They have already exceeded these expectations, starting out with a 3-2 record highlighted by a victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the first game of the season.
After the victory over Indy, many were already set to call the Bears a contender. But the 2008 Colts haven't been the same Colts of the modern era—beating them week one of this year wasn't as impressive as doing it would have been the first week of 2007.
Following the Colts game, the Bears have been hit-or-miss this season. They blew a 14-point lead against the Carolina Panthers in a game that they lost by three, got edged by three by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an overtime decision, stiffed the Philadelphia Eagles on a late goal line stand for a narrow win, and slaughtered the Detroit Lions.
All this has amounted to a slightly above average 3-2 record. But does their favorable record indicate that they are a contender?
Coming into the season, the Bears' bread-and-butter was supposed to be their suffocating defense. Not anymore—well actually, let me take that back. Yes, it still is—that is, as long as we're talking solely about the run defense.
The Bears' supposedly impervious defense, like the Minnesota Vikings', is too one-dimensional. All of it's talent lies in the run defense—their pass defense is far too weak. Just for comparison, the Bears run defense ranks fourth in the NFL, but their pass defense ranks 23rd in the league.
All it takes to beat a defense whose only strength is run defense is simple—a heavy dose of play-action passes.
Skilled run defenses blitz more often, and often times all an offense has to do against these unbalanced defenses is fake the run to open up the vertical passing game. Before long, the offense has put up 30 points and the defense doesn't know what hit them. This is a problem that could really cost the Bears down the road.
Like their defense, the offense is too one-dimensional—running back Matt Forte does everything to keep the Bears offense producing.
He has scored four of Chicago's 11 offensive touchdowns this season (22 percent.) I'll bet no other individual player's share of his team's overall scoring even approaches that figure. He's also accumulated 383 of the Bears' 631 rushing yards on the season. No other Bear even comes within a couple hundred yards of him.
In addition, Forte has 22 receptions for 172 receiving yards. His 22 catches make up 23 percent of the Bears' catches this season, and his 172 receiving yards account for about 16 percent of his team's receiving yards. And let's not forget that these stats have been compiled by a running back, folks.
There's only one player I can think of who is as key of a component to the success of his offense as Forte is to the Bears—Eagles running back Brian Westbrook (and there's a reason the Eagles have lost offensive shootouts this year and won defensive struggles.)
The Bears are just like the Eagles—a good defensive team that loses when its one true offensive threat doesn't perform.
Therefore, the Bears are pretenders. If you want to succeed in the NFL, you have to have more than one offensive player who can make plays for you.