CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 29: Running back Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears celebrates a third quarter touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during a game at Soldier Field on December 29, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Rate your confidence in the 2014 Bears
90-100: Lay off the Kool-Aid. 70-80: Must be new in town. 30-60: Realist.
20 to minus-20: Seeing is believing. Minus-50 to minus-70: Waiting for Ditka’s return. Minus-80 to minus-100: Packers fan.
Updated: July 23, 2014 6:43PM
Playoffs or bust.
In an unscientific fan poll by Comcast SportsNet on Monday, 50 percent of the responders said their minimum expectation for the Bears this season is to make the playoffs. That seems like a reasonable measurement of success — and failure — for the team in Marc Trestman’s second season.
The oddsmakers seem to agree. After an 8-8 season in which they had the second-highest scoring offense in the NFL and the second-worst scoring defense and failed to make the playoffs, the Bears are an impressive sixth pick to win the Super Bowl at 14-1 (along with the Colts and Saints), according to bovada.com.
The five teams ahead of the Bears — the Broncos (13-2), Seahawks (7-1), 49ers (15-2), Patriots (9-1) and Packers (10-1) — are established contenders who made the playoffs last season. In fact, of the 16 teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season, the Bears are the only one to rate better than 25-1 odds.
Along with the Eagles, Lions and Steelers, the Bears are one of the biggest X-factors in the NFL. They could be Super Bowl contenders if their defense improves as expected and they win the close games. Trestman won the Grey Cup in his second season with the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL. But the Bears don’t have much margin for error — a couple of key injuries or holes at defensive tackle, linebacker or safety, and they’ll miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years since reaching the Super Bowl in 2006.
So as usual, your optimism or pessimism is well-founded. Which side are you on? Take our annual test to find out. Rate these categories, with 10 points for an optimistic vote, minus-10 for a pessimistic vote and zero for a neutral vote.
Optimist: With the wind at his back like never before — Pro Bowl-caliber weapons, a solid offensive line and a full year in Marc Trestman’s offense — all the pieces are in place for Cutler to finally realize his potential as a top-five NFL quarterback.
Pessimist: Unfortunately, all the pieces absolutely have to be in place for Cutler to realize his potential. One key injury is all it takes — and Cutler hasn’t played a full season since 2009. Even amid the rosiest of outlooks, Cutler is daunted by one failing: there’s always something.
Optimist: After missing seven games with a shoulder injury last year, a refreshed Briggs will regain his Pro Bowl form behind a much-improved defensive line, with a bonus in Mel Tucker’s revamped defense — a career-high eight sacks — and mentor Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin to impact status.
Pessimist: Never a workout warrior, Briggs will continue to be vulnerable to injuries as the wear and tear of 11 seasons continues to take its toll. He still will be effective — and better than anything else the Bears have — but he’ll be 34 on Nov. 12 and he won’t be the Pro Bowl-level player he was in his prime.
Optimist: Finally where he should have been all along, McClellin will blossom at outside linebacker, where his closing speed will make him the impact pass rusher Phil Emery envisioned. As his speed draws comparisons to Urlacher, the only question will be if he’s better suited for the middle.
Pessimist: He’s the ultimate ’tweener. Though McClellin has the speed to rush the passer, he will struggle to avoid blockers and will be constantly engaged. Learning curve will prove too steep, and he won’t have a lot of time because the Bears have better options in Jon Bostic and rookie Christian Jones.
Optimist: The proud 11-year pro, who loves to prove people wrong, will bounce back at 33 from an injury-shortened season and give the Bears’ defense the bite it was missing with his infectious ability to create turnovers. His mentorship also will make rookie Kyle Fuller an impact player by the end of 2014.
Pessimist: The wear and tear of 11 NFL seasons will continue to catch up with the combative Tillman, who was showing his age even before he suffered a season-ending injury last year. Still a Lovie Smith guy at heart, he’ll resist a move to safety and be replaced by Fuller by midseason.
Optimist: Re-energized at 32 on a team with a high-scoring offense that provides numerous pass-rushing opportunities, the effusive Allen will have a Reggie White type of impact on a team desperate for real leadership. He’ll have 15-plus sacks and will be on the cover of Sports Illustrated by Thanksgiving.
Pessimist: Struggling to fit into a defense that doesn’t quite know where it’s going or what it wants to be, Allen will show his age and suffer through a difficult season with single-digit sacks and ultimately wilt under the public and media pressure to produce. This ain’t Kansas City. And it ain’t Minnesota.
Optimist: Free safety Brock Vereen will start from Day 1, and Kyle Fuller will be in the cornerback rotation to give the Bears’ secondary an immediate lift. Will Sutton or Ego Ferguson will be a starter. Punter Pat O’Donnell will make the all-rookie team. Linebacker Christian Jones will be a steal. Jordan Lynch will be a special-teams star.
Pessimist: Fuller will struggle to adjust to the speed of the NFL and push Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings into a nickel-back position he isn’t prepared for. The green Vereen will be no more effective than Chris Conte. Sutton and Ferguson will be injured. Pat O’Donnell will be beaten out by Tress Way.
Optimist: A deeper roster will give veteran coordinator Joe DeCamillis much more to work with. There are upgrades at almost every special-teams spot except long snapper. Rookie punter Pat O’Donnell will be a big hit. The winner of the kick-return derby will be better than Devin Hester was in 2013.
Pessimist: With too many rookies and second-year players on the roster, the loss of three key special-teamers will be felt — kick returner Devin Hester, leading tackler Blake Costanzo and long snapper Pat Mannelly. That’s too many new faces to be the difference-making unit it used to be.