Coming into the regular season, Lovie Smith's crew accomplished just about every goal they set for themselves. They repeated as NFC North champions and lost only one divisional game - a meaningless defeat to Green Bay in Week 17. They compiled the best record in the conference, securing the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs. Seven Bears made the Pro Bowl, four were named All-Pro, and both of their coodinators are being mentioned as candidates for head coaching jobs around the league.
So why all the doom and gloom?
Bears defensive end Alex Brown doesn't quite understand.
"If I didn't watch football at all, I wouldn't think the Chicago Bears were 13-3 the way things have been going," Brown said on Thursday at Halas Hall. "But we've been winning for a reason, and we're going to keep doing that. It doesn't matter what people on the outside say as long as the 53 guys in the locker room believe that we can win."
Just a year ago, the Monsters of the Midway were a pleasant surprise with their 11-5 record and division title, so perhaps they weren't yet ready to make a Super Bowl run. It certainly didn't look that way in the second round of the playoffs, as Carolina came into Soldier Field and beat them 29-21. The Bears have lost their last three postseason games at home.
Brown admitted that expectations are higher for this team and that his teammates now know what to expect.
"We want to win the Super Bowl every year," he said, "so everybody in the building actually believes that we can. As opposed to last year [when] we were pretty happy to get to the point where we were and things like that. I believe we're - I don't want to say more focused - but we understand what's going on. We understand that just because it happened in the regular season doesn't guarantee it's going to happen again. We gotta go and be ready to play."
The defense is still dealing with the season-ending loss of Tommie Harris, who was a one-man wrecking crew against Seattle back in Week 4. Tank Johnson and Ian Scott are good players, but Harris is a difference-maker and arguably the best defensive tackle in football. Plainly speaking, the Bears have not rushed the passer very well for quite some time.
Brown knows there is pressure on the defensive line to get the job done, but he's gotten used to it.
"I think we're on the spot every week," he said. "So yes. Not just for this week but every week. To make this defense the best it can be, the front four has to get pressure and we have to get to the quarterback. If we're going to go out and want to play our best, then the defensive line [has] to get to the quarterback."
The Bears will face the Seahawks again on Sunday in the divisional round of the playoffs, a team they dominated 37-6 back on Oct. 1. Seattle features perenniel All-Pro Walter Jones at left tackle, yet Brown and rookie Mark Anderson were able to beat him for three sacks the first time around. Jones will head to the Pro Bowl again this season but has not been as dominant with Steve Hutchinson - his partner on the left side of the offensive line for five seasons - now in Minnesota.
Brown still has plenty of respect for Jones and acknowledged that he had a lot of help in beating him that day.
"I don't want to take anything away from Mark or myself," Brown said, "but it was the pressure inside with Tommie and Tank, Ian Scott, those guys. Again, pressure up the middle which made Hasselbeck scramble out. Mark beat [Jones] with a great move inside. Anybody can be beat. It's just he's not beaten very often. I think he's the best in the league."
Based on what the players say, anything short of a Super Bowl title will be considered a disappointment. The NFC playoff picture is as muddy as ever, so the Bears should have a monumental advantage since they will entertain all challengers at home. Seattle made the Super Bowl a season ago, and they too had the top seed and home-field advantage.
After last season's collapse in the playoffs, Brown was asked what he learned having to deal with such a tough loss.
"You can't take it for granted that you're there," he said. "You can't just be happy to be there. Everybody wants to win the Super Bowl, but you've to put in the work to do it. And I believe we've put in the work up to this point to go out and play a pretty good game on Sunday. So we've just got to stay focused. Stay focused, and if we play our best, then I think it will be hard for a team to come here and beat us. I'm not saying that it's impossible, but I think it will be hard."
So is he expecting another landslide victory over Seattle on Sunday at Soldier Field?
"You don't skip a round of the playoffs if you win by 50."