What’s more likely for Bears in 2021 — everything going right or everything going wrong?
Given the choice of extremes in a season of unknowns, how would you vote?
As I sit here contemplating all the things that could go right or wrong for the Bears this season, I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that there should be more to my life. That somewhere along the line, a man of so many accumulated years must have gotten seriously off track to be this concerned with what are, in the grand scheme of things, trivial matters. That while other people wrestle with the really important, really adult stuff — health insurance, the hereafter, black shoes and brown belts (fashion sin or fashion revelation?) — I wonder if Allen Robinson is OK. Is the wide receiver’s head in the right place? Has he been wronged contractually too many times by the Bears?
Such questions give a person pause about the trajectory of his life. Then the person says to himself, “If the Bears’ defense doesn’t have gap control this season, all is lost.’’
Most of the “expert’’ predictions for the 2021 season have the Bears going 7-10, 8-9 or 9-8. Those predictions are based on the team’s 8-8 record each of the past two seasons and the idea that very few of the new additions to the roster offer hope that things will be much different this year. The NFL’s tacking on of a 17th game only means that the Bears can’t be the numeric definition of mediocre anymore.
So they’re going to have to make do with what they have, starting Sunday night against the Rams. And that’s how the question of likelihood elbowed its way into my thoughts. I wondered what was more feasible — all the dice landing right for the Bears this season or the opposite, which is to say, everything going down the drain.
Let’s start with the positive, a scenario in which all that the team touches turns to gold. What would that look like? It would look like a very good quarterback, something the Bears haven’t had in … I believe the word is “forever.’’ That means either veteran Andy Dalton has close to a career year or his replacement, rookie Justin Fields, is the exciting, productive quarterback so many Bears fans are sure he is.
The possibility of that happening is tied to the offensive line thriving. It’s tied to the idea that the left tackle, 39-year-old Jason Peters, can still protect the quarterback’s blind side. It’s incumbent on the line, which didn’t play well in preseason games, getting its act together. We’ve seen it happen before, where an O-line jells as a season progresses, going from a hands-over-the-eyes horror story to a well-choreographed success.
The everything-goes-right scenario has Robinson and Darnell Mooney turning into the best receiver combo in the league. It has running back David Montgomery turning in his best season to date, the Bears’ clot of tight ends playing well and whoever is calling the plays from coach Matt Nagy’s playbook turning into a creative genius.
It has the Bears’ defense bouncing back from an underwhelming 2020 and getting back to being its excellent self.
Ten victories and a taste of postseason success, baby!
The odds of all that happening?
Let’s look at the likelihood of everything going wrong for the Bears. It would entail Dalton being so bad that Fields takes over almost immediately and struggles like a rookie quarterback might. It would entail Peters looking every bit like a beat-up 17-year veteran and right tackle Germain Ifedi looking every bit like Germain Ifedi. It would entail the offensive line backing up Pro Football Focus’ appraisal that the Bears have one of the worst units in the league.
In this empty glass scenario, the defense continues its downward trend, Khalil Mack falls off even further as a pass rusher and opposing offenses take advantage of new coordinator Sean Desai.
It means five to seven victories and a pair of powerful binoculars to watch the playoffs from afar. Bears chairman George McCaskey finally gives Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace the heave-ho. (What does a true-blue Bears fan root for here?)
Given the so-so talent level on the roster, the odds of all that bad stuff happening are better than the odds of everything going right for the Bears.
A football season isn’t an either/or proposition, of course. The likeliest scenario is the middle ground of those two extremes. It’s what happens when an unexceptional team asks a first-round draft pick to make everything better. Maybe Fields can do that eventually, but it’s hard to see it happening this season.
An 8-9 record sounds about right. It sounds unexciting. It sounds like a recipe for having the GM and the coach back for another season.
As I said earlier, how does a person get to a point where these are the issues that dominate his thoughts, especially when there are so many other weightier topics to ponder? Like the economy.
And special teams.