2016 Bears Preview: Three Degrees of Approximation

2016 Bears Preview: Three Degrees of Approximation
Quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears stands on the field prior to a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns on September 1, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Chicago won 21-7. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Written by Joe Tidei/Special to Bears Backer

Variable change is the hardest part of season projections. How do you account for everything in terms of health, opponent performance, individual performance and just pure luck?

Unforeseen variables will always have an impact on the season. This is why my season preview is broken down into three categories; optimism, pessimism, realism.

Optimistic: The Bears aren’t Super Bowl contenders this season, but the roster has proven impact players on both sides of the ball that can help cover weaknesses.

The roster consists of a top-15 quarterback, a talented wide receiver group, a dangerous pass catching tight end, a strong interior offensive line and a versatile front-7.

On paper, the Bears match up with most teams and they have a coaching staff that maximizes talent. Just look back at last season and how competitive they were outside the first three weeks.

11 of their 16 games were decided by a touchdown or less and this was against a tough schedule. Nine of those games were against teams who went to the playoffs.

The Bears 2016 opponents will be different. They face two of the weakest divisions; the NFC East and AFC South. NFL.com has them with the second easiest schedule.

They stay healthy at their most important positions, take advantage of a softer schedule and win most of the close games they lost in 2015. The Bears also benefit from some luck within the NFC North.

Prediction: 10-6, 2nd place in the North (Playoffs – Wild Card)

Pessimistic: The most important variable of the Bears’ season is health, which is concerning because the roster lacks depth.

The Bears can afford some injuries. They just can’t happen to their best players or they’re in trouble. The sobering outlook is that the players they can least afford to lose have both past and present injury history.

Alshon Jeffery missed 7 games in 2015, Jay Cutler hasn’t played a full 16-game season since joining the Bears in 2009, Kyle Long is reportedly battling a labrum issue and Zach Miller has an injury history.

The other injury concern is Pernell McPhee who is on PUP list and is out until Week 7.

Closing and winning tight games is also a big question mark.

The Bears lost close games in a myriad of ways last season; missing field goals, blowing coverages, not making plays on jump balls, dropping catchable passes and missing blocks. They were often their own worst enemy.

Pace and Fox also released the all-time scoring leader, Robbie Gould, and replaced him with Connor Barth. Barth has good numbers up to 40 yards, but Gould is better from 50 plus and Barth has to get used to kicking at Soldier Field.

Injuries pile up with key players, McPhee’s knee doesn’t respond positively and the team fails to make big plays in deciding moments. The season slides off the rails quickly and the Bears are unable to recover.

Prediction: 6-10, 3rd place in the NFC North

Realistic: As with anything else, scenarios exist at both ends of the spectrum and reality turns out to be somewhere in the middle. The optimistic and pessimistic angles need to be explored because each possesses likely outcomes, but best and worst case usually don’t play out to their extremes.

The result usually ends up being a balance of everything.

The Bears have limited upside because they have holes on their roster, they have health question marks and they lack depth, but they also have a high floor because they have talent, the schedule is easier and they have one of the best coaching staffs in the league.

John Fox’s teams always improve in year two and this team will make a jump forward. It just won’t be as significant as hey did in Carolina and Denver.

The arrow is pointing up, but the Bears are still a year away from contention and they battle some injuries to key players in 2016.

Prediction: 9-7, T-2nd in the NFC North, just missing the final Wild Card spot.

Author’s note: Joe is an associate producer at CSN Chicago. Give him a follow on Twitter @Joe_Tidei. He talks Chicago sports all day every day.

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