The 2015 Chicago Bears had, by most measures, a decent offense. Football Outsiders ranked them 10th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), and Sporting Charts also lists them as tenth in scoring drive efficiency (with 37.4% of their drives ending in a score). They were sixth in the NFL in third-down efficiency, and even against divisional opponents they had three games where they outperformed the ‘average' points per game allowed. There are individual weaknesses here and there, but the offense was still the strongest unit on the team.
Unfortunately, all of that matters less for the 2016 season than usual. Adam Gase has been replaced by Dowell Loggains, Dowell Loggains has been replaced by Dave Ragone, and judging tendencies in play-calling by looking at Washington last year or at the Titans of 2013 would require so many adjustments and so much guesswork that a crystal ball might be involved.
More importantly, Matt Forte might or might not be back. He was responsible for nearly 1300 yards from scrimmage this season, and to say that he has been an anchor of the Bears defense since he was drafted is an understatement. If he's not back, it is possible that Langford or one of the others could step into a similar role, but fans are fooling themselves if they think that his absence would go unnoticed. For example, while Forte's value in the rushing game (+12.1% DVOA) similar to Langford's (+12.2%), his value in the receiving game (+23.1%) is far beyond what Langford offers (-6.7%). Of course, even if Forte is brought back, he will be only one familiar point of reference.
There is also the curious case of Alshon Jeffery. In only nine appearances he racked up over 800 yards, and he averaged nearly 15 yards per reception. If he isn't around in 2016, that's going to be a lot of production to replace. If he is still in Chicago, fans have to be wondering how many games he is going to be active for and how much each of those games might cost the Bears. The three top-payed wide receivers (by total contract value) are Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, and Dez Bryant. Those are exceptional players. They might even be worth what they are paid. In fact, they are much better players than Jeffery. For 2015, Jeffery was 15th in yards per reception, his DVOA was +4.1% (good for 42nd of 87 receivers with at least 50 passes), and his 57% catch rate places him fourth...on the Bears.
Finally, there is Kevin White. If you know what Kevin White is going to be, please let me know. I think we all know what we hope he is going to be, but even without his injury there was reason to be cautious about any optimism. Even if he turns into a dynamic playmaker who can stay healthy, that will still be a change for the Bears receiving corps—albeit a positive one.
Add in the free agent status of Mariani, Miller, and Rodgers and there is a lot of flux on this team. Even still, there are some predictions we can make.
First, next year Cutler is going have a greater percentage of his passes intercepted. That is not an attack on Cutler. However, Cutler's interception percentage (2.3%) was actually below the average of quarterbacks in the NFL (2.68%). So even if Jay just gravitates back toward the average, the number of picks he throws is likely to go up slightly. If he regresses into his worst form, then the number of picks he throws will go up even more.
Second, Cutler will find a way to work with whoever takes the field with him. The 2015 season should serve as a wakeup call for people who want to believe that Jay only plays well when he has elite talent around him. Jeffery missed 7 games, Bennett missed 5 games, and Forte missed 3 games. In fact, the Bears were missing at least one of these three players in all six of their wins, and they only had all three together three times. Other weapons missed starts or playing time as well. This did not hold Cutler back too much, however, because in only one of his best eight games as a passer this season (as measured by passer rating) did he have all three in place. It is popular to say that Cutler needs good receivers around him in order to succeed. However true that might be, "good" seems to be enough—he does not need great players.
Previously, I pointed out that Cutler seems to make his tight ends better. It seems like he brings the best out of some of his receivers, as well. Eddie Royal had his best two years as a receiver in terms of catch rate and receptions per game while playing with Cutler (one in Denver and one in Chicago). The same is true of Marc Mariani. Does this mean Cutler elevates all those around him? Not necessarily. However, it does mean that while 2009 Jay Cutler needed better receivers than those he was given, 2016 Cutler probably isn't going to need Pro Bowlers with him to win.
Third, the offense will need help. In raw points per game allowed, the 2015 Chicago Bears ranked 20th. In terms of how they did once their opposition was taken into consideration, the defense was 31st in DVOA. In 2014, the Bears were 31st and 28th, respectively. Unless there is notable improvement on defense, this means that the offense will be in the position of playing from behind more often than not.
It is possible that 2016 will see Jay using Kevin White, Khari Lee, and Jeremy Langford as his primary weapons. If that's the case, it will be an interesting test of the touted chemistry between Cutler and Loggains.