The Sun-Times’ Bears experts make their predictions for 2021:
The Bears have the third-toughest schedule in the league, not the best news for a team hoping to improve on back-to-back 8-8 seasons. They’re hoping their defense has a bounce-back year, and they’re hoping either Andy Dalton or rookie first-round pick Justin Fields can prove Mitch Trubisky had been the problem all along. But it’s not as though either quarterback has a lot of talented targets around him. And the offensive line remains a major issue. Do you really want to expose the rookie to that? If general manager Ryan Pace gets fired after the season, he’ll have no one to blame but himself.
You might say predicting the Bears to win 12 games, which they have done only three times in the last three-plus decades, is like picking up a piece of gravel and seeing a cut diamond. Of course, there are 17 games this season, so winning an extra one isn’t as big a deal. But I feel a glow coming from this team, a little firelight in the dark, like the quarterback situation. I like Ol’ Red. I like the untested youngster. Call it a feel. A good one. Good enough to feel big heat.
The Bears’ quarterback play will get all the attention — and it should. The city hasn’t seen a star at the position since 20 years before Sears Tower was built. But the Bears will be only as good as their defense. It wasn’t as brutal as it felt last season — the unit finished ranked eighth in the NFL by Football Outsiders’ DVOA formula — but it never stole a victory. It will need to this season. In the last two seasons, only seven teams have fewer takeaways than the Bears’ 37. If new coordinator Sean Desai can fix that, the Bears can climb out of their two-year .500 rut. If not, it might be time for a change.
A good defense paired with a bad offense makes the Bears a middling team. They’ll beat bad opponents and get clobbered by good ones. Speaking of which, the NFL couldn’t have stuck them with a more unfortunate season opener than visiting the Rams and the reigning No. 1 defense in prime time. Anyway, throw in a surprise here or there and the possibility that they turn Fields loose, and the Bears will meander to 9-8. The NFC isn’t particularly deep this season, so that mediocre record might get them in the playoffs.
The Bears’ line issues set a bad tone for an offense that has much to prove besides at quarterback. With a defense that should improve under Desai, the Bears have a significant upside if they get their offense straightened out. But there are just too many unknowns heading into the season. Dalton should be an upgrade over Trubisky and Nick Foles. Fields figures to play at some point, but if it’s because of an offensive implosion, it’s unlikely the talented rookie will be able to provide anything more than hope for 2022 with a late-season audition.