When most people talk about the top teams in the NFL in 2018, the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints are among the first ones they mention. But there's one squad that seems to be flying somewhat under the radar: the Chicago Bears.
Quite simply, the Bears deserve more respect. Coming off five straight wins, they enter Week 13 in first place in the NFC North with an 8-3 record. And with a mostly favorable remaining schedule, the current No. 3 seed in the NFC should reach double-digit victories for the first time since finishing 10-6 in 2012.
While the Bears aren't likely to receive a first-round bye due to the incredible play of the aforementioned Saints and Rams, who have three combined losses, they should end up hosting an opening-round playoff game. That certainly favors Chicago, which is 5-1 at home this season.
But the Bears have all the tools to do more than just qualify for the playoffs and win a first-round game. They absolutely have what it takes to reach the Super Bowl and perhaps raise the Lombardi Trophy for the first time since 1985, when they won their only Super Bowl in franchise history.
It's going to take a lot to get past the likes of the Saints and Rams at the top of the NFC, but if any team has what it takes, it just might be Chicago.
Here's a look at the Bears' three x-factors for a run at Super Bowl 53.
3. Mitchell Trubisky Is an Ever-Improving Quarterback
There were questions surrounding Mitchell Trubisky when the Bears selected him with the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. Pundits wondered whether his game would translate to the next level.
After a decent but inconsistent rookie season, Trubisky has flourished in 2018. He is completing 65.4 percent of his passes, a 6 percent increase from last year. But he has also established himself as one of the league's best dual-threat quarterbacks.
In addition to passing for 2,469 yards and 20 touchdowns, Trubisky has also rushed for 363 yards and three scores. His rushing yards rank second among QBs behind only Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, while his rushing TDs are tied for fourth. However, he is averaging 7.1 yards per rush, which is the most for any QB with 17 or more rushing attempts (Trubisky has 51 carries thus far).
Although he is currently dealing with a right shoulder injury that is likely to hold him out for the second straight week, Trubisky is a huge x-factor for the Bears. If he's able to get healthy and keep performing at the level that he has been playing at this season, the sky's the limit for Chicago.
2. The Bears Possess a Balanced Offense
Another thing that plays into Chicago's favor is the fact that its offense possesses the balance necessary to win in the playoffs. The Bears have a dynamic running back duo and several talented pass catchers, making them harder for opposing teams to deal with.
Jordan Howard is the Bears' workhorse back, as he leads the team in carries (162), rushing yards (536) and rushing TDs (5). But the speedy Tarik Cohen is the team's change-of-pace rusher who has 66 carries for 285 yards and two scores, and he also has four carries of 20-plus yards and an average of 4.3 yards per attempt.
Cohen is also Chicago's second leading receiver with 47 catches for 503 yards and four TDs. Meanwhile, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel has 51 receptions for 527 yards and two TDs and fellow wideout Allen Robinson has 36 catches for 494 yards and four scores.
That's not all, however, as tight end Trey Burton and wide receiver Anthony Miller are also major weapons in the Bears' passing game. Burton has 38 catches for 448 yards and five scores, while Miller has 29 receptions for 398 yards and five TDs of his own.
It's basically pick your poison with the Bears' offense, which can't be fun for opposing squads to game plan against. On any given week, any of the aforementioned players are capable of stepping up and leading the offense.
1. Chicago's Defense Is as Good as It Gets
The Bears' offense is certainly formidable, but a franchise that is known for boasting suffocating defenses is once again playing at an elite level on that side of the ball. Led by linebacker Khalil Mack, Chicago's defense is the top-ranked unit in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.
In addition to allowing the second-fewest points per game (19.2), the Bears also give up the fourth-fewest yards per game (316.1). Chicago is better against the run as it allows just 80.8 rushing yards per game, but the Bears are also solid against the pass as they surrender just 235.3 passing yards per game, which ranks 10th in the NFL.
Mack is a one-man wrecking crew on his own, as despite missing two games due to injury he still leads the team in sacks (8). The 27-year-old also has five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one interception, three passes defensed and 28 total tackles (23 solo).
But Mack is surrounded by several other defensive playmakers as well, including fellow linebackers Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd. Meanwhile, the Bears' ball-hawking secondary is led by cornerback Kyle Fuller (5 interceptions, 15 passes defensed) and safety Eddie Jackson (4 interceptions, 3 defensive TDs).
Although the NFL is becoming more of an offensive league, don't be surprised if Chicago's defense carries it to the promised land. When it comes to the Bears' x-factors for a run at Super Bowl 53, their defense is the biggest reason they have a chance to go all the way.