Are the Bears doomed or underrated? Our annual test of your optimism
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
Let Bear-bashing season begin.
The Bears have a chance to be one of the surprise teams in the NFL, mostly because the bar has been set almost historically low for a franchise that even in the worst of times in recent years had at least been competitive.
Even last season, while most reputable outlets ranked the Bears in the bottom six of the NFL, at least SI.com ranked them 16th in their preseason power rankings. The Vegas win total was 7.5.
This year? The Bears are no better than 28th in virtually every single established preseason power ranking, even 32nd and dead last in a couple. The Vegas win total is down to 5.5.
The Bears might be better than people think, but their curb appeal is at a low point after a 3-13 season that was a step back from 6-10 in the first season under the new regime of general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox.
After losing quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the offseason, not one skill position player remains from the 2013 offense that ranked second in the NFL in scoring.
And the defense that arguably has the best chance to keep the Bears afloat in the rebuilding program is relatively nondescript — loaded with former complementary players and not-there-yet prospects. The Bears don’t have a single player on their defense who has been to the Pro Bowl.
And most of all, the foundation of the rebuild — the quarterback situation — is seen as a potential disaster. The Bears not only paid starter money for Mike Glennon — who has not started since the middle of the 2014 season — but seemed to undercut that move by drafting Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick. “Trubisky is the QB by Thanksgiving,” predicted Sports Illustrated NFL honcho Peter King.
What the Bears have going for them is room for growth. Linebacker Leonard Floyd, wide receiver Kevin White, nose tackle Eddie Goldman and center Cody Whitehair all are talented, high draft picks who could blossom if things go right. Defensive end Akiem Hicks, linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan and wide receivers Victor Cruz and Markus Wheaton are previously productive players who could make bigger contributions than people think.
The Bears’ roster, in fact, is ranked 18th in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. And PFF is not alone. “The roster is not as bad as many think,” NJ.com Eagles writer Eliot Shorr-Parks wrote in the offseason, “and if they somehow get good play from Mike Glennon, don’t be surprised to see them be very competitive.”
With that in mind, here is our annual test of Bears fans optimism/pessimism for the upcoming season. Rate these categories, with 10 points for an optimistic vote, minus-10 for a pessimistic vote and zero for a neutral vote.
90-100: Lay off the Kool-Aid.
70-80: Must be new in town.
20 to minus-20: Seeing is believing.
Minus-50 to minus-70: Waiting for Ditka’s return.
Minus-80 to minus-100: Packers fan.
Optimist: In a prove-it season right off the bat, a motivated Glennon responds with a laser focus that eliminates mistakes and maximizes efficiency. His teammates not only rally around him but play better for him — something they were unable to do for Cutler.
Pessimist: Burdened by the pressure of getting acclimated to a new offense with new teammates who also are trying to find their way and haunted by the spectre of Trubisky in the wings, Glennon struggles early, loses confidence and is no better with the Bears than he was with the Buccaneers.
Optimist: Patiently bides his time and stays out of the way in the early going, then becomes the starter when the Bears open 2-6 and emerges as a playmaker and leader in a 5-3 second half that sets him up for 2018.
Pessimist: Patiently bides his time and stays out of the way in the early going, then becomes the starter when the Bears open 1-7 and is totally overwhelmed and gets his brains beat in — just as Cutler predicted.
Optimist: Determined to prove his doubters wrong, White plays all 16 games, plus the playoffs, and emerges as a big-play receiver who opens things up for other players and develops into a well-spoken, face-of-the-franchise leader the team desperately needs.
Pessimist: Gets hurt by Week 5 and never is heard from again.
Optimist: Has the breakout season many expected and is perfectly utilized by Vic Fangio to become an unblockable force from all over the field and finishes with 15 sacks and a Pro Bowl berth.
Pessimist: Is day-to-day all season with various injuries, flashes here and there, teases his immense potential and finishes with 5.5 sacks — fewer sacks than he had as a rookie.
Vic Fangio’s defense
Optimist: It all comes together in Fangio’s third season, as Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman have breakout seasons, the linebacker group elicits comparisons to the Dome Patrol and a potent front seven turns the much maligned secondary into a takeaway machine.
Pessimist: Fangio’s patience with inconsistent, underachieving and oft-injured players finally wears out, he locks horns with Fox on personnel decisions, the defense implodes under the weight of the dissension and Fangio heads out of town.
Dowell Loggains’ offense
Optimist: The end of the Cutler era proves to be a breath of fresh air as an efficient and risk-averse Glennon has a mid-90s passer rating, Charles Leno and Bobby Massie have career years, Jordan Howard rushes for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns and Adam Shaheen is a revelation.
Pessimist: The loss of Cutler and Jeffery proves too much to overcome. With no real threats in the passing game, Howard is a marked man, Glennon is in over his head and Trubisky never sees the field.
Optimist: The rookie tight end from Ashland makes Pace look like a genius, creating matchup nightmares and drawing comparisons to Rob Gronkowski with 60-plus catches for 1,000-plus yards and eight or more touchdowns.
Pessimist: The learning curve proves problematic as Shaheen struggles with the nuances of the NFL game and the only quarterback who can get him the ball doesn’t see the field.
Optimist: With a head start as the No. 1 running back from Day 1, Howard is even better in his second season, rushing for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns, with increased production in the passing game. He’s a 24-year-old Matt Forte.
Pessimist: A marked man from the start, Howard struggles behind an inconsistent offensive line, becomes part of a running-back-by-committee rotation and his numbers drop across the board. He’s a 24-year-old Mike Anderson.
Optimist: The Bears reap the benefits of acknowledging an acute problem and have the fewest missed games from their starters since 2010, when 19 players started 13 or more games. White, Goldman, Floyd, Kyle Long and Pernell McPhee play in all 16.
Pessimist: The harder the Bears try to prevent injuries, the worse their luck gets. Trevathan starts the year on PUP, McPhee’s health is more problematic, Long isn’t the same player and Josh Sitton shows the wear and tear of 10 NFL seasons. And another spate of concussions prevents the Bears from getting any continuity on either side of the ball.
Optimist: After two disappointing seasons, it turns out the old-school, stuck-in-his-ways, media-loathing Fox hasn’t lost his touch. Veteran and young players alike respond to his players-pal approach, the Bears make an improbable run at playoff contention and Foxy becomes Chicago’s favorite uncle.
Pessimist: The jig is up as Fox is unable to repeat his early success in Carolina and Denver and it becomes clear that today’s NFL players don’t respond to his old-school, fist-bumping, players-pal approach like they used to. After another 3-13 season, Foxy becomes Chicago’s favorite punching bag, and he is fired less than 24 hours after the season finale.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.
Email: mpotash @suntimes.com