.
The Bears let him out of the grasp once before, but they need to hold on to Chris Harris like he's the best player in the NFL, as he has finally brought stability to the safety position not seen since the days of Mike Brown.
His five interceptions, more than the Bears got from both safety positions last season. He's also a solid run stopping presence, something the Bears needed this season.
The Bears have a habit of drafting people in late rounds and having them become productive members of the team early in their careers. They have been able to do this again and have also found some gems from teams as well.
I've already talked about J'Marcus Webb, Johnny Knox and Chris Harris having breakout years, but there are more players on the team contributing above there potential.
Tim Jennings has taken over for Zachary Bowman and played better than he ever has, and chances are the Indianapolis Colts are kicking themselves for letting him go.
Israel Idonije has been the player everybody hoped Mark Anderson would be, giving the Bears a solid defensive end opposite Peppers.
Matt Toeaina has been a good presence up the middle, helping take some pressure off Peppers as well.
They have proven that they can win
The Bears have won a lot of games that people have made excuses for, either due to injuries, "lucky calls," and poor performances, but they fact is that they are winners.
They are 7-1 over their last eight games, their only loss coming against the insanely good New England Patriots. They have wins against the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Jets, and they are 5-0 in their division.
They have proven time and again that they can win, and they are going to be tough for anybody that they meet in the playoffs, so nobody should be surprised if you see them in Dallas.
I'm Joe W.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!