Patrick Finley: Analyzing the Bears’ successes, hurdles as home stretch begins

The home stretch is here, with the Bears’ first playoff berth since 2010 well within reach.

Sun-Times expert Patrick Finley breaks down the Bears’ biggest challenges, and achievements, at the quarter pole:

Are the Bears a legit Super Bowl contender?

They’re the third-best team in the NFC. But if the playoffs started today, the Bears would host the wild-card game and then have to go on the road to beat the Saints and Rams, most likely, in consecutive weeks to reach the Super Bowl. Stranger things have happened — the Falcons beat the Rams in Los Angeles last season to advance in the postseason — but that’s quite a gauntlet.

Biggest concern down the stretch …

The Bears have allowed 123 points in the first three quarters of games this season — and 112 points in the fourth. They’ve pitched a shutout in the fourth only once, during their win against the Cardinals. Blaming garbage time only goes so far. The Bears built a unit that can win playoff games, but to do so, it has to dominate when it matters most.

Over the final 4 games, Mitch Trubisky must …

Continue to be an aggressive runner. The risks are considerable, the reward greater. Chase Daniel’s two-week stint as the starter showed Trubisky’s running ability — or at least that threat — might be the secret sauce of the entire offense. Hopefully, Trubisky invested in a sliding coach when he was gone. Any Cubs player — except Anthony Rizzo, who has a tendency to take out catchers — would suffice.

Does Trubisky’s injury concern you?

Any time a quarterback has an injured throwing shoulder, you’d be a fool to take it lightly. The Bears swear it’s not a long-term problem. I’m more concerned with how Trubisky, an avowed “reps guy” who needs turns in practice to feel comfortable, plays upon his return. Did he rust faster than others?

Matt Nagy’s biggest challenge will be …

To exorcise the demons of last January, when his Chiefs blew an 18-point lead and lost to the Titans in the wild-card round. To have a chance, he needs to split his remaining four games.

The Bears’ MVP is …

Mack. Hicks might be having a more complete season, but everything starts with opponents accounting for the star edge rusher. That’s allowed the Bears to build the league’s best defense — they rank first overall in Football Outsiders’ Defensive-adjusted Value Over Average. They’re first in run defense and second in pass defense.

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Who makes the Pro Bowl?

Mack, Hicks, Jackson and Fuller should all be in. Cohen could make it as a kick returner, a clever way of rewarding a player without a true position. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman, cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Bryce Callahan and inside linebacker Danny Trevathan have a case, too. Not bad for a franchise that didn’t have a defensive Pro Bowl player under Fox.

Bears’ final record ….

10-6, with a first-place finish in the NFC North.

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