Who are the 2018 Chicago Bears? Nobody knows yet. It’s impossible to tell for sure until they start playing actual games. This is why most critics of the team refuse to accept even the possibility they could turn the corner this season. They haven’t won more than six games since 2014 and haven’t made the playoffs in almost a decade. There’s no recent evidence to suggest this will be the case.

Then again the same was said for the Buffalo Bills last year. Remember them? A team that had not made the playoffs since 1999. Several fans of that team were close to graduating high school without seeing them in the postseason. If that epic streak could finally end, why can’t the Bears do the same?

The national media and several executives around the league have been impressed with what they’ve done this offseason. So have those who’ve worked with the team in the past. Former Bears scout Greg Gabriel did his own personal assessment of the work done by GM Ryan Pace and his coaches.

His resulting declaration? More than a little encouraging.

Gabriel sees the 2018 Chicago Bears as a playoff contender

Writing for Pro Football Weekly, Gabriel expressed his admiration for what the Bears have accomplished over the past couple months. He sees them as an ascending team with talent across the board, though there are still some holes left to fill.

“What have we learned about the Bears this offseason? First off, the talent level of the team is the best that it’s been since at least 2010 when the Bears were playoff contenders. That said, there are still holes to fill before Chicago opens the regular season at Green Bay in early September…

…Many have compared this year’s Bears to last year’s Los Angeles Rams. Both teams have/had a new coaching staff that is strong as far as offensive innovation. Both have/had a talented second-year quarterback and both have/had strong defenses. The Rams went from the cellar of the NFC West to the playoffs.

I currently won’t say the Bears will be able to do the same, but based on what I have seen over the past couple months of the offseason program, they are headed in the right direction. We’ll know a lot more once training camp is complete in August.”

Long story short this team will still be driven by their defense, particularly the duo of Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman. It’s their pass rush that needs figuring out. Leonard Floyd has a balky knee and the depth chart behind him is a garbled mess of unknowns like Aaron Lynch and Isaiah Irving. It’s the offense though that will determine how high this team climbs.

The talent is certainly there.

Not just on the field but on the sideline too. Matt Nagy brings one of the most successful offensive schemes in the NFL to Chicago. The same that turned Kansas City into perennial playoff participants and the Philadelphia Eagles into Super Bowl champions. He inherits a roster that features Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard and former #2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky at quarterback.

They’ve also added former Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson, deep threat Taylor Gabriel and Super Bowl hero Trey Burton. Not to mention do-everything weapon, Tarik Cohen. The sheer potential of this team is hard not to get excited about. Even an old school guy like Gabriel can’t ignore that.