A quick Google search will tell you how bad I am at NFL preseason predictions. Parity has something to do with it, as there are very few sure things in football these days … unless you’re a Raiders fan this season. Sorry.
Fortunately for Bears fans, the forecast doesn’t seem too gloomy. Sure, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered about Marc Trestman’s ability to lead an NFL team, the enigma that has been Jay Cutler’s career, how the defense fares without Brian Urlacher and with its three stars on the wrong side of 30. Despite all that, this is still a team that went 10-6 last season and upgraded its worst unit, the offensive line.
The ceiling for this team is as high as Trestman and Cutler can take them. The floor is not too low – barring an injury to Cutler. There’s simply too much firepower for this club to completely regress, but missing the playoffs is certainly a possibility, especially with a tough schedule.
The offense clicks in Trestman’s scheme. He gets the best out of Cutler, who has a career year in the new offense and earns a lucrative, long-term contract before the season ends. The new-look offensive line finally shows stability, including a great rookie campaign by guard Kyle Long, and Matt Forte and Michael Bush spearhead a top-10 rushing attack.
On defense, the unit doesn’t skip a beat with Mel Tucker in charge, as Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings pick up where they left off in the turnover category. Henry Melton and Corey Wootton, both in contract years, rack up big sack numbers, and Lance Briggs’ new linebacking group gels. Rookie Jon Bostic eventually takes over as a starter and has a big season as the new middle linebacker. The Bears finish 12-4, win the NFC North and, in the least, return to the NFC title game, where they’d likely face the 49ers or Seahawks.
Trestman and Aaron Kromer’s new offense does not mesh with Cutler and the rest of the holdovers. Forte gets hurt again and has to miss time, hampering the rushing attack. The new O-line doesn’t appear much better than last year, resulting in Cutler hitting the dirt often. Cutler has another inconsistent season and enters 2014 without a new contract, forcing the Bears to start over at the position in April.
The defense takes a step back, with age finally catching up to Briggs, Tillman and Julius Peppers. The new players – Bostic, D.J. Williams and James Anderson – are a far cry from Urlacher and Lance Briggs. The safety combination of Major Wright and Chris Conte gets abused often by opposing quarterbacks. With a brutal schedule, the Bears fall to 5-11 in Trestman’s first campaign.
• Kevin Fishbain covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.