Bears' first half could result in surprise playoff berth

The Bears need a healthy Khalil Mack if they're to make a run over the final eight games. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears finished the first half of the season with a 5-3 record. Here’s a look at how they have fared and what’s ahead:

First-half rewind: Coming off four straight last-place finishes, the Bears were not a trendy pick to contend in the NFC North. But Chicago surprised by winning three of four to open the season. Plus, in losses to Green Bay, New England and Miami, the Bears were competitive. New coach Matt Nagy has been a breath of fresh air. The Bears were ultra-stale in the forgettable John Fox era, but under Nagy, Chicago’s offense has been reborn. It has also helped that Bears general manager Ryan Pace managed to acquire all-world pass-rusher Khalil Mack from the Raiders prior to Week 1. The Bears just wrapped up their most enjoyable first half of the season since Lovie Smith’s final year in 2012. Grade: Above average.

What’s the biggest factor in the Bears making a deep playoff run? Mack has to be healthy. The defense struggled for a couple weeks after Mack suffered a right ankle injury on Oct. 14 in Miami. On offense, the Bears need consistency out of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The 24-year old had some really good moments in the first half -- most notably his six-touchdown performance versus the Bucs in Week 4 -- but he struggled at times with accuracy and decision-making. Trubisky is a tremendous athlete. He has all the tools to be successful, but he has to put it all together.

MVP: Mack. He dominated the first four games, winning NFC Defensive Player of the Month in September with five sacks, four forced fumbles and a pick-six. The Bears wisely rested Mack’s ankle in Week 8 against the New York Jets and the following week against the Bills. As long as Mack’s ankle is close to 100 percent for the final eight games, the Bears have a chance to finish with a winning record.

Biggest surprise: Rookie Bilal Nichols. The fifth-round defensive tackle out of Delaware has opened eyes in recent weeks. Nichols not only earned a role in Chicago’s defensive line rotation, but he has also become a playmaker. It’s still early, but right now, Nichols looks like a late-round steal.

Hurdle to overcome: The schedule. The Bears play five of their final eight games against their division rivals. Chicago has a stretch of three straight NFC North games (Detroit, Minnesota and Detroit) from Nov. 11-22. The Bears also have a tough home game versus the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 9.