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Optimism? Pessimism? I dunno, let's look at numbers

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For the 12th time in the 16-game era, the Bears have started a season 2-3. But what does it MEAN? One writer looks hard at the numbers to figure it out, with a little help from the Cubs, Wrigley Field and a goat-exorcising man-on-the-street.

Matt Forte jumps for joy in anticipation of reading the stats compiled for this article.
Matt Forte jumps for joy in anticipation of reading the stats compiled for this article.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

"So, how are we feeling today?"

The question was posed to me Tuesday morning by my colleague Brian, less than 12 hours after the Cubs pounded their way to a 2-1 series lead over St. Louis, with Game 4 set to pop that evening.

But this was Brian's first day back at work since a week-long vacation, meaning we hadn't talked Bears the day before, Monday, like we normally do.

Therefore I wasn't totally sure if we was asking me about the Cubs, up 2-1, or the Bears, 2-3 and riding two straight wins.

I answered vaguely.

"We've got a long way to go."

And we do. The Cubs, of course, exposed the Cardinals as the posers we all knew they were (100 wins? meh) while the Bears have only played five games in a regular season that is rarely settled until the FINAL five games. A long way, indeed. No reason to get too excited about a 2-3 record...

...unless of course the two wins were fourth-quarter comebacks led by your recently he's-injured-again? starting quarterback, one of two ways in which the Bears made a certain kind of history last weekend. Our friends at chicagobears.com pointed out that the team's back-to-back wins decided in the final minute of regulation were the Bears' first such streak since November 1962, when we knocked off Minnesota 31-30 at home and then won in Dallas 34-33, both on field goals.

That home win vs. the Vikings was played, of course, at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs made history this week by clinching a playoff series there for the first time ever.

Unbeknownst to most, the Bears made history too when they beat the Raiders and the Chiefs.

For the first time in the 16-game era, which began in 1978, the Bears started 0-3 and then won two straight. Carrying along with that trend, if we beat the winless Lions Sunday, we'll be back at .500, having wiped out a season start that, historically at least, is our death sentence.

Only twice in the team's 96-year history have the Bears started 0-3 and then won three straight. In 1965 we started 0-3, won our next four and nine of 10, the final win coming in the Gale Sayers Game vs. San Francisco, when the rookie scored six touchdowns.

With a chance to make the playoffs, we ran out of luck, losing the regular-season finale to finish 9-5, behind the 10-3-1 Packers and Colts, who duked out a one-game playoff to face the champion Browns of the league's other division.

The other 0-3-turned-3-3 start was ten years earlier in 1955, when we ripped off a six-game winning streak, dropped a killer to our crosstown-rival Cardinals 53-14 and won the season's final two games to finish 8-4, a half game behind the L.A. Rams, whom we'd beaten earlier and hence against whom we owned the tie-breaker.

I don't know how much you can learn about a 2015 Bears team by looking at squads from 50 and 60 years earlier, respectively, so let's take another look at history, more recent and more pertinent: 2-3 starts in the 16-game era.

This is the 12th time its happened, but one of those was during the 1982 strike, when we lost two games in September and didn't play again until November.

That leaves us with a sample size of 10 seasons. I look at this sort of history to help modulate my own reaction to something like, say, knocking off the Raiders and Chiefs in consecutive weeks and feeling like you just won the NLDS.

First the good news.

Twice since 1978, the Bears started 2-3 and made the playoffs. In 1979 we started 2-0, lost three straight and five of six, and then went 7-1 in the second half to earn a wild card. In 2005 we started 1-3, but the win that got us to 2-3 was the first of eight straight, our second-longest post-1977 winning streak after the 12-0 start in 1985.

That's the upside for a 2-3 Bears start.

On the other hand, our season could hypothetically be as bad as 2002, when we started 2-0 on relatively fluky wins, blew a 20-0 lead on the Saints in Week 3, lost that game by six and went on to lose the next seven plus 12 of our final 14.

So there's a pendulum and, ya know, it swings.

More realistically, we'll finish either 7-9 or 8-8, something we did in five of those 10 post-'77 2-3 seasons.

But nuts to that, right? "One game at a time," "Any given Sunday," "Don't worry, it's the Lions" -- any number of NFL cliches are in play this weekend. We smack around Detroit, get a bye, and boom, new season.

My colleague Sunderbruch has a two-part breakdown on the realities of "rebuilding," a term John Fox does not believe in, at least not with this Bears team. They are, he says, simply "building." Theo Epstein felt the same way, and look where they are.

The Bears are too far away from knowing if we're already in the midst of a long-term Epsteinian turnaround, meaning for now we have to enjoy this Bears team week to week. Flip it on and hope for the best, and we'll leave the rest to Pace and company.

Tuesday night, about an hour after the Cubs clinched, I was walking home when I passed a man and woman in their 60s. The man was wearing a Bears sweatshirt. I was still in work attire, yet he looked at me and sensed fandom.

"The Cubs," he began in slow, measured English, each word moving through a thick Hispanic accent. "Win?"

"Win!" I exclaimed.

The woman smiled as the man clapped his hands. "Ah yes, win win win," he said.

"You thought they would?" I asked.

"Why not?" he said. "I told my friends, 'This year, no more goat.' They laughed and said, 'No, it's always the same.' They thought the same, the same. But I said no!" he declared, almost as a protest against the baseball Gods. "I said 2015, this is different."

He smiled again, said, "No more goat," and we said goodbye as they turned and I kept walking straight.

Whether the NLCS or a 2-3 Bears teams, I'm with you, old man. No more goat.