In May in the NFL, hope springs eternal. Everyone has a chance at 12 or 13 wins. Every team can theoretically win its division, make a deep playoff run, dream of playing in February. On paper, every team is better than ever. Free agency and the draft in the off-season have addressed all major needs, and the outlook is rosier than ever.
Rarely does this sharp optimism translate to August, let alone September and its sister months of the fall. When it comes to the Bears, the enthusiasm might be warranted for once. That’s the power that comes pre-packaged with the draft selection of a big boy quarterback prospect for the first time in decades. Anything is possible, and I mean anything, when a team justifiably believes in its’ offensive signal caller.
The 2021 season presents a fascinating challenge to the Bears. They have a young passer in Justin Fields who theoretically will take them to the promised land very soon. But until he’s comfortable with the speed and rigors of pro football, they’re not exactly prepared to win and contend. Their status very much rests on his arm and legs until further notice, and even more so now. Not that they’re in a rush but the faster Fields makes leaps toward greatness, the more of a force to reckon with the Bears become.
In the first part of a schedule roundtable, the Windy City Gridiron peruses the Bears’ official 2021 schedule and makes only the most responsible of record prognostications.
It’s mid-May: Anything is possible, right?
Knowing what you know now — a stark majority of Chicago’s off-season roster moves in the rearview mirror, and who they will play and when — what is your way-too-early record prediction for the upcoming campaign?
Robert Zeglinski: 7-10
I recognize that I could be in the minority on this position, but I believe that Justin Fields is a surefire Rookie of the Year candidate this coming season. I see no verifiable reason to believe the Bears hold him back arbitrarily to play a below-replacement level quarterback like Andy Dalton. He’s going to win a coming training camp competition and he will start all 17 games. And while there’ll be understandable growing pains here and there, like for any green passer, I think Fields more often thrills and dazzle with special moments that remind everyone why the Bears traded up to make him the future face of their franchise.
Fields’ presence and occasional elevation of his supporting cast won’t be enough for the Bears to be a high roller in January. But that doesn’t matter. It’s about exposing the 22-year-old to live bullets now first and foremost. By the following calendar year, the year of whomever your Lord(s) is and are in 2022, those bullets will assuredly be moving in slow motion. (By then, I imagine Chicago paves over some of its now concerning defensive holes, too.) And the Bears then? Riding high.
Lester Wiltfong Jr.: This team has gone .500 for consecutive years. I’ll say that they’ll be right around there again as they try to break in a new quarterback at some point.
I’ll predict 9-8, and while the fun story to follow will obviously be Fields, I think the defense coming into their own under Sean Desai is going to be just as interesting.
Now for my optimistic prediction. There are a lot of “ifs” surrounding this team right now, but if things line up the way the team expects, I could see the Bears really shocking the NFL and winning the NFC North.
Josh Sunderbruch: 9.5-7.5
Every time this team takes a step forward, it shuffles back a bit. Fields and Teven Jenkins are great pickups, but Kyle Fuller is a real loss and Charles Leno’s departure thins out what should have been a strength. I think they got better, on net, but it’s a close thing.
Bill Zimmerman: Anyone who has read any of these NFL Draft roundtables from WCG knows how high I am on Justin Fields. I am hyped, but very rarely do we see a magical rookie season from a quarterback at the NFL level. I have plenty of hope for the 2022 Chicago Bears, but the 2021 squad is going to be a transitional team. With a tougher schedule and a couple key players gone off the team and not adequately replaced, I think the Bears regress slightly.
I will go with a 7-10 record.
Jeff Berckes: I predict the Bears will finish with a regular-season record they’ve never had in their long, storied history. Before you say the Bears have never played a 17-game schedule before, know that the 1925 Red Grange Barnstorming Bears are credited with a 17-game schedule, including an insane five games in eight days, and finished 9-5-3.
I believe the 2021 Bears will not finish 9-5-3.
Sam Householder: Unfortunately, I don’t see more than seven wins on the schedule today. Whoever the starting quarterback is, whether it’s the underwhelming Andy Dalton or the rookie Justin Fields, I can’t see either one of them bringing enough offense to the table to get over the hump with some of these teams the Bears play. Plus, the defense has enough holes and questions it’s hard to say that they have enough to carry the team again. They were 8-8 a year ago and by most accounts were lucky to get to that record.
Are they substantially better now? Not in the immediate, in my opinion, this is a ramp-up year.
Will Robinson II: Make no mistake, that schedule is rough, and there’s still a lot of unknowns. That said, I’m the optimistic type, so I’m going to go with 9-8, with wins against Cincinnati, Detroit (twice, knee-biters not withstanding), Raiders, Steelers (who I’m down on), Arizona (in a squeaker), Green Bay (I’m going split until we know more), Vikings (also split, ‘cause it’s tradition), and the Giants. I feel this Bears team will be better, how much remains to be seen. I feel like the real improvement (if it indeed happens), will come in 2022. While this may feel like another doldrum season on paper, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And I’m pretty excited for it.
Erik Duerrwaechter: 12-5
Truly, for two consecutive years, the Bears have been an 8-8 team due to a combination of dependable defense and poor quarterback play. A good amount of improvement for the Bears’ offense depends on rookies like Justin Fields and Teven Jenkins and how quickly they’ll develop. This is a gamble for everyone at Halas Hall.
My concerns out listed above, I also feel that’s why we’ll see this Bears team exceed national expectations. Justin Fields is a quarterback who won’t play like an ordinary rookie adjusting to a new playbook. This Bears team needs consistent quarterback play to take the Field(s). Use a similar playbook to what was deployed in the end of Chicago’s season last year as a baseline. Then grow from there. The defense should bounce back a little while an actual offense begins to take shape.
Robert Schmitz: If you absolutely made me predict a record in May I’d tell you the Bears will probably struggle to win more than eight games in 2021 due to their hellish schedule. In the same breath I’d also make clear I think they’re very high-variance — between Justin Fields at quarterback Darnell Mooney’s growth, Teven Jenkins’ impact on the offensive line, Eddie Jackson moving back to a Vic Fangio-style role and more, I think there are plenty of positive storylines surrounding this team that we don’t know the impact of.
Is Justin Fields a star? Add two wins. Does Aaron Rodgers trade out of the division? Add one-and-a-half more. There are real reasons that these Bears could be competing for the division come December. Given the team’s 2019-2020 trajectory, I’m going to take the realistic road and project a safe eight wins.
Jack R Salo: They haven’t plugged enough holes on offense to be taken seriously on that side of the ball, and an excellent NFL Draft shouldn’t cloud your vision. They’ll have their success at times, and Khalil Mack should have a monster year. Still, it could be Fields learning on the job or Andy Dalton getting booed every halftime. This team isn’t ready right now and needs to continue getting younger while they build.
6-11 and remind all your friends who are Bears fans that it’s going to be OK.
Alex Obringer: Knowing all that we know, outside of who the quarterback of the Packers will be, I think the Bears can go 9-8. It all comes down to those two games against the Packers.
Patti Curl: 15-2
Andy Dalton will lose to the Rams, win his revenge game against the Bengals, and maintain his elite career win percentage against the Browns.
When the Bears switch to Fields in Week 4, he’ll handily munch down a stretch of cupcake opponents in the Lions, Raiders, and Packers before coming up against real NFL-caliber competition. He’ll lose to Vita Vea’s Buccaneers, holding on to the ball too long trying to make a game-winning play and succumb to a smothering, deeply tender, “This hurts me more than it hurts you” smosh sack from Vea, putting the Bears out of range for a game tying field goal. This will be Fields’ only loss of the season and a crucial lesson in the development of his Hall of Fame career.