The Chicago Bears are a team in serious need of some added audacity.
Since the end of Mike Ditka’s memorable tenure, the team has been left to meander around the ranks of mediocrity for much of the last two decades.
The Bears often avoid bottom-feeder status, but they’re even less frequently placed in the conversation of top-tier teams in any given year.
For all their pride, their big names and their so-called winning legacy, the Bears can only claim three playoff victories in the 21st century. That’s worse than a number of current atrocities, including the Raiders (4), Cardinals (4) and Jets (6).
Windy City faithful may believe that Marc Trestman can give Jay Cutler a swift kick in the tail and engineer a long-awaited offensive turnaround, but the fact remains that nearly all new coaches face transitional issues in year one.
What Trestman is likely to provide for his eager new city is an identity, and for a franchise that has spent the last eight years cowering behind one-dimensional product, an identity is more than just a placeholder prize. Just what that identity entails will be unraveled with the passage of time. As of now, the organization continues to set their sight line upon the highest pinnacle of gridiron glory, and the roster is certainly deep enough to justify Super Bowl aspirations.
On that basis, here’s to Chicago staking a definitive claim in the league this season, whether it be for excellence or ineptitude. Fans are likely to accept a 4-12 disaster just as easily as they would another heartbreaking .500 finish at this point.
Now on to the main event - Bold Predictions: Bears Edition. All claims are unlikely to happen by nature, and if none happen to occur then all is certainly not lost. But each successful prediction means a slight decrease in the odds of another season spent dreadfully hovering around the mendoza line.
1. Brandon Marshall leads the league in receiving.
In some respects, this prediction isn’t very bold at all. There are really only three serious competitors (A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, and Calvin Johnson for those unaware of the big four receivers) besides Marshall who are capable of securing this year’s receiving crown, and only Johnson is head-and-shoulders above the level of the others.
Megatron will have to contend with the emergence of second-year wideout Ryan Broyles as well as receiving back Reggie Bush and a healthy Nate Burleson in vying for Matthew Stafford’s attention. The Lions will want to share the sugar in better in 2013 than they did in 2012 if they hope to become anything more than a travelling, one receiver circus.
If Johnson somehow steps out of the picture, the chops become far more favorable for Jay Cutler’s closest confidant. Green has yet to top Marshall in receiving yards and Bryant goes hot and cold on the field more than Katy Perry does on the radio each season.
The offense may be changing, but Cutler’s ideologies have proved almost impossible to change. Look for him to send a weekly barrage in Marshall’s direction, similar to 2012, and watch as the receiver put up familiarly gaudy receiving totals.
2. Matt Forte falls short of 900 yards rushing.
Forte is perhaps the most perennially overrated Bear, mostly due to the fact that he’s been the longest tenured weapon in a historically depleted offense. He has failed to reach 1,000 yards rushing twice since his rookie year and sports a pedestrian 4.2 yards per carry for his career.
Granted, that leaves out the sizeable chunk of passing production that Forte brings to the table, and that role should only grow under Trestman, who has a history of involving his backfield in the short passing game.
With the healthy return of contact-running backup Michael Bush (he played through a cracked collarbone even before he injured his ribs late in the season) and an added emphasis to the passing game, Forte’s 250 carries from 2012 are a far cry from what he’ll see in this season. A career high in receiving yards for Forte isn’t out of the question; neither is a career low in rushing.
3. Brian Urlacher talks return, intriguing no one.
The media unearthed a late-emerging gem in Urlacher, who spent much of the early offseason assigning blame to his former team and touting his physical prospects after more than a decade of relative silence. Urlacher’s saga ended with a sudden retirement in May, and although the reasons behind his rapid change of heart aren’t entirely clear, it is believed that he was unable to swallow his pride after receiving offers that equated to peanuts for a long-time star.
Urlacher is set to call games from a chair at the Fox Sports 1 studio next season, as opposed to his longtime role at the heart of the Bears’ defense. Worry not, sports fans, number 54’s penchant for attention is unlikely to cease just because he’s no longer part of the main event.
In a sort of full circle move, I’m calling that Urlacher makes reference to a renewed desire to strap on the pads for his old team. Sports bars would be set temporarily ablaze with debate in the case of such an event, but the organization would hardly bat an eye.
Neither general manager Phil Emery nor Marc Trestman are linked to Urlacher’s golden days, and the hard line that was set forth during Urlacher’s contract negotiations only serves as validation. Brian Urlacher can and will use his new role in the booth to talk about a return to glory, but that doesn’t mean that anyone should care to listen.
4. Corey Wootton leads the team in sacks.
There’s no denying that the Northwestern product has shown flashes of brilliance in his limited time on the field. Wootton recorded seven sacks last season, his first campaign that wasn’t hampered by ongoing injury.
That sack total was good for second on the team for the Northwestern product, who wreaked havoc as the second man up in a rotation that tended to feature Israel Idonije.
With Izzy inked to play in the Motor City and potential competitor Shea McClellin still experiencing adjustment issues, Wootton should garner more playing time than ever.
Julius Peppers is still a monster in nearly every respect of the word, but 33 years of age and 12 years of NFL service rarely translate to 16 games’ worth of dominance. If Wootton can stay in prime condition, he’ll pile up quarterback sacks quicker than IHOP does pancakes.
5. Marc Trestman engineers a top ten offense.
This would, of course, break the unwritten rule that says dominant offense isn’t allowed in the Land of Lincoln. The Bears winning games on without the help of special teams and takaways registers only slightly above the Cubs taking home a World Series title on the in-your-dreams scale, but the offseason is precisely the time to make outlandish claims and rationalize how they can come to fruition.
In this case, it’s the load of raw talent on the offensive side of the ball coupled with Trestman’s expertise that help make this dream at least somewhat attainable. Brandon Marshall is a top five receiver and Matt Forte is a borderline top ten running back.
Jay Cutler has Pro Bowl upside and Jermon Bushrod has been to the game twice himself. Alshon Jeffery has shown flashes of dominance and Martellus Bennett is one of the more complete tight ends in the league. The quality pieces are lying in a jumble, awaiting proper assembly. Make it happen, Marc.
6.The Chicago Bears spite their rivals and hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
If Super Bowl victory isn’t mentioned at one point or another, how bold can the predictions truly be? For a second, ignore the countless twists and turns that shape any champion’s road to success and realize that perhaps, on the surface, the Bears have what it takes to bring a championship back to the Windy City.
Yes, such a course of events is unlikely even for the predicted frontrunners in any given season, and the Bears are a fringe contender at best, but prospects hardly dismal. Every day, Bears fans can wake up thankful that they aren’t stuck supporting the Jaguars, Raiders or Jets.
Tim Tebow is safely tucked away on the East Coast, and the team has yet to sustain any serious injuries to key players. All that Chicago can do for now is to appreciate the small favors, and hope that they eventually add up to a larger result.