That is the question. At the risk of stating the obvious, football is awesome. The hitting, the strategy, the fresh grass underfoot as your team of choice takes the field in that late summer warmth–they all fill you with excitement, anticipation, and joy.
Yet there is a key ingredient required to transform enthusiasm over the return of football into genuine delight at your team’s prospects for the year. That ingredient is hope. Without it, the a given NFL season is an existential morass brightened by occasional distractions of fleeting positivity. With it, as denizens of other cities well know, you may be prone to deeply painful suffering as it is wrought from your grasp. But it also gives meaning to the day in and day out giving of oneself to a fandom.
The 2016 edition of the Chicago Bears do not offer much in the way of hope. This is not to overdramatize (too late) the “plight” of a Chicago Bears fan. Other teams’ fans have it far worse than we do. But when you saw last year’s product and considered the ceiling, it fell incompetently short of it, and not enough changed for you to hope for much more than 8-8, there’s not a lot of hope to get the blood flowing about spending time, money, and energy watching, supporting, and lamenting the product on the field put forth by those sporting GSH on their sleeves.
Yet despite my painfully obvious lack of excitement over the team’s prospects this coming season, I still plan to “Bear Down,” including flying back for at least one game to soak up Soldier Field in person. Now, I recognize that all this Bear Down talk makes it sound like I’m building up to an elaborate gay joke. I’m not. Not even building up to a fight song joke. Just indicating that malaise aside, I’m signing up to pull for this team despite my better angels strongly pulling me away from rooting for a mediocre team in a morally questionable league run by an absolute assclown.
I also know that my fellow Chicago fans have a reputation, and it’s a shitty one that I’m trying to avoid playing into. As with the Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks, we overglorify our good teams, overvillify/overlament our shitty teams, and demonize some players too quickly while deifying others that do not deserve that level of popsicle sucking. The same fans in the picture above will demonize Cutler all week at the water cooler while they pretend to know what an option read is, and then if he connects with Alshon on a fade will start screaming “Super BEARS, Super BOWL!” until you want to defenestrate them from the Signature Room. Magary covered all types of Bears fans–from the depressingly sad to the obnoxiously douchey–in the 2016 edition of WYTS, but I swear, a lot of us are totally normal people who are level-headed about our devotion for a team that won eight NFL championships before the Super Bowl era but only one since then. To be clear, I’m not a Cutler hater. We covered my view on Bears quarterbacks in depth last year, and obviously Jay Cutler gets far more shit than he deserves given what he has to work with. He’s a top tier talent with a revolving door of coaches and systems (now on his SIXTH offensive coordinator in eight seasons in Chicago) and a fanbase that hates him based on ridiculous expectations and irrational anger toward his apathy.
All that being said, this team sucks. John Fox is entering his second year of what looks like a five year rebuilding effort already a few years behind schedule, and I don’t have a lot of good news/optimism for the 2016 season.
Not gonna lie, I strongly considered ditching this entire endeavor in favor of merely posting a video of Norm MacDonald making Hitler jokes. After all, what is there to be said about the 2016 Bears that Cuntler and I didn’t cover in last year’s preview of the 2015 Bears? Last year’s prediction: 8-8, 6-10 if the Pickleman got under center. Result: 6-10, with an 0-3 stint from the picklefucker. Not a lot of reason to see a majorly different outcome this year.
What’s changed? The offensive coordinator/alleged Cutler-whisperer fled for a head coaching job where the running game is boosted by a possibly washed up vegan and the quarterback is possibly even less liked by his teammates than Jay Cutler is by the media. Meanwhile, the Bears’ starting running back joined Brandon Marshall(s), Kellen Davis, Jarvis Jenkins, Derrick Rose, and Joakim Noah in forming Chicago East. Forte’s departure also gives headline writers another terrible pun to add to the repertoire. The best nicknamed tight end left and trashed Cutler (and the commish) in the press before the Bears came to practice with his new team. 40% of the starting offensive line is gone as Chicagoans started talking about addition by subtraction. It doesn’t help that the second year center they were hoping could make a leap is already on IR, Kyle Fuller is out 4-5 weeks, and a bunch of other Bears are struggling with nagging injuries before the season even starts. Oh, and the Vikings look positioned to take the division [Editor’s note: the preceding analysis was written before Teddy Bridgewater‘s body spontaneously combusted], while the self-loathing Chicagoan in me knows Rodgers will at least keep the Packers in contention (and likely continue the “Cutler can’t beat Green Bay” narrative). With the Megatron-free Lions likely occupying the cellar, seems like 2nd or 3rd in the division and watching the playoffs from home is a strong likelihood.
The good news? The Bears are matched up against the AFC South this year.
And fine, there are some signs of life. Last year’s first round draft pick, Kevin White, is finally healthy after missing the entire 2015 season. So if he and Alshon Jeffery can stay healthy and out of trouble, that’s a pretty strong complement of receivers for Jay Cutler to not have enough time to overthrow. Jeremy Langford showed some decent skill last season, so maybe the running game isn’t as dire as the experts believe. Danny Trevathan and his Super Bowl ring join Vic Fangio‘s better-sooner-than-expected 3-4 defense. And there’s a new backup QB fans will start clamoring for after the Bears lose to the Colts week five (though he played like enough dogshit in the preseason game against the Pats that apparently Bears reddit believes anyone is a better option at backup QB).
“What about the rookies?” you ask. Or am I just hearing voices in my head again? :Ahem: Well, first round pick Leonard Floyd is either the second coming of Aldon Smith (in between the lines, not the one from CrimeBeat!) or Shea McClellin. Cody Whitehair probably is going to have to contribute right away given injuries and turnover on the offensive line. The next four picks were all defensive needs, so I liked them at the time and hope they pay off over the course of the season. And I don’t want to talk about the likelihood of starting a skill player from Indiana that isn’t Antwaan Randle El or Larry Bird. After years of Phil Emery’s wildly inconsistent drafts, a year where the Bears met needs and weren’t the ones trading up to get a kicker is enough to be considered a victory. Yes, that’s still depressing. On the bright side, at least that same team that drafted a kicker in the second round is paying for Chris Conte again so he’s not fucking things up for Chicago. HAHAHAHAHA.
Watching this still gives me a sad
I have a fantasy league where I may not be able to make the draft due to travel, and the commissioner offered/threatened to draft me an all Bears team if I couldn’t make it. That has frightened me into rearranging my travel schedule. Net-net, the offense is likely downgraded from last season, when they already underperformed their talent level, and the o-line is potentially horrendous. The defense is improving but remains porous (especially) in the secondary. Special teams remain a question mark. Looking at the schedule, best case scenario is that Brock’s Lobster is a piece of shit in his debut, they feast on the Lions, upset the Jags and go into the bye week with a 3-5 record needing to steal a split with one of their betters and pretty much run the table outside of the division (Bucs, Titans, Niners, [REDACTEDS] are all winnable, not so sure about the G-Men) to have a shot to sneak into the postseason. The ceiling is likely three wins in the division with a strong possibility of handing the Lions a win in tandem with sweeps by the Vikes [Revised to a split with the Vikings if Shaun Hill is under center there] and Pack and that number drops to one. Still pulling for them, but it’s probably a 7-9 team [8-8 if the Vikes are without Teddy], and to the point above about “hope,” any outside chance to make a playoff push rests squarely on these shoulders:
Fuck. Should have just gone with the Norm MacDonald Hitler jokes thing. Take it away, Norm:
WHO’S LIVING IN THE PAST NOW?!