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Patrick Finley: Answering the Bears’ biggest questions before the 2018 season

The Bears feel like a different franchise.

After an offseason in which they (deep breath) replaced head coach John Fox with Matt Nagy; signed three starting pass-catchers; drafted a starting inside linebacker, then dug in for a 29-day standoff with him; played five preseason games; and finally, traded for Khalil Mack and paid him the most money of any defender, ever, it’s finally game week.

How will the Bears fare? Sun-Times’ Bears expert Patrick Finley weighs in:

The Bears’ trade for Khalil Mack proved …

That, after refusing to use the word “rebuild” for three years, the Bears think they can be good now. You don’t guarantee a player $90 million otherwise. It might be a self-fulfilling prophecy — the mood at Halas Hall the last few days has been buoyant. Matt Nagy looks like he won the lottery.

Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky faces Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the first time. | David Zalubowski, AP photo

Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky faces Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the first time. | David Zalubowski, AP photo

Khalil Mack will be worth it if …

He stays healthy. A franchise that struggled recently to keep its best players upright must be praying that Mack, who has never missed a game due to a medical issue, keeps his streak alive. A catastrophic injury is the only way the Bears lose this trade.

Matt Nagy’s biggest impact will be …

He was hired to put Mitch Trubisky in the best position to succeed. But he’ll also make the Bears exciting to watch by dragging its offense into the 21st century. In the last 16 years — spanning four coaches — the Bears have finished in the top half of the league in scoring only four times. Chicago loves its defense, but touchdowns are fun.

Mitch Trubisky’s passer rating will be …

Beside the point — at least early in the season. Nagy has been quick to temper expectations for his second-year quarterback. Alex Smith, who had eight years of experience before joining the Chiefs in 2013, took two-and-a-half years before feeling “completely comfortable” Nagy’s offense, the coach said.  It’s fair to demand progress, but don’t expect mastery.

Roquan Smith will start …

Fourteen games. I don’t expect him to Week 1— and if Nick Kwiatkoski plays well, he might earn another nod — but Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will be creative in getting his best players on the field.

Biggest upgrade from 2017…

Kendall Wright, Deonte Thompson and Markus Wheaton — three of the five receivers the Bears kept on cut day last year — wouldn’t have made this year’s team. The Bears paid dearly in dollars and draft capital, but Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller give the team its best trio of receivers since Marc Trestman’s first season.

Biggest downgrade from 2017…

Had they known their playoff window would be accelerated by the Mack trade, the Bears might prefer one year of left guard Josh Sitton — whose $8 million option they declined in March — to Week 1 starter Eric Kush. Also, the orange jerseys are a bit too neon for a franchise that prides itself on toughness. But we’re picking nits.

Projected record:

8-8. Boy, it’s easy to dream on Mack and Smith making a good defense dominant, Nagy unlocking the best from Trubisky and the Bears making the playoffs. But the NFC North is too good, and the Bears’ offense, I think, is still a year away.

Read our other writers’ takes entering Week 1

• Adam Jahns answers the Bears’ biggest questions
• Mark Potash answers the Bears’ biggest questions