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Perhaps the best way to approach a sports prediction is to think of oneself as a football team needing to travel a certain distance in a play or two.
There are manageable down-and-distance combos, such as Patriots and Packers predictions, that are the equivalent of a third-and-two.
There are teams that seem certain to finish with more than 10 victories this time around, but that sort of conversion (the team wins its 11th game and the pundit who prognosticated correctly earns a first down!) isn't terribly impressive.
Then there are this year's Bears. The 2013 Bears are fourth-and-20. There is no denying that the smart thing to do is punt.
But I was there last year when the Bears needed to drive more than 50 yards in less than 24 seconds at the end of regulation against the Seahawks at Soldier Field. And I watched a scrambling Jay Cutler find Brandon Marshall for the 56-yard completion that put the home team in position for Robbie Gould's game-tying 46-yard field goal.
Sure, the Bears then lost that game in overtime, but work with me here.
I will venture a prediction about this season's Monsters of the Midway, but any clear-thinking fan has to know that successful prognostication in this instance is a long longshot. And I must admit I'm only trying to get into field-goal range.
A touchdown would be nailing the number of wins. But I'm going to do what I have done in the past: Set an Over/Under number and say whether the team will enjoy a successful season that involves exceeding that total or falling short.
Setting the number at 10 is clearly the way to go. For one thing, the Bears won 10 last year. For another, double-digit victories is almost always the bar representing a successful season for any NFL team (last season's performance by the home team notwithstanding).
Let me also acknowledge that in this instance, a push (the team finishing with exactly 10 triumphs) is a win.
Given how bad I am at wagering on sports or blackjack or just about anything else, if I end up not losing money (which is of course what happens if an Over/Under bet ends in the equivalent of a tie), that has to qualify as a positive result.
And I'm taking the Bears to at least repeat last year's feat of 10 glorious Ws.
Others will spend time breaking down the specifics of this year's Bears chances, but the most important factor is the one that is absolutely unknowable: The team's health.
One thing that is knowable in that category is that the Bears fared better than the Packers during the preseason. The Bears seem ready to start the season with no leading players out with injury. The Packers lost arguably their best offensive lineman, tackle Bryan Bulaga, to a serious knee injury early in training camp that will keep him out all year.
Of course, for the Bears there is a whole new set of coaches and a whole new offensive line (except for the center, Roberto Garza - thank goodness for Roberto!). There are some promising new players on both sides of the ball but there are also plenty of stalwarts who are one year older and closer to their inevitable athletic demise.
Despite the age of so many critical defensive components, I was approaching a state of unabashed optimism until last week, when we learned of Marshall's highly unusual four-day break that ended Monday. If the wide receiver's sabbatical was so routine, i.e., if it had been planned well in advance, as the Bears brass maintained, well, can you identify any other player in the league who enjoyed a similar paid holiday?
If Marshall's hip is a problem and he is diminished, the whole offense takes a hit. The rest of the Bears receivers look solid, unless there isn't a stud at the top who will make big plays and be the quarterback's security blanket. Alshon Jeffery isn't ready to be a No. 1 receiver, tight end Martellus Bennett won't be able to get as open in the middle if Marshall isn't a significant threat on the outside, and so on.
But it has been a couple weeks since Jay Cutler last mentioned that when a new offensive system comes into play, a team usually doesn't really pick it up until its third season. Perhaps Cutler has stopped talking about that because someone pointed out to him that the three rookie quarterbacks who took their teams to the playoffs last year certainly had less time to perfect their coaches' systems than Cutler has had in this offseason. In other words, that excuse doesn't fly.
The offensive line has to be better than it was last year and Marc Trestman's offense will give Cutler the option on just about every play to get rid of the ball quickly. And difference-maker Matt Forte is clearly at the top of his game. That, along with a strong defense that suffered only one significant personnel loss during the off-season, translates into a better season than last.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on
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