The NFL schedules are officially out. Last week’s announcement prompted predictions from everyone including ESPN journalists and the guy who sits two cubicles down from you. Most experts pegged the Bears as having a lackluster first year in the Poles-Eberflus era but few seem to appreciate how much things have already improved in Chicago. Will the Bears compete for a Super Bowl? No. Will they disappoint fans in a soul-crushing fashion? It’s quite possible. Still, here are four reasons to hold the line.
The problems in 2021 began with Ryan Pace releasing All-Pro CB Kyle Fuller. Cutting Fuller to save $11 million only to turn around and pay Andy Dalton $10 million was a quick move to make both sides of the ball worse. Despite Jaylon Johnson’s best efforts, opposing quarterbacks teed off on the secondary every week. Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker serve to close the flood gates and repair an urgent need on defense. These two draft picks alone, though controversial, will represent an upgrade in the secondary and address one problem from 2021.
Khalil Mack’s departure seemed to represent the final nail in the coffin of a 2018 rerun. I would have liked to see more of a return than two draft picks, but star players can only make magic happen when they are on the field. Mack spent much of 2021 on the sidelines alongside other high-earning, injury-riddled teammates.
On paper, the 2021 roster looks better, but key players like Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Tarik Cohen could not play. Pair the motley crew of backups with the league’s third-toughest schedule and you get a dreadful 6-11 record.
Poles’ decision to part ways with fan-favorites will hopefully set up the future, but it may not have an immediate negative impact. A healthy, active Dominique Robinson is more effective than Khalil Mack on the IR, especially with an easier schedule.
This one is simple. Last year’s team was a mess and managed to eke out six wins, including one against the AFC champions. This season, the Bears take on Detroit twice along with the Giants, Jets, Falcons, Texans, Commanders, and Eagles. Chicago’s opponents’ combined win percentage from last season is below .500 despite including the Packers, Bills, and Cowboys. If the Bears can split the series with the Vikings and find an upset or two, we could be looking at a 10-win season.
System built for Fields, not Dalton
Finally, this is Justin’s team. Yes, signing Dalton meant Chicago couldn’t afford Fuller, but the move also devasted the offense’s potential. Matt Nagy designed a playbook around Dalton and tried to plug in Fields when the pressure was too intense. There could have been a section in this blog devoted to Nagy’s missteps and why his leaving is an upgrade, but I have a word limit. With a commitment to Justin Fields and an offense that is conducive to his success, we will finally get to see what he can do.
The Bears are still multiple offseason moves away from compiling a championship-caliber team, but last year should be easy to beat. With some new blood and a Mickey Mouse schedule, 2022 could be tolerable.