Matt Eberflus hasn’t been here long, but he’s been here long enough.
Asked whether he uses the near-unanimous predictions of the Bears losing double-digit games this season as motivation, the first-time head coach paused Friday, as if to say that we should know him better than that. For seven months, Eberflus has preached that the Bears should be their own motivators — not the team across the field or anyone making predictions at home.
Depending on whom you ask, the Bears are entering their season opener against the 49ers as either one of the worst teams in the NFL –or the worst team.
NFL.com’s power rankings this week have them ranked dead last.
“I don’t think anybody alters our mentality,” quarterback Justin Fields said about predictions. “Our mentality is to go out there, be the hardest on the field, be the toughest, play the fastest, play the longest. That’s our mentality going into every game.”
To make it us-against-the-world would be giving the predictions credence, and Eberflus doesn’t want to do that.
“You can’t really pay attention to that,” Eberflus said. “Because every year they make these predictions about teams … and it’s always wrong.”
The Bears hope so, even as they’ve built their team to be more focused on long-term gains than 2022 victories. The $62.1 million the Bears are spending in dead cap space — money paid to players who aren’t on their roster anymore– is third-most in the league and more than double that of all but nine teams. They have an entirely new coaching staff, and more than half their roster is new. Justifiably, the Bears’ over/under this season is 6 1/2 wins.
Many experts have predicted fewer.
“It bothers me,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “I see it. I mean, honestly, anybody who says they see it and that it doesn’t bother them, I think they’re lying.”
Gone are the days when coaches could tell players to ignore social media. Players — including the Bears’ 15 rookies — grew up with their phones and won’t part with the information that comes from them.
“In today’s age, everybody looks at everything,” Eberflus said. “It’s part of our life now. You understand, you put that in a bucket–it’s an opinion of somebody’s, or it isn’t fact.”
Left tackle Braxton Jones, who’s set to make his NFL debut Sunday, is one of those rookies.
“There’s a lot of articles and stuff that will pop up on your phone,” Jones said. “You kind of leave it as is. It’s what they think. I’m not too big into reading those things or what they have to say. They’re not here.”
Tight end Cole Kmet spent most of his life as a Bears fan. He’d know going into every season what the consensus opinion was about the team’s chances. Once he became a Bear, though, he learned his life was simpler if he ignored the outside world.
“I get all my confidence from myself and my teammates,” he said. “You don’t wanna get it from other people.”
The same goes for motivation. Tight end Ryan Griffin, whose 10 years of NFL experience are third-most on the team, once had a coach who would post headlines — and even the pointspread — to fire up his underdog team. It didn’t work.
Eberflus won’t do the same. Still, one of the biggest challenges of his early tenure with the Bears will be convincing his team to believe in something that the outside world doesn’t see –the Bears emerging from the bottom of the standings.
“I tell the guys that all the time — we’re writing our own book … ” Eberflus said. “Every game, individual players write their own book.”