Aug 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) is tackled by Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (96) during the first half of the preseason game at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
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Nobody is saying the Chicago Bears are going to the Super Bowl in 2016, but it really is staggering how many respected experts think they will be one of the worst teams in football.
While most local media have come to an agreement that they should hover somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7 after a productive off-season, many on the national circuit aren’t buying it. For reasons they never fully specific outside of generalized opinion, they think this is going to be a bottoming out season. It doesn’t matter that they’re a younger team with a solid coaching staff. Just ask Michael Wilbon of ESPN who summed up his thoughts in a simple phrase.
"The Bears STINK. I think they're a 2-14 team…" #Wilbon 9/6/16 #NFL
That bad, huh? Honestly a lot of Bears fans have taken to social media venting their frustrations over the lack of respect. They can’t understand where it’s coming from. If it’s answers they’re looking for, than this article is going to provide them. These projections aren’t coming out of thin air. Doubters won’t reference exactly why they dismiss the Bears. Sure they’ll list classics like the division is too strong or they just don’t trust Jay Cutler.
Laziness at it’s finest. These are the real reason Chicago isn’t getting the love.
They were 6-10 last year
It always starts with what happened the season before, even if the NFL has shown countless times that it’s never wise to judge a current team on a past one. The Bears finished 6-10 in 2015. That is an undeniable statistic that will remain in the record books forever. Thus experts believe the same team will be taking the field this season and the same or similar result should be expected. Never mind the fact that just five players (Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long, Kyle Fuller and Tracy Porter) are the only returning starters from that team that opened last season.
Jan 3, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) runs off the field after the NFL game against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. The Lions won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Forte is gone
If there is one thing that scares the daylights out of football experts, and just people in general it’s change. People take comfort in what is familiar and when something changes they have to assume it will be for the worse. That is precisely what is happening for the Bears. Among the biggest changes to come their way is the fact they won’t have running back Matt Forte in the lineup for the first time since 2008. A man that was good for over 1,000 yards from scrimmage every year.
For a long time the saying for the Bears offense was, “Yeah everybody else is terrible, but at least they have Forte.” He covered up a lot of the problems, which is why just two Pro Bowls are an insult to his legacy. Now with that security blanket gone, it’s difficult to believe in this offense because there are too many unknowns. Will Alshon Jeffery stay healthy? Will Kevin White be anything? Can Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard handle the load?
It’s too much to warrant anything other than pessimism.
Nov 22, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Jordan Norwood (11) is tackled by Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller (left) and free safety Adrian Amos (right) during the second half at Soldier Field. Denver won 17-15. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The secondary didn’t change
When a group of corners and safeties that managed to produce a total of four interceptions in a full season, it’s little wonder people have sincere doubts about a secondary. Especially when it hasn’t changed at all. Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter, Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey were the four starters at the end of 2015 and are the projected starters for 2016. It’s hard to feel confident in a defense being any better when it has defensive backs that can’t force turnovers.
Never mind the fact the Bears had the 4th ranked pass defense in the league last season. Nor that both Amos and Jones-Quartey were rookies while Fuller was in his second year. They’re not inexperienced and should get better with time. Nope. They’re just bad and it’s going to stay that way until they’re replaced. Such is often the knee-jerk reaction to these problems. Chicago may not have star power in this group, but it’s not a pushover either.
Nov 9, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Chicago Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (92) reacts during the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Pernell McPhee is hurt
Furthering the fear of that secondary is the fact that now the Bears won’t have one of their key pass rushers for at least the first six games of the season. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was placed on the PUP as he continued to recover from knee surgery. During the first half of last season he was almost unblockable at times. During one stretch he had five sacks in five games. However the injury began to sap his effectiveness down the stretch and he eventually landed on IR.
It’s just uncertain whether Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Leonard Floyd can pick up the slack with him out. This doesn’t account for the fact that both Houston and Young finished with more sacks than McPhee did last year. Or what about Eddie Goldman? He had 4.5 sacks as a rookie and has since gained even more quickness after slimming down. Throw in the disruptive Akiem Hicks and explosive rookie Jonathan Bullard and it’s hard to accept that front seven not being able to get pressure.
Aug 11, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Dekoda Watson (57) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback David Fales (12) for a safety during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s face it. The real reason everybody suddenly went south on the Bears after singing their praises in March and April? It was because of their lackluster showings in the preseason. Specifically their two clunker efforts against the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. Combined they were outscored 45-7 (at home), allowed nine total sacks and routinely struggled to get off the field on 3rd down. Teams that play like that aren’t going to win.
Obviously, since the preseason has been such a great barometer for how a team will actually do. For context, remember that the 16-0 New England Patriots were 0-4 in preseason and the 0-16 Detroit Lions were 4-0 in preseason. It’s okay to judge the Bears for not showing up with a little more interest and effort in those games but it can be hard to when they don’t mean anything. They played well against New England and have since improved their biggest problem on the offensive line by adding Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton.
If they want to condemn the Bears for playing bad in preseason (that’s exactly what they’re doing) then it’s their funeral.