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2020 vision: Previewing best-case and worst-case scenarios for Bears

With the schedule officially released, let’s take a look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Bears in 2020.

Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears have released their schedule for the 2020 season, leaving many analysts and fans alike thinking about what could come out of the upcoming year.

In addition to their six divisional matchups, the Bears will be going up against the AFC South and the NFC South, as well as the Giants and the Rams. They start the season off with what appears on paper to be a somewhat easier schedule, but the difficulty seems likely to increase as the season progresses.

With the draft having concluded and the heat of free agency back in the rearview mirror, the Bears probably won’t make any major changes from here on out, barring any additional bargain adds in free agency.

Everybody has produced their own predictions on how the Bears will do in 2020, and while some are optimistic and view them as a playoff team, others are skeptical of them being anything more than mediocre.

There are a handful of valid concerns surrounding the Bears, but there are also some positives that can be taking away from looking at their roster and their schedule heading into the new year. To break down some of those concerns and analyze what could also go right, let’s take a look at what could potentially be worst-case scenarios and best-case scenarios for Chicago in the 2020 season.

Worst-case scenario

The big concerns about the Bears’ offense comes true: a lack of sizable improvements prevents them from improving in 2020.

Regardless of whether they start Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky, they will still be far behind most of the league in the quarterback department. In a pass-first game like the modern NFL, not having a good player at that position can only get you so far. In a doomsday scenario, neither one of them inspire confidence. Trubisky fails to improve and plays poorly enough to get benched, but Foles plays more like his stints in St. Louis, Kansas City and Jacksonville than his stint in Philadelphia and looks more like a mediocre backup than a capable starter. Much of Chicago’s success will rely on even somewhat passable quarterback play, but they fail to even reach that.

While adding Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet at tight end, neither of them make much of an impact. The aging Graham regresses even further, and Kmet fails to produce much in his rookie year, as is the case with many rookie tight ends. The receivers also flounder as a result of poor quarterback play, as Allen Robinson fails to reach the 1,000-yard mark, Anthony Miller ends up getting injured again, and nobody on the roster proves to be a capable starter at the ‘Z’ receiver spot.

The Bears’ decision to not invest heavily in their offensive line this offseason comes back to bite them. Germain Ifedi proves to not be the answer at right guard and is benched, where Rashaad Coward or Alex Bars takes over the starting role and flops, as well. The unit as a whole sees little to no improvement from 2019, struggling in pass protection and continuing to fail to open up holes in the ground game. As a result, David Montgomery fails to improve, his development in his ball-carrier vision stunted and a lack of help up front preventing him from reaching even 800 rushing yards.

Defensively, the Bears are solid, but they don’t do well enough to make up for their offensive struggles. They fail to generate many turnovers, and they get ravaged by injuries.

Danny Trevathan has played in just one 16-game season in his four years with the Bears, and he fails to reach that mark again in 2020. Unlike last year, though, there are no linebackers on the bench who can play as well as Nick Kwiatkoski, or even Kevin Pierre-Louis. Placing an unproven backup in the starting lineup hurts the Bears in run support.

Up front, Akiem Hicks fails to bounce back from his injury woes in 2019. He will turn 31 this season, and as sad as it is to admit it, there is an outside chance that he regresses a bit as he enters the back-half of his career. Coming off of a season which saw him deal with knee and elbow ailments, he has a bit of a down year, limiting the potential of the Bears’ defensive line.

A true nightmare scenario would see Khalil Mack miss most of the year with a serious injury, but a more realistic and tame scenario could see him get hurt late in the season and miss most of the Bears’ divisional play. Though they probably wouldn’t be fighting for a playoff spot late in the year if things go wrong, not having their star defender for crucial divisional matchups would make it much tougher for Chicago to win those games. Robert Quinn doesn’t replicate his 2019 production and struggles a bit in a 3-4 system, as the Bears fail to adjust their scheme to accommodate to his preferences of rushing with his hand in the dirt.

With Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller in the secondary, you’re not going to get a terrible performance out of your defensive backs, but the rest of the unit doesn’t live up to expectations. Jaylon Johnson plays fairly well, but he doesn’t necessary light the world on fire in his rookie year. He makes some rookie mistakes and occasionally struggles against some of the league’s more polished ‘X’ receivers. Tashaun Gipson and Buster Skrine will be 30 and 31 when the 2020 season ends, respectively, and that age catches up to them: the former proves to be a downgrade from Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Skrine regresses from a solid 2019 campaign.

When looking at Chicago’s schedule, there aren’t too many games that scream “this game is impossible to win”, but there are several games that could realistically go either way: matchups like the Texans, Colts, Falcons and Rams could fail to fall their way. Divisional play also proves to be too tough of a challenge for them to muster more than two wins against their rivals.

While not necessary a bottom-five team due to the proven talent they have on the roster, the Bears finish with one of the worst offenses in the league, and their defense proves it can only do so much before the team collapses as a whole. They finish the season at 6-10, finish in last in the NFC North after Matthew Stafford’s return leads the Lions to an improved 2020 campaign, and end up with a top-10 draft pick in the 2021 draft.

Best-case scenario

The offense improves, and the defense stays strong.

Yes, the Bears didn’t make too many drastic improvements on the offensive side of the ball. However, they did make improvements, and their personnel heading into 2020 is arguably a step-up from what they had last year.

