Might-have-been's aren't always particularly useful but in the case of the 2019 Bears, standing 6-6 heading into their season's fourth quarter, maybe…
Because the reality for the Bears is that the NFC was theirs for the taking beyond any real or fanciful expectations that 2018's misleading 12-4 produced.
The supposedly first-place schedule that last year handed them turned out to be far from daunting, for the simple reason that 10 of the Bears' games will have been against teams that – like the Bears – have played out to be worse than they were last season, some flat-out bad.
Maybe one takeaway is that for as poorly as the Bears have performed too often this season, playing only marginally better (certainly at a small handful of positions) would place them at or near the level that expectations had them.
The Broncos, Redskins, Lions, Giants – bottom feeders in 2018 who have worsened in '19 – have done things that make the Bears' 2019 feel worse. The Lions defeated the Chargers and Eagles; the Bears couldn't. The Chargers beat Green Bay; the Bears couldn't. The Broncos beat the Chargers; the Bears couldn't.
Minnesota, one of the few better in '19 than in '18, demolished the Oakland Raiders by 20 points one week before the Bears throttled the Vikings and two weeks before the Raiders trampled the Bears.
But the fact that three of the Bears' six losses – Chargers, Rams, Eagles – were to teams that have stumbled to multiple bad losses makes the Bears' 2019 all the more disappointing and disturbing.
The NFL is full of on-field contradictions, but this….
Had the Bears simply been outclassed by first-place-schedule teams – like New Orleans, Oakland, and Green Bay, which they were – teams that are notably better winning-percentage-wise than they were last year, that might have been understandable, written off to simply improved competition.
But the losses to the Chargers (.750 in ‘18; .364 in '19); Rams (.813 in '18; .545 in '19); and Eagles (.563 in '18; .455 in '19) are the difference between 6-6 and 9-3, and 9-3 would be good enough for the No. 3 or 5 playoff seed, pending the games this weekend.
None of those can be replayed and the past can indeed be the refuge of cowards and losers. But Dallas and Kansas City, two of the next three Bears opponents, already have lost as many games (six and four, respectively) in three-fourths of this season as they did all last year.
"You know where we stand and everyone starts getting to the what-ifs," coach Matt Nagy said on Friday. "But you know we just feel like it's been such a unique year to us with everything and where we've been losing four in a row and now winning three out of the last four. That's been a challenge, right?
"We know what's ahead of us but we can only control what goes on [next] Thursday night. And we understand, too, that Dallas is in a very similar situation. And so you know both of us being 6-6, having an opportunity to play at home is going to be fun."