Yes, I'm fully aware there's still the NFL Draft coming up in May. We know the 2014 Chicago Bears are not a finished product, but with some of the moves the team's made in free agency, I find it hard-pressed to say this team isn't a playoff team.
About a week and a half ago I did another podcast appearance for Making Sense with Mike and Tom, and after a bit of shooting the breeze about the additions of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, coupled with the declaration of Jay Cutler as the franchise quarterback, the question was asked - How do I perceive the Bears going forward in 2014? Are they a playoff team?
At the time, I had a hard time saying the Bears could be division front-runners because of the Green Bay Packers still being the Green Bay Packers. As much as I would have loved to say otherwise, the Bears were 8-8 in a season where Aaron Rodgers was injured for a significant portion of it and the Packers were playing Backup Quarterback Roulette.
With a full season of Rodgers, it doesn't seem likely at first blush that the Bears can jump that hurdle. But a week and a half later, why not?
Lamarr Houston as the first guy off the block was a decent-enough signing as the team's first defensive end, but for a team that was starved of pass rush, Houston didn't exactly fill that void. The subsequent addition of Willie Young as a pass-rusher didn't exactly excite, as he was viewed mostly as a second-end or rotational pass rusher. Adding Jared Allen adds a pass-rusher that can man the #1 pass rusher role, pushing Houston to the more-traditionally run-stopping #2 DE.
The defensive line is a pretty major portion of the team's 2013 defensive woes, and the improvement there might be enough to push the team over the edge. While the Bears' defense wasn't effective, the Packers' defense wasn't much better in the rankings (24th against the pass, 25th against the run), and apart from Letroy Guion and ex-Bear Julius Peppers, they've mostly re-signed their own.
Offensively, Rodgers might be the best quarterback in the NFL, but the Bears couple a decent quarterback with one of the NFL's top receiving duos and what might be one of the best receiving corps in the NFL.
If the defense improves as an improved defensive line can improve the play of the guys behind it, why can't the Bears contend for the division?