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Mark Potash: Bears’ first-half analysis, second-half predictions

Halfway through the Bears’ 16-game schedule, Sun-Times Bears reporter Mark Potash breaks down the first half of the season and makes predictions for the rest of the way.

Mitch Trubisky has been …

Good enough. When a quarterback describes himself as a “rep person,” it’s going to take time for those reps to accumulate — in practice and games — for Trubisky to develop. Still too early to tell if he’s Jared Goff or Blake Bortles, but he’s making acceptable progress.

Matt Nagy has been …

Bears coach Matt Nagy talks to quarterback Mitch Trubisky before a game against Jets. | Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Bears coach Matt Nagy talks to quarterback Mitch Trubisky before a game against Jets. | Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

In control. Nagy has a steady hand, doesn’t get rattled, doesn’t act like he’s the smartest guy in the room and seems to learn from his mistakes — like sitting Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson after playing both against the Patriots. 

First-half MVP …

Defensive end Akiem Hicks. Every time the bar has been raised — when he arrived from New England, after he signed a contract extension, and after he didn’t make the Pro Bowl last year — Hicks has continued to clear it. Makes an impact on almost every snap.

Biggest surprise …

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. How often have the Bears brought in a complementary receiver from a productive offense only to see him wither with greater responsibility here? In an offense learning to stand on its feet, Gabriel has been better than expected, with a lot of room for growth.

Biggest disappointment ….

Almost a minor quibble on a team that has had a solid first half, but special teams have not made the progress the other two phases have made. Cody Parkey missed a key field goal against the Dolphins; Cordarrelle Patterson’s 95-yard kickoff return touchdown; Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt. But still better than last season.

• Adam L. Jahns: Bears’ first-half analysis, second-half predictions
• Patrick Finley: Bears’ first-half analysis, second-half predictions

The largest question remaining …

Can the Bears stay healthy through the final eight weeks of the season — especially with no heal-up bye week? Trubisky’s development still is the biggest on-field issue with the Bears, but injuries often tell the tale in the NFL, especially in the second half. The Bears have good balance and showed they can dominate average or worse teams without Khalil Mack. Even Kyle Long’s injury looks like a hold the offensive line can fill.  But their margin for error still is small and their depth is questionable.

One bold prediction …

The offense will have a better second half than the defense. Good opponents can neutralize the Bears’ defense and force them to paint-by-numbers to get the job done. But this offense has the opportunity for significant growth as Trubisky develops, the many moving parts of a maturing offense come together and Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich find a way to better incorporate the running game.

Projected final record …

10-6. While the Bears still have a long way to go, this team seems  more likely to break through rather than hit the wall, especially with neither the Packers nor the Vikings running away with anything. Playoffs? The Bears are going to have to win the close ones to pull that off.