The pain of prognostication
The forecast for the Bears' season ahead looks murky if not melancholy
Predictions make idiots of us all. Those of us who attempt them are either clueless or lucky or homers -- dumber still to publicly attempt this ritual of team sports without being paid for it or at least have some serious coin at stake.
I treat predictions with about as much gravity as gargling. I think about it for a few seconds, I glance at the schedule, I get a vibe of some sort and that's that. I also spend a second or two considering how my prediction will make me look (homer or grizzled cynic). Another second is spent harkening back to my many years as a semi-normal fan growing up in Chicago -- or as normal as one could be under those circumstances -- and assuming my prediction for whichever team it is, if it's a positive one, will jinx them.
With this foolproof formula, some years I'm dead-on and other years I look like I let my dog make the pick from out of a hat.
Here's what I really think about the Chicago Bears. I think they're going to be terrible or good. Sheer genius, right? But either they get it and everything magically falls into place or they continue on the lackluster path of really bad fundamental football they forged in the preseason. With the schedule they have, there is little gray area.
When the schedule came out this spring, I picked them to go 10-6. I knew it was a tough one on paper. But I also knew Mike Martz was going to work, if not magic, then at least a wonder or two. I knew that Jay Cutler was not going to toss 26 interceptions again. I mean, come on. And with this brilliant, scientific logic, I deduced that the offensive line, with Orlando Pace gone and Chris Williams back, had to be better. Also, Matt Forte would be healthier, Chester Taylor was a nice addition and the receivers would be one year older.
On defense, Brian Urlacher would be back. Yes, he would also be one year older but there was no question that the Bears missed him dearly last season. Going by the same assumption I had made unsuccessfully the past three years, I also hung my hat on Tommie Harris improving. I neatly avoided the prospects of the secondary and went right to the recent acquisition of Julius Peppers.
Ahh, Peppers. Worth at least three or four victories, right? Once again, come on. Sure, we'd miss Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye, good guys and generally dependable defensive ends, but we now had a freak. I couldn't remember the Bears ever having a genuine freak. Urlacher came close, arriving at the Bears with the speed of a safety and the size of a minivan. But this was a new season, a new freak. Plus, Mark Anderson was going to flash the form of his rookie season when he had 12 sacks without any actual idea of what he was doing. Bears coaches had all kinds of faith in him, so why shouldn't I?
Yep, 10-6 felt good. Felt right.
Flashing forward to this week, 7-9 also felt right until I did more than glance at the schedule and simply could not come up with seven victories. Hence, my final prediction of 6-10 and extracting six victories were not much easier.
I picked the Bears to beat the Detroit Lions, who have won seven road games in the past nine seasons (though two in Chicago) and whose secondary may actually make the Bears' offense passing game look Martzesque. The next victory comes after losses to the Cowboys, Packers and Giants, no explanation necessary and none offered.
Carolina is win No. 2 even though it's a road game and the Bears are a meager 2-3 all-time against the Panthers, who always play them tough. Carolina's defense lost six starters from last season and it's offense scored no touchdowns in four preseason games, though it was without Steve Smith. But if I wasn't going to count this one as a win, I was never getting to six.
Seahawks and Redskins. Wins three and four. Both games are home, the Redskins' offense is nothing special and Seahawks' new coach, Pete Carroll, has bad football kharma coming to him. On the flip side, Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb could surprise people this year (and why do I suspect it may be at the Bears' expense?), and Matt Hasselbeck, at 35, is still capable of taking the Bears apart.
At Buffalo (er, Toronto), it's win No. 5 and a weird four-game winning streak for the Bears. Winning the quarterback derby in Buffalo means having to crouch behind an offensive line that makes you never want to stand straight up. This game also follows the Bears' bye week, they'll be on a major roll and they love Toronto. OK, I made up that last part but they should be able to beat the Bills, who should be glad to be included in the league power rankings.
Normally, I give the Bears a split with the Vikings because well, they usually split -- seven of the past 11 seasons, regardless of the respective quality of either team. But I can't bring myself to pull the trigger on that this season. And, knowing what we know now because I'm not sure how else to do it, I just don't see how anyone can confidently or even apprehensively predict a Bears' victory over the Dolphins (on the road in prime time), the Eagles, the Patriots, the Jets or at Green Bay.
So it's a sweep over the Lions and a disastrous 6-10.
The Bears don't seem overly bothered by the fact that most prognosticators are not picking them to go to the playoffs and some are even picking them to finish below .500.
"It depends how much you hear it," said the most affable and most scrutinized of Bears, right tackle Frank Omiyale. "We try not to get into the whole media thing a lot. This is what we do every day. We take pride in it. It makes you angry to hear this and that, but at the end of the day all you can do is go out and give your best effort. We're confident, we're ready to go."
Does he read the preseason magazines?
"You flip through them but it's more for the pictures," he said to big laughs.
So in other words, he was asked, "You don't put a whole lot of stock in them?"
"How can you?" Omiyale said. "You can hope you're right at midseason or the end of the season but nobody knows. Nobody knows."
We can all agree on that.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.