Because you didn’t ask, I have the Bears going 10-6 and winning a playoff game this season.
My predictions have not always been what some sticklers would refer to as “accurate,’’ so if you’re a Super Bowl-dreaming Bears fan, you shouldn’t be too worried. If, on the other hand, you’re a realist who has seen too much mediocrity from this franchise, you now have reason to believe I’ve been hitting the medical marijuana hard.
Some of you might have accidentally misplaced last year’s prediction column, the one in which I said the Bears would go 8-8. At the time, fervor was running high for the team and new coach Marc Trestman, which would explain the unkind emails I received from Bears fans.
In something of a double miracle, the Bears did go 8-8 last season. It was a miracle I was right and a miracle they ended up winning eight games. Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs got hurt, and, by all rights, the season should have gone down the tubes. I even asked Trestman at a news conference what gave him any reason to believe the Bears could win games, given that two of his best players were injured. Again with the nasty emails from fans. You might be noticing a trend here.
Then came Josh McCown. I’ll go to my grave saying that no one in the world, not even McCown’s family on a vision quest, could have seen his performance coming. But he was beyond good enough, to the point where there was serious public debate about whether he should remain the starter when Cutler returned. It wasn’t a serious debate inside Halas Hall, but it was a reflection of just how successful McCown was.
Now he’s a Tampa Bay Buccaneer with a nice contract. He will be missed here. That’s the ultimate compliment for a backup quarterback.
Can Cutler stay healthy? That’s the ultimate question for the season.
On paper, the Bears are improved heading into training camp, which opens Friday with the first practice in Bourbonnais. (Wouldn’t it be great if, just once, they actually played an NFL season on paper? Oh, wait, that’s fantasy football, also known as, “Who needs a love life?’’) General manager Phil Emery spent the offseason trying to fix a defense that was simply awful in 2013. He rebuilt a defensive line with the signings of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. It’s the reason for the raging optimism around town.
The Bears need their defense to be middling. If that sounds like a low bar, then you’re blocking out the memory of how bad things were last season. The Bears finished 30th out of 32 teams in total defense. Emery’s additions will offer immediate improvement, but no one can be sure how much. New, yes. Improved, yes. Good? Let’s not get carried away.
It’s hard to see 33-year-old cornerback Charles Tillman staying upright the entire season. If he can’t, we might get a chance to see whether first-round pick Kyle Fuller is NFL-ready as a corner. Briggs, by the way, turns 34 during the season. Thirty-four in linebacker years is like 94 in human years.
The Bears’ offense has come so far under Trestman that we assume it will be among the elite in the NFL. Not just hope it will, but know it will. Amazing after just one season of the guy. After all those years of praying for an offense that would make the defense proud, the Bears now are coming off a season in which they ranked fifth in passing offense. Year 2 of Trestman, Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte figures to be better. See how easily that rolls off the tongue?
The Green Bay Packers figure to be better, too. So do the Detroit Lions, but they always figure to be better and rarely are.
The Bears have something those teams don’t: a new motivational tool at their disposal. It’s called Mike McCarthy. Last week, the Packers’ head coach flew in a B-17 bomber to honor his 96-year-old grandfather-in-law, who had fought in one during World War II. Before boarding, McCarthy said, “All right, let’s go bomb Chicago.’’
I’m sure that will find its way onto a bulletin board. Trestman will dismiss it for what it is, a playful poke at a rival, but some less-enlightened coaches inside Halas Hall will see it as an opportunity to light a fire under the team. Bomb Chicago? The insensitive brute!
Who knows, it might even be worth an 11th regular-season victory.