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Saturday, December 26, 2009
Have at It: Predicting playoffs in...

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

I appreciated your seemingly genuine interest in this week’s Have at It topic and found your responses laced with thought.

When we asked which NFC North franchise is closer to the playoffs, Chicago or Detroit, a few of you felt compelled to inject the standard cheap shot/dose of realism. Larry1811D put fair words to that sentiment: “You need to take into consideration that Detroit's organization just doesn't know how to produce a winner. They've only had fleeting successes in their entire history. That puts the odds in the Bears' favor ... as much as I hate to say it.”

Similarly, adambballn suggested that the Bears “seem to have a cycle where they're bad for a couple years then get things going again.” On the other hand, wrote adambballn, “The Lions just lose. They excel at losing.”

But when you actually sat down and compared the tangible situations, many of you believe the Lions leading this race because they’ve already taken the first step in a rebuilding process both franchises appear to need. The Lions have their coach in place, wrote jrick45, while the Bears seem destined for future change. Coach Jim Schwartz is “the man for the job,” jrick45 wrote, meaning the Lions “already have their coaching staff set … whereas Chicago will have to start that process and implement a new system all over again.”

Even with the Lions’ present and future coach in place, a change in Chicago could accelerate the Bears’ fortunes because they have a shorter path back to the playoffs. Wrote smartaleck99: “A coaching change in Chicago would go a LONG way to making their shot at the playoffs better. Would [Mike Shanahan] or [Bill Cowher] make them better? I would think certainly.”

From a personnel standpoint, many of you agreed that both teams have work to do on both lines. But from the big picture, wrote machinemankse: “It's safe to say youthful talent contributes greatly to the future of any team. That said, the Lions have more of it than the Bears and will only accumulate more in the 2010 draft.”

The Bears, wrote CASPIANMAFIA, have been falling for a while and haven’t finished: “It seems that this trend in Chicago has been building for some time. I blame Jerry Angelo more than anyone else. The trading of all these picks seem to me like a last grasp to try and hold on.”

My take? I can’t disagree that the Bears could take a further (albeit temporary) step back if they change coaches this offseason. I’m assuming that if they decide to pay coach Lovie Smith $11 million to leave, they’re not going to pay Shanahan or Cowher another $8 million to $10 million annually to replace him. So the Bears’ next coach is more likely to be a lesser-known candidate whose success will be more difficult to predict.

And it’s true that the Lions have some interesting offensive parts, including one -- a legitimate No. 1 receiver -- that the Bears do not. But I’m always more interested in the state of a team’s offensive and defensive lines. And to that end, I think the Bears are a bit ahead.

The biggest advantage the Bears have is they appear to have their left tackle of the future already on the field in Chris Williams. The Lions do not. Detroit also doesn’t have one defensive lineman I would consider a future pass rusher. The Bears have at least given themselves some intriguing options with Gaines Adams and Jarron Gilbert.

The point of this post remains valid: There isn’t much disparity between the franchises. But if I had to answer the question I posed, I would say the Bears. Take that for what it’s worth, of course. I’m the guy who, at midseason, thought the Bears had a better chance to make the playoffs than Green Bay.