Predicting results of NFL games when the season is five months away is a difficult, but always entertaining chore.
The draft is less than a week away and rosters won’t be finalized for months. So much can happen between now and when the season kicks off in September. However, the annual revealing of the NFL’s schedule allows fans to dream on the slightest glimmer of optimism for the season to come. Bears fans are no exception.
Chicago’s football team hasn’t finished a season with a winning record since 2012 and has had three straight seasons with 10 losses or more. The rebuilding Bears had a curious offseason in which they spent free agency making high-priced, short-term commitments to players they could plug in as starters right away. Quarterback Mike Glennon, wide receivers Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton, cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper, and safety Quintin Demps were among the team’s most notable acquisitions. Because of the nature of their deals, many of the Bears will be looking to perform their best, if only because they’re also playing for the other 31 teams who could ink them next offseason.
With that said, this Bears team could overachieve and do something it hasn’t done since 2013, and that’s finish the season with an 8-8 record (or, hey, maybe even a winning record!). Let it be said that mediocrity shouldn’t be a goal, but a five-game improvement could show the kind of progress that hasn’t been seen in Chicago since Lovie Smith was patrolling the sidelines, and perhaps it buys the Ryan Pace rebuilding program another year or two, when the fruits might really come.
It won’t be easy, but it’s not totally impossible. The Bears will need a lot of breaks to go their way, some players to continue with their development, and others who perform better than anyone could have imagined. While this is not a prediction, the following is a road map to beating some low expectations, and winning eight games.
Win #1: Vikings on Monday Night Football in Week 5
After opening up against offenses led by Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers, the Bears get a bit of a breather when Sam Bradford and the Vikings come to town. Remember when the Vikings started off 5-0? Well, they finished 3-8 as they stumbled to a .500 record. Each of the Bears’ last four wins in this series have come at Soldier Field. In fact, Chicago has won eight of the last nine games played at Soldier Field against the Vikings. The team has also won each of the last three games it has played against Minnesota on Monday Night Football.
Win #2: Bears pounce on Panthers for surprising victory in Week 7
If the Bears are going to get to 8 wins, they’ll need a win that comes from nowhere. That might come against a team like the Carolina Panthers. Carolina is a year removed from a Super Bowl appearance but has lost some key players since the team’s epic 15-1 run. The constant has been quarterback Cam Newton, who unfortunately had to undergo offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder. He’ll be back and ready for the 2017 season, but who knows what kind of shape his arm will be in when Week 7 rolls around.
Win #3: Ryan Pace wins a homecoming game against the Saints in Week 8
There is no doubt the New Orleans has the quarterbacking edge with Drew Brees, and likely has a leg up at head coach with Sean Payton. And yet, the Saints’ defense is such a drag. New Orleans allowed the second most points and sixth most total yards in 2016. This could be the game where Mike Glennon breaks out if last year’s trends hold true. New Orleans allowed the most passing yards (4,380; 273.8 per game) in the NFL in 2016. Glennon is just 1-5 as a starter indoors, but has a 91.8 passer rating and a 9-2 touchdown-interception ratio. On the surface, it looks like a recipe for a mild upset.
Win #4: A home win against the Lions in Week 11
The best game Mike Glennon has ever played came against the Lions on Nov. 24, 2013. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 24-21 Buccaneers win. Detroit came to Chicago and took a loss in Week 4 in 2016, so perhaps snatching a win there isn’t as far-fetched as previously imagined. Quarterback Matthew Stafford owns an 83.7 passer rating in 14 career games against the Bears and played poorly last year with a 60.5 rating, 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions.
Win #5: Alshon Jeffery doesn’t get revenge as Bears take down the Eagles in Week 12
The Eagles could be a sneaky good team in 2017. They ranked in the top half of the league in yards and points allowed per game, and finished 16th in the 32-team league in points scored. But if the Bears want to get to 8 wins, this is one they’ll need to win. Philadelphia is 2-6 in November games played over the last two seasons, including 1-3 in home games. A moderate upset keeps this trend going in the City of Brotherly Love.
Win #6: San Francisco’s treat is the Chicago’s third consecutive win in Week 13
Jordan Howard set a career high with 32 carries the last time these two teams met, and it would be nice to see him get near that total again. The 49ers were abysmal defensively in 2016, allowing a league-worst 480 points with 165.9 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry also ranking at the bottom. The Bears’ third consecutive win comes against whichever ex-Bears quarterback starts for Kyle Shanahan’s team; whether it’s Brian Hoyer or Matt Barkley remains to be seen.
Win #7: Bears win a game between teams that have been perennial disappointments in Week 16
Odds are the Week 16 matchup between the Bears and Browns has implications for the top overall pick. But since we’re painting with an optimistic brush here, let’s just say the Bears get a slight edge with home-field advantage in this contest. Besides, only one team allowed more rushing yards per game (142.7) than the Browns – and it was the 49ers.
Win #8: Vikings in the season finale in Week 17
In a season of surprises, why wouldn’t 2017 end with a season sweep of the Vikings? Minnesota ranked in the bottom 10 in several important categories including scoring, average yards per game, rush yards per game, total first downs, and in the bottom half of third down conversions. That 5-0 start is nothing but a distant memory at this point.
Jordan Howard had his two biggest rushing games against the Vikings in 2016, going for 153 yards in the Monday Night win on Halloween and 135 in the season finale on the road. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry against Minnesota as a rookie, so why not go for a 6.0 average in Year 2?
There you have it. An optimistic take on the Bears’ 2017 schedule, netting them a five-win improvement over 2016, and a definitionally average season at 8-8.