Foles has proven capable of being an intelligent quarterback under center who can stretch the field with accurate deep balls and not make too many crippling mistakes. While he was far from the sexiest addition the Bears could have made to win some love from the national media, he knows the system like the back of his hand and has worked with nearly every single high-ranking offensive coach the team has on staff. A best-case scenario could potentially see Foles take the starting job and make a seamless transition.

A best-case scenario could also see Trubisky compete at an all-time high. Using the declining of the fifth-year option and the acquisition of competition for his starting job as motivation, Trubisky plays with a massive chip on his shoulder and remains the starter. Considering his play through three years, it’s unlikely he’ll ever live up to initial expectations coming out of the 2017 draft, but we’ve seen him play well in spurts, and as the 2018 season showed, that can be enough for the Bears to make it to the playoffs. Those spurts show up more often in 2020 than they did last year, and it leads to some offensive improvements.

The duo of Graham and Kmet is an obvious improvement at tight end. Sure, Graham is past his prime, and rookie tight ends typically don’t do much right away. But having something at a position that’s very important for Matt Nagy’s system is better than nothing. Having two solid security blankets in the Bears’ passing game helps whoever is under center.

The offensive line bounces back. While the Bears didn’t really make an improvement to their starting lineup up front, the unit is, for the most part, the exact same group of players that sent two linemen to the Pro Bowl in 2018. Charles Leno Jr. bounces back and regains his form from two years ago, Cody Whitehair remains the strong and steady presence he always has been along the interior, and Ifedi and Bobby Massie play well enough to the point where it doesn’t absolutely plague the team. James Daniels also makes a big leap in his third season in the league, solidifying himself as a long-term, cornerstone starter at left guard.

Robinson and Miller wreak havoc at receiver. Robinson was a force to be reckoned with last year, and Miller was putting up some impressive numbers in the back half of the 2019 season. Those two form a reliable duo to help Chicago’s passing attack improve, as Robinson tops 1,000 yards yet again and Miller puts up career-best numbers. Some combination of Ted Ginn Jr., Riley Ridley or Darnell Mooney play serviceably at the ‘Z’ receiver spot.

On the ground, Montgomery makes the big jump in his second season. His processing skills speed up, allowing him to more consistently identify open running lanes. Using his impressive lateral quickness and determined running style, he reaches 1,000 rushing yards on the season. Tarik Cohen contributes more in the passing game and on special teams, but he proves capable of handling some of the load on the ground, too.

Defensively, the Bears don’t miss a beat. Their core players stay healthy for the majority of the season, and the full-time presence of Hicks on their defense makes a noticeable impact. Up front, he and Eddie Goldman continue to be key cogs in run support, and Bilal Nichols take a step up in his third NFL season. Roy Robertson-Harris also contributes as a rotational defender on passing downs and earns a well-deserved fat contract to start full-time elsewhere, earning the Bears a compensatory pick.

Mack and Quinn combine to form the most productive edge rushing duo in the league. Both players top double-digit sacks, making it nearly impossible for opposing offenses to get the ball out in time consistently. Mack, Quinn and Hicks combine for close to 30 sacks, and the Bears finish top-5 in the league in sacks.

At linebacker, Roquan Smith stays healthy for a full season and finishes with over 130 total tackles. He maintains his high level of play consistently throughout the year and makes it to a Pro Bowl. Trevathan also stays healthy for most of the year and continues to play well after re-signing with the team. The depth behind those two is worrisome, so a best-scenario would see both starters stay relatively healthy going forward.

Chicago’s secondary makes plenty of plays. Fuller finishes in the top-5 in pass deflections and finishes with four interceptions. Jaylon Johnson makes an impact in the starting lineup right away and serves as a shutdown cornerback on the boundary. Eddie Jackson uses the Bears’ tenacious pass rush up front to take advantage of poorly-thrown passes, picking off four passes and making it back to the All-Pro team. Gipson maintains a high level of play, slotting into the strong safety role where he put together a very nice season in Houston. Skrine also puts together a solid season in the nickel.

Much of this best-case scenario depends on the Bears’ core players staying healthy, and while injuries are always bound happen in the NFL, the injury bug passes by Chicago for the most part.

Some will say that, although the Bears improved, other teams improved more, which will hurt their record in 2020. However, when looking at which teams Chicago will face this coming year, this will likely have little to no impact on how they perform.

Green Bay did very little to indicate they’re going all-in this season, failing to add wide receiver talent and arguably downgrading at a few positions. Minnesota lost several proven contributors and will be replacing almost all of them with rookies. While they drafted well, unproven rookies won’t be able to match that lost impact right away. Detroit made some moves, but the dysfunction under Matt Patricia and a general lack of sizable upgrades at most positions make it unlikely they’ll be a threat in 2020.

And how about the rest of their schedule? The Texans, Panthers, Rams and Jaguars all arguably got worse this offseason. The Colts made a great addition in DeForest Buckner, but their other free agent signings—including two past-their-prime big names like Philip Rivers and Xavier Rhodes—inspire little confidence. Other teams on Chicago’s schedule like the Falcons and Giants didn’t do much to indicate they’ll improve tremendously in 2020, either.

The Bears playing a third-place schedule instead of a first-place schedule also aids them in their quest to make it back to the playoffs. With offensive improvements and a steady defense, the Bears come away with a 10-6 or 11-5 record and make it comfortably to the playoffs. While their limitations at quarterback make it difficult for them to make a deep run, they manage to win a game in the Wild Card round, vindicating their tragic playoff loss to Philadelphia two years prior